A Career as a Lawyer

Kasey Geiger

Career Overview

Lawyers study, explain, and apply laws to specific problems.

Lawyers work as:

  • Judges
  • Professors
  • Public defenders
  • Civil lawyers
  • Trial lawyers

Lawyers are also called attorneys. They advise clients of their legal rights and suggest a course of action. They represent clients in court and present evidence to support their case. Many cases that go to trial are criminal cases. Criminal lawyers represent people who have been charged with a crime.

Trial lawyers
Trial lawyers spend most of their time researching clients' cases. They meet with clients to learn the facts. They examine the evidence to see if there is enough to pursue a lawsuit. They research previous cases and laws to find support for the case and to see what the possible outcomes might be. They interview witnesses and other people who have information important to clients' cases.

Lawyers develop strategies and arguments to write in the legal documents that they file with the court.

Lawyers select jurors and ask witnesses questions during trials. They summarize their case at the end of the trial, and try to convince juries to see their side of the argument. They explain the decision to clients once the case is settled. They interpret the laws and rules as they apply to the case.

Lawyers often try to settle cases before they go to court. They may negotiate the amount of settlements in civil cases.

Civil lawyers
Civil lawyers rarely go to court. They handle cases that do not require going to trial. They prepare wills, contracts, and business deals.

Civil lawyers also research clients' cases. They learn about the contract, will, or the business deal. Some contracts and wills are straightforward and require little work. Other contracts are more complicated. Civil lawyers may examine public records to establish ownership of property.

Many lawyers supervise other legal employees, including legal assistants, paralegals, first year lawyers, and law clerks.

Career skills and interests

Lawyers need to be able to:


  • Read and understand written information.
  • Listen to others, understand, and ask questions.
  • Express ideas clearly when speaking or writing.

Reason and Problem Solve

  • Judge the costs and benefits of a possible action.
  • Analyze ideas and use logic to determine their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Make sense of new information by studying it.
  • Identify problems and review information. Develop, review, and apply solutions.
  • Combine several pieces of information and draw conclusions.
  • Notice when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong.
  • Use reasoning to discover answers to problems.
  • Develop rules or follow guidelines for arranging items.
  • Think of new ideas or original and creative ways to solve problems.
  • Concentrate and not be distracted while performing a task.

Manage Oneself, People, Time, and Things

  • Manage the time of self and others.
  • Motivate, develop, and direct people as they work.
  • Check how well one is learning or doing something.
  • Go back and forth between two or more activities or sources of information without becoming confused.

Work with People

  • Persuade others to approach things differently.
  • Solve problems by bringing others together to discuss differences.
  • Be aware of others' reactions and change behavior in relation to them.
  • Use several methods to teach others how to do something.
  • Look for ways to help people.

Perceive and Visualize

  • Identify a pattern (a figure, object, word, or sound) that is hidden in distracting material.

career working conditions

In a typical work setting, lawyers:

Interpersonal Relationships

  • Are often placed in conflict situations with clients or lawyers who are angry or unhappy.
  • Communicate by telephone, e-mail, letters, memos, and in person on a daily basis. They may on occasion speak in front of groups.
  • Have a medium to high level of social contact. They talk to clients, but also spend time alone researching and analyzing cases.
  • Are responsible for the work done by other workers, including paralegals, clerks, and other lawyers they may supervise.
  • Regularly work in a group or team.

Physical Work Conditions

  • Always work indoors.

Work Performance

  • Must be exact in their work. Errors could cause delays or unfair rulings.
  • Regularly make decisions that greatly impact their employer's finances and reputation.
  • Make decisions that affect clients and other employees on a daily basis. They rarely consult a supervisor before deciding a course of action.
  • Set nearly all their daily tasks and goals without consulting a supervisor first.
  • Work in a competitive atmosphere. They must abide by strict daily deadlines.
  • Repeat the same mental tasks.


  • Often work long hours. It is common for lawyers to work more than 50 hours a week.
  • Generally work a set schedule.
  • May travel to clients' homes or places of business.

career wages and outlook

Wages for a lawyer differ depending on the type, size, and location of the employer. Area of practice also influences wages. Lawyers who have their own practices generally make less than one who works in a firm.

Full time lawyers usually receive benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, paid vacation, and a retirement plan.

A typical lawyer in Minnesota makes around $73.34 an hour, or an $152,540 per year.

The employment outlook for a lawyer in Minnesota is very high. Growth in population increases the amount and need of lawyers. Competition for jobs is still strong considering that more law students are graduating than jobs are available.

Career related occupations

- Paralegals

- Human Services

- Court Clerks

- Detective

- Judge

Program of study - Law

Law programs prepare people to become lawyers.

Law programs include topics such as:

  • Theory and practice of the legal system
    •Civil law
    •Administrative law
    •Criminal law
  • Law programs also include preparation for state and national bar exams.

    In law programs students may be able to specialize in:

  • Banking and corporate law
    •Comparative law
    •Energy and environmental law
    •Health law
    •International law
    •Tax law
    •Intellectual property law
  • Internship
    Internships allow students to develop skills at companies or organizations. Some law programs require students to complete an internship.

    Program Admission

    Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need a bachelor's degree, good grades, and good test scores.

    You must do two things to apply to law school:

  • Complete your bachelor's degree at an accredited college or university
    •Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
  • In nearly all cases, you must have your J.D. or its equivalent to apply to jurisprudence programs. Typically you must finish your LL.M., and less commonly, the M.C.J., before you can be admitted to a J.S.D. or S.J.D. program.

    Admission to jurisprudence programs is competitive. You need a J.D. (law school degree), excellent grades, and strong letters of recommendation. You may also be required to submit a writing sample.

    Program typical course work

    This program typically includes courses in the following subjects:

  • Administrative Law
    •Business Law
    •Civil Procedure
    •Constitutional Law I and II
    •Corporate Law
    •Criminal Law
    •Legal Ethics
    •Legal Research and Writing
    •Real Estate
  • For LL.M. and M.C.J. students, most of your courses will be the same courses taken by J.D. (law) students. Course work depends somewhat on the specialty you choose. For foreign-trained students, a course about the American legal system is usually required.

    This program typically includes courses in the following areas of specialization:

  • Administrative Law
    •Business/Corporate Law
    •Constitutional Law
    •Criminal Law
    •Feminist Law
    •International Law
    •Real Estate
    •Trade Regulation
  • J.S.D. and S.J.D. course work is specialized to your research interests. Course work usually includes preliminary exams, a dissertation, and dissertation defense.

    related programs

    Similar programs are law, pre-law, and paralegal studies.

    Schools that offer my program of study

    - University of North Dakota

    - University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

    College Choice

    University of North Dakota

    College Info

    • Located in Grand Forks, ND
    • Urban (in a large city)
    • 11,522 undergraduate students
    • 3,294 graduate students
    • Admissions: Minimally difficult (about 95% of applicants accepted)
    • In-state tuition: $5,938
    • Out-of-state tuition: $15,854
    • Public
    • Housing - Dorms or apartments on campus

    Financial Aid

    • Loans
      • Federal Perkins loans
      • Federal PLUS loans (for parents)
      • Federal Stafford loans (subsidized)
      • Federal Stafford loans (unsubsidized)
      • Nursing loans
    • Need-based scholarships and grants
      • Federal Pell Grants
      • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
      • Nursing
      • Privately-sponsored scholarships and grants
      • School-sponsored scholarships and grants
      • State-sponsored scholarships and grants
    • Merit-based scholarships and grants
      • School-sponsored scholarships in academics
      • School-sponsored scholarships in art
      • School-sponsored scholarships in special achievements
      • School-sponsored scholarships for special characteristics
    • Student employment
      • Work study

    Informational Interview - Heidi (Paralegal)

    I interviewed a woman named Heidi, who works as a paralegal at Gray Plant Moody law firm in St. Cloud. She works under my aunt, who is a lawyer, and they are good friends because of their jobs and time spent together. She works as a family law paralegal which means she deals mostly with divorces, child custody cases, etc.

    Briefly record your thoughts and feelings about the workplace and the person you just visited.

    I really enjoyed interviewing Heidi. She said things understandable from a high schoolers point of view so it made it easier for me to understand, but I still learned a lot about the job. I asked a few more questions to her that were not on the packet for my own sake and she happily answered those.

    What did you learn in the interview?

    I learned more about what a paralegal does on a daily basis. People in this job use computers a lot more than I expected and paralegals rarely go to court with the lawyers. A lot of office work.

    What did you like? What didn't you like?

    I liked the fact that a paralegal mostly helps a lawyer do their work. While lawyers typically go to court, paralegals do all the "behind the scenes" work. I did not realize how much work paralegals actually did for each case.

    Did you uncover concerns or advantages to this occupation?

    Yes...a concern Heidi mentioned was developing feelings into a case. She mentioned how sometimes in divorce cases, a parent will call in distress because the other parent didn't bring their child home in time and did not know what to do. Heidi said this is tough to go watch because there is only so much a paralegal/lawyer can do for a family.

    What advice did you receive?

    Learn how to talk to people. Good communication is key in any branch of the law.

    Did you discover another occupation to explore?

    Yes, I actually interviewed my aunt right after interviewing Heidi to find the differences between what their jobs are.

    How was the work environment?

    Very good...not sure if this is for all law firms, but Heidi has her own office right next to my aunt (the lawyer) and can decorate it however she pleases. Usually law firms are in big cities.

    Do you think you would be happy in this occupation?

    I think I would definitely be happy in this occupation!

    Plans to reach my goal

    I will plan to take a political science class next semester to further my education into this field, which could possibly help with eventually gaining a law degree. The University of North Dakota I believe would be the best school for me, as I could attend law school there. I will get my bachelor's degree and possibly take a break from school after graduation to become a paralegal and work for a few years before going on to law school and eventually becoming a lawyer in a field I am still unsure about. Now, I could spend a day or two job shadowing both Heidi (a paralegal) and my aunt (a lawyer) to get a better idea of what they do on a daily basis.