As an online student and online professor I have found an amazing disconnect between colleges and students. Students are choosing schools that don’t fit their needs and only when it is too late do they realize where they went wrong. All of my work, with my website, is made with the goal of helping students make informed decisions. I don’t want to see you make the mistake of choosing the wrong path, the wrong school. We cut through the advertising and the hype and get you the information you need. With that in mind, feel free to contact us with questions. We will be more than happy to help you out.
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT ONLINE LAW SCHOOL: At the moment, every state and Province except for California requires that you earn a degree from an ABA-accredited law school. Currently, the ABA refuses to accredit online or correspondence law schools. The only state that allows you to take the Bar exam, and subsequently become a licensed attorney is California. However, once you have become an attorney in California and practiced for 5 to 7 years other states will allow you to sit for their Bar exam. Wisconsin and Vermont are just two examples. It is best for you to check with your local Bar association to ensure that you are able to sit for the Bar exam if that is your goal. If you don’t care about practicing law or passing the Bar exam it won’t matter where you live. The online law schools won’t care and you can probably finish your degree faster than the required 4 years for those seeking California licensing. It typically takes 3 years to finish your JD if you are not going to pursue a license.
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO BE A LAWYER? As elementary as this sounds, the first step in the process is answering the question, do I want to be a lawyer? I know, its basic, but in an effort to be complete it needs to be addressed. The first misconception that must be addressed is regarding what lawyers do. It is easy to assume that all lawyers try cases in court. After all, our typical exposure to lawyers is criminal cases on one hour TV dramas. While I love when the D.A. nails the bad guy too, that isn’t the reality of the legal profession. You’d never know that more than 90% of criminal cases never go to trial. Court cases are the exception rather than the rule. Even with that, lawyers work in all types of roles. Let’s look at the breakdown below that shows the percentage of lawyers and what type of offices they work in. According to the American Bar Foundation’s 2005 Lawyer Statistic Report:
– 75% of lawyers are in private practice.
– 65% of those lawyers are in solo practices or officers of 5 or fewer.
– 18% are in offices with 6 to 50 attorneys
– 7.5% of attorneys work in government agencies (D.A., IRS, etc.)
– 8.5% work in private industry or associations (salaried lawyers or managers). 1% of lawyers work as public defenders or give legal aid.
– 1%.work in legal education
– 2.5% work in the judiciary (court system) If we look at the breakdown of this data we see that between 5% and 10% of attorneys work in the criminal justice system. The other attorneys work as managers or advisors for companies and universities. They also work in small offices doing wills, trusts, contracts, collections, and real estate. Really the choices are many and you can tailor your career to fit your interests and your skills.
The argument for an online law degree for those working in business is that this experience, without passing the Bar exam, will be beneficial for one’s career. After all, 8.5% of lawyers work as managers or salaried lawyers for companies. The skills that are developed in law school are vital in the world of business. Knowledge of contracts and torts can help enhance your career.
Some typical duties you can expect as a lawyer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics include:
• Advise and represent clients in court and before government agencies • Conduct research and analyze legal problems.
• Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for both individuals and businesses
• Prepare and file legal documents Employment prospects for attorneys is a bright spot at the moment.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth for attorneys is 10%, which is as fast as the average. The average wage for an attorney is $112,760 or $54.21 per hour. Salaries vary depending on specialty, location, and years of practice.
Now that you have the basics, let’s look at the role of attorneys more specifically in a number of different specialties. After all, before you can answer the question about whether or not you want to be an attorney it would be best to break down what lawyers do.
WHERE DO LAWYERS WORK AND WHAT DO THEY DO? There are many different types of lawyers. We’ll go through them one by one and cover the major duties as well as potential income for the position. If you already know what area of practice you prefer feel free to skip directly to it.
PRIVATE PRACTICE According to Law and the Legal Industry by Susan Echaore-McDavid, attorneys working in private practice “provide legal advice, prepare legal documents [wills, trusts, contracts], conduct legal research, and perform other legal duties.” 1 With the ability to start your own practice, move up the firm and average salaries ranging from $49,000 to $146,000+ it is a strong field. Private practice attorneys work in all areas of the law including criminal, real estate, tax, bankruptcy, insurance, immigration, intellectual property, and elder law. Due to our growing and aging population, extreme growth is expected in the realm of elder law, wills, estates, trusts and probate.
CORPORATE COUNSEL Corporate counsels provide legal advice and services to corporations. Some other job titles that are also in this category include staff attorney and in-house counsel. Many corporations have legal departments that provide advice and guidance on meeting government guidelines, taxes, investments, employee issues, and risk management. The main difference between a private practice attorney and a corporate attorney is that a corporate attorney will only work for one client. This saves you, the attorney, the headache of billing, clocking hours, running and staffing an office, and worrying about benefits. If you work on our own, benefit and vacations are your sole responsibility.
Corporate counsels will usually work with upper management in all areas of the organization. The salaries of corporate counsels frange from $68,000 a year for new grads to $180,000 for experienced attorneys.
GOVERNMENT LAWYER Obviously government attorneys work for the government, including local, state, and federal. Some can be prosecuting attorneys (we will handle those as a specific type of attorney next), city attorney, staff attorney helping the legislative branch draft laws, etc. Some of the duties of government attorneys include criminal, immigration, tax, intellectual property, consumer protection, environmental, labor, military, and worker’s compensation law. Again you would only be working for a single client. Salaries for those working for the government tend to be lower due to rules and regulations regarding salaries. They range from $49,000 to $145,000 per year. The salary range here will vary based on your job, experience, and education. Often government job salaries are based on steps based on years of experience.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY Prosecuting attorneys work for the government, but their role is much more specific than many of the other government attorneys. Prosecuting attorneys will only prosecute criminal, and sometimes civil, cases for the state. While we are all familiar with the generalities of this position as we’ve all seen TV dramas with attorneys making motions and questioning people on the witness stand, can we actually say we know what they do? Probably not. One of the major tasks that prosecuting attorneys do is investigating and researching for their case. Along with that they are responsible for writing and delivering briefs in court. Unlike what we see on TV, the majority (around 90%) of cases end as the result of a plea deal.