Law Careers

Explore the top law careers for all types of lawyers with our attorney career guide.
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Updated on April 4, 2024
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Becoming a lawyer takes time, dedication, and hard work. But a career in law can be extremely rewarding and can pay off — literally. Lawyers earned a median salary of over $135,000 in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); the highest 10% of earners made over $239,000.

Lawyers often specialize in a particular field of law, such as tax, business, civil rights, or family law. Law careers also include teaching law, legal consulting, and positions as analysts or advisors in public policy. Some law careers — like becoming a paralegal — don't require a law degree.

Explore the positions that may be open to you if you're interested in a law career.

Popular Online Bachelor's in Legal Studies Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Is the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

You may think of lawyers and attorneys as synonymous, but there are a few key differences between these two roles:


Lawyers are legal professionals who have earned a degree from law school. They may or may not be licensed to practice law — some lawyers may teach or conduct academic research, for example, and not represent clients in court.


Attorneys need a law degree and must pass the bar exam to practice law in a specific region. They will typically argue legal cases, draft legal documents, and advise clients in legal matters.

All attorneys are lawyers since they earned a degree from law school. But not all lawyers are attorneys — some aren't licensed to actually practice the law.

What Types of Lawyers Are There?

If you're interested in pursuing a law career, you should explore which type of law may be right for you. You can choose from dozens of law specialties, all of which have unique legal regulations.

Attorneys often develop expertise in one or two specific branches of law, such as business law, real estate law, or immigration law. Every specialization requires deep knowledge and years of experience, so it's important to plan ahead. Do you have a passion for helping others? Defense, family, or immigration law might be a good fit for you. Are you interested in having an impact? Civil rights law or environmental law may be what you're looking for.

  • Business lawyer: These lawyers assist companies with legal matters that come up while running a business, including contracts, mergers and acquisitions, employment regulation, intellectual property, and other business issues. They may work in-house in a company's legal department or for a law firm with corporate clients.
  • Civil rights lawyer: Civil rights lawyers focus on social justice issues, such as discrimination and harassment, working to uphold the legal rights of members of marginalized groups. These professionals often work for government agencies or nonprofit organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Defense lawyer: Criminal defense lawyers represent the defendant in a court case. Defense lawyers argue on behalf of the person or company facing criminal charges. Defense lawyers may work for a law firm or in their own private practice. They may also work as a public defender, a defense lawyer appointed by the court to provide representation to a defendant who cannot afford the services of a lawyer on their own.
  • Employment and labor lawyer: These lawyers handle legal issues about workers' rights and employment regulations. They may advise businesses or employees on discrimination and harassment policies, fair pay and wage laws, contracts, and unions. They may work directly for a company or a law firm.
  • Environmental lawyer: Environmental lawyers focus on land use, conservation, and pollution. They may handle cases dealing with water quality issues, waste treatment and disposal, environmental impact, and wildlife protection. They often work for nonprofit and government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Estate planning lawyer: These lawyers handle end-of-life planning, including drafting wills, trusts, and medical directives. They advise clients on the legal and tax implications of various methods of posthumous wealth transfers. Estate planning lawyers often work in private practice or a law firm focusing on estate planning and other elder law issues.
  • Family lawyer: Family lawyers help fight for the legal rights of their clients when it comes to sensitive family issues. They handle legal matters and disputes involving spouses, children, and other family members such as divorce, child custody, adoption, domestic violence, and prenuptial agreements. Family lawyers may work at a law firm or in private practice.
  • Intellectual property lawyer: Intellectual property lawyers handle cases that deal with ownership of the results of someone's intellectual and creative labor, such as inventions, works of art, or written material. They may deal with issues surrounding copyright, trademarks, fair use, licensing, trade secrets, or unfair competition. They will often work at a law firm or a company's legal department.
  • Immigration lawyer: Immigration lawyers handle the legal processes of immigrating to another country. They often handle visa applications, citizenship processes, refugee status cases, asylum requests, and deportation defenses. Immigration lawyers may work at law firms, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
  • Medical malpractice lawyer: These lawyers represent clients harmed by healthcare providers. They often deal with cases involving medical misconduct and negligence, medication errors, surgical mishaps, misdiagnoses, and other healthcare accidents. Medical malpractice lawyers often work in specialized law firms that accept personal injury lawsuits and medical malpractice claims. They investigate their clients' cases and seek to win compensation for their clients' medical expenses and suffering.
  • Military lawyer: Military lawyers work with clients who are members of the armed forces, veterans, or their families. They are also known as JAG officers (Judge Advocate General). Military lawyers handle all military-related law cases, from deployment and benefit issues to military misconduct and violations of the military law code. Military lawyers work within a specific legal division of each armed service branch, such as the Army and the Navy.
  • Personal injury lawyer: Personal injury lawyers represent clients injured in car crashes, public transportation accidents, falls, and product malfunctions. They may also take on wrongful death cases and medical malpractice claims. Personal injury lawyers will investigate the liability and responsibility of those involved and seek compensation to cover their client's medical bills, time away from work, and pain and suffering.

6 Types of Law Programs

If you're considering going to law school, you should think carefully about the type of law you want to specialize in. Some degrees may set you up for success in your desired career path easier than others.

For instance, if you want to practice the law in one of the specialty areas described above, you will likely need a JD and an LL.M degree. If you work in a legal-adjacent career field and seek law knowledge as it intersects with your profession, a master's degree or legal certificate might do the trick.

  • Juris Doctor (JD): If you want to become a licensed attorney and practice law in the United States, this is the degree for you. A JD degree usually takes three years of full-time study and prepares you to take the bar exam, allowing you to practice law in your desired state. This degree usually covers all areas of U.S. law so that you can argue on behalf of a variety of individuals and businesses.
  • Master of Laws (LL.M) Degree: An LL.M is a type of law program designed for those who already hold a JD degree and want to specialize in a particular area of law, such as intellectual property law, civil rights law, or environmental law. These programs focus on advanced legal topics in your chosen specialty. They usually take one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study to complete.
  • Master's Degree: If you're not looking to practice law as a licensed attorney, a master's degree may be the right program for you. These programs include a master of science in laws (MSL) degree, a master of legal studies (MLS) degree, and juris master (JM) degree. These degrees may benefit working professionals who interact with the legal system and are looking for a deeper understanding of the law. Depending on whether you complete the program full or part time, it typically takes 1-2 years to complete.
  • Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR): Similar to other law-related master's programs, an MDR degree is designed for those who already hold a bachelor's degree and don't want to become a practicing attorney. This program focuses on conflict resolution, negotiation, and arbitration techniques. Students usually complete the program in one or two years.
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD): An SJD is the highest degree in law. Students must already hold JD and LL.M degrees before starting an SJD program. Those who obtain an SJD degree can become legal scholars, researchers, academics, and law professors. These programs take about two years to complete.
  • Legal Certificate: Legal certificate programs help students gain knowledge about particular areas of the law quickly, sometimes in as little as three months. Certificate programs often contain industry-specific knowledge and can help you advance your career. Some are offered online and are often flexible, which is helpful if you are a working professional.

What Other Career Fields Can I Enter With a Law Degree?

Getting a law degree doesn't mean you have to become an attorney. You can enter plenty of nontraditional career paths with a law degree, including shaping public policy or consulting on business affairs.

Here are a few possible options to consider:

  • Education: Law degree holders can pursue educational careers as administrators or policy analysts. They may work in higher education, government, or nonprofit think tanks.
  • Finance: Those with a law degree interested in finance could pursue a career as a financial analyst or risk analyst, financial advisor or investment consultant, compliance officer, or financial regulator.
  • Politics: Law degree holders may work in politics as lobbyists or policy analysts, advocating for specific social issues. They may also run for office, become legislators, or hold other political positions.
  • Human Resources: Law degree holders interested in the human resource field can pursue a position as a human resource manager. They may also become a consultant specializing in employee relations and labor compliance issues.
  • Journalism: Finding a position as a reporter, editor, or analyst may be possible for law degree holders who want to transition to a career in journalism. They may write about legal cases and analyze court proceedings, interpreting case outcomes for a general or informed public.
  • Consulting: Consulting can be a great pathway for law degree holders who want to use their degree but don't want to be an attorney. Consultants may advise businesses, agencies, and organizations on legal matters, from employment issues to compliance to financial regulation.

What Are Non-Lawyer Jobs in the Legal Profession?

If you're interested in entering the legal profession but don't want to earn a law degree, there are many careers you can consider.

Arbitrators and mediators may earn a specialized degree in mediation, such as a master of dispute resolution, or they may become a mediator through industry experience. Court reporters and legal assistants may just need an associate or bachelor's degree, while correctional officers and bailiffs typically just need a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Other Legal Professions
Jobs Median Annual Wages (May 2022) Percent Change in Employment (2022-2032)
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators $64,030 5%
Court Reporters and Simultaneous Captioners $63,560 3%
Criminologists $98,590 5%
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $59,200 4%
Law Librarians $61,660 3%
Bailiffs $49,100 -2%
Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Law Careers

What areas of law are least stressful?

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Estate planning law, real estate law, and intellectual property law may be less stressful than other law areas that involve high-stakes, emotional cases such as family law and defense law. Of course, the amount of stress involved in each legal area is subjective and will depend upon many factors, including your personal disposition and your working conditions.

What is the highest-paying job in law?

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According to Payscale, patent attorneys are some of the highest-earning lawyers, with an average salary of about $152,000 in January 2024. Corporate attorneys made about $125,000 per year as of February 2024.

What field of law is most in demand?

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While lawyers of all kinds should remain in high demand, the BLS projects faster-than-average job growth from 2022-2032. Lawyers specializing in healthcare, elder law, intellectual property, cybersecurity, and data privacy may be most in demand.

As technology and innovation continue to advance, lawyers who can navigate the unique legal considerations of new tools like AI will likely be needed. As the Baby Boom generation ages, more lawyers proficient in elder law and dealing with the legal complexities of our healthcare system will also surely be in demand.

What does a typical day look like for a lawyer?

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A typical day for a lawyer might involve attending client meetings, making court appearances, and drafting legal documents. A lawyer may need to research a case, review case files, file legal paperwork, and handle communications with clients.

How do you become a lawyer?

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To become a lawyer, you first need to earn your bachelor's degree. Then you will need to take the LSAT and apply to law school. Once accepted, you will need to earn your JD degree, which typically takes three years. Finally, to become a practicing attorney you will need to pass the bar exam and become licensed in the state where you intend to practice. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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