Lawyers work in a variety of settings, requiring both the skills you develop in law school, prior facets of your pre-law school background and additional training you will obtain following law school.  The diversity of settings means one thing:  NOT ALL LEGAL EMPLOYERS ARE LOOKING FOR THE SAME SKILL SETS. Some of the most common legal work settings are described below.

Private Practice

The majority of lawyers work in private practice. Some work as solo practitioners, others in small or “boutique” law firms. Many work in firms that have several hundred lawyers in cities around the world.  Lawyers usually join firms as “associates” and work toward becoming “partners.” The road to partnership is long and full of hurdles.  In recent years it has become increasingly common for associates to join a law firm with the expectation that they will gain experience for a number of years but not stick around for a partnership decision.  To retain more lawyers, some law firms now allow for “non-equity partnerships” or promote a few attorneys to non-partnership “of counsel” or “special counsel” positions.  Life at a law firm, especially a large law firm, is influenced by “billable hours.”  Each lawyer has a “billable rate” that is used to charge clients for time spent on client matters.  In order to bill clients and to get credit for work performed, firm lawyers keep track of the activities they perform each day.  Sometimes lawyers record their activities in increments of time as short as six minutes.

Government

Many government lawyers work at the local level, but state governments and the federal government also hire lawyers to perform a multitude of tasks.

The Federal government

Most federal government agencies have legal counsel.   These agencies include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Department of Justice (federal prosecutors like the United States Attorney’s Offices throughout the country), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Homeland Security, the Security Exchange Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Patent and Trademark Office, and just about every other government agency that you can name.  In addition, the United States Congress offers many exciting opportunities for lawyers to develop and help pass legislation. Finally, attorneys also serve in all branches of the military.  Each military branch has its own Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).

Many of these agencies look favorably on hiring permanently from the pool of students who have participated in a government honors or internship program.  In an effort to identify those programs, the University of Arizona School of Law publishes a complete list of federal government internship opportunities available to 1L’s, 2L’s and 3L’s with deadlines and application procedures.  We subscribe to this list on your behalf. The username and password change each year; please contact the Career Services Office to obtain the current ones.

Another source for hundreds of sought-after jobs in the Washington, DC area is the Opportunities in Public Affairs.  These jobs are on Capitol Hill, in non-profits, think tanks, institutions, the government and in corporations and professional firms.  The listings include opportunities in Government Affairs & Policy, Public Relations & Advocacy, Media & Journalism, and Entry Level Jobs & Internships.  The monthly publication is accessible online at http://www.opajobs.com/login_subs.php .  The username and password change each year; please contact the Career Services Office to obtain the current ones.

State and local governments include attorneys who work as prosecutors in District Attorney’s offices (and in some jurisdictions, Public Defenders’ offices), Attorneys General offices, state agencies, commissions and boards.  They can also be found representing both a state’s executive and legislative branches as well.  Locally, many attorneys also work in city or county law offices, as well as in local agencies and commissions.  Lawyers represent just about every government agency you can name.

Judicial Clerkship

Judicial clerks are a subset of government lawyers, but warrant separate mention. Depending on how a state’s court system is structured, judicial clerkships are available at both the federal and state levels.  Judicial clerks research and draft memoranda and opinions for judges. Often, these intellectually-stimulating and prestigious positions are short-term.  Frequently, recent law graduates will spend a year or two clerking before embarking on their legal careers.  There are however, some “permanent clerk” or “staff attorney” positions that allow for long-term employment. These permanent positions are typically available only to people admitted to the state bar. Many judges will accept a volunteer intern to work with them during the summer of their first year or during the academic year.

The University of Vermont Law School compiles an annual Guide to Judicial Clerkship Procedures which is accessible at http://forms.vermontlaw.edu/career/guides/ . The username and password change each year; please contact the Career Services Office to obtain the current ones. For a more detailed explanation about judicial clerkships, see the Judicial Clerkships page on the Career Services website.

Public Interest

Many public interest lawyers work for legal-aid societies, which are private, non-profit agencies designed to serve economically disadvantaged people. These lawyers might represent the poor in landlord-tenant disagreements, or negotiate child visitation rights for individuals who cannot afford private attorneys. In Mississippi, public interest attorneys include public defenders who are often private practitioners contracted by the court to take on the criminal cases for indigent people who would otherwise be unrepresented.   Still other public interest lawyers work for non-profit organizations that seek to change the law.  Lawyers might strive to strengthen environmental laws, to protect the rights of children in foster care or to advocate for racial and religious tolerance.  Public interest lawyers work on both the “left” and the “right”.  Some work to abolish abortion, while others work to strengthen abortion rights; some promote “victim’s rights” and advocate in favor of the death penalty, while others strive to abolish the death penalty.   Non-profit organizations often struggle for funding.  As a result, many are willing to provide (non-paying) internships to interested law students.  Even after law school, public interest lawyer positions are not high paying.  But because they offer other rewards, these positions are often highly competitive.  Learn more about public interest opportunities at pslawnet.org . You may want to read their fact sheet first (pdf).

Click here to find out more about the University of Mississippi’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) for possible funding of otherwise unpaid public interest internships.

In-House

Another work setting, usually in a large corporation, is where an attorney works for a single client “in-house”. Usually, the largest number of attorneys working for corporations “in-house” are found at corporate headquarters.  An in-house attorney advises the company on legal activities related to the company’s business.  Large companies often have correspondingly large legal departments and a number of in-house attorneys who specialize in specific issues.  For example, one might supervise litigation being handled by an outside firm, another might address the company’s employment issues, and a third might work as a lobbyist who monitors and tries to influence legislation related to the company’s business.  Traditionally, many in-house attorneys obtain their positions when they are working in a law firm and are asked by a client to join the company.  In-house lawyers often report that they enjoy greater control over their time than their law firm counterparts.  Also, because in-house lawyers represent one client, they are not beholden to the “billable hour.”

Non-Legal

Work Settings for Legally-Trained People

Law school graduates work in a multitude of non-legal settings.  Such a setting can be in a field that is law-related and uses legal knowledge in different way or a law school graduate can decide to do something totally unrelated to the practice of law.  The following list is not exhaustive, but it highlights some areas that hire law school graduates.  A word of caution:  keep in mind that law school by itself does not prepare you for every field so if you decide not to practice law, you may require additional training.

Law Firm Administration:

Sizeable law firms often have a variety of non-practice related employment.  Legally trained people work in areas of business development, clerk and attorney recruitment, law firm finances, human resources or managing office work flow. Graduates interested in these law firm positions usually have a business, accounting or human resources background.

Politics:

Some law school graduates will end up working in the political process. Of course that includes the more obvious jobs like legislative representatives and local state and national government levels. But many graduates will represent the legislative and legal interests of corporations, trade and professional associations, public interest advocacy groups and political action committees.

Legal Publishing and Journalism:

Most law students use either Lexis or Westlaw as research tools during law school.  Several print and electronic media concentrate primarily on legal news.  For those students with backgrounds in publishing or journalism, jobs with legal publishers as well as print or electronic media might also provide law-related employment.

Higher Education Administration/Academia:

Law school graduates often work in law schools as well as colleges and universities.  Lawyers teach in law schools, colleges, and at other educational levels.  Many lawyers who hope to become professors first gain teaching experience by working as an adjunct professor and teaching one course while working elsewhere full time.  Practicing lawyers who want to teach also often look for publishing opportunities. While some people go on to jobs in faculty positions, many other law school graduates work in non-academic portions of colleges, universities and law schools as well.  Jobs like University Attorney, Dean, Director of Admissions, Alumni Affairs and Development, and Career Services to name a few.

Financial planning, investment banking, estate planning:

Law school graduates may work in bank trust departments, brokerage firms, insurance companies, development offices for preparatory schools, hospitals and universities.  Often an undergraduate major in accounting or finance would be helpful as well as tax law classes, in addition to a legal education.

Law Related Job Titles

Alternative Dispute Resolution

  • ADR Specialist
  • Arbitration Administration
  • Arbitrator
  • Domestic Relations Specialist
  • Mediator
  • Mediation Coordinator

Business and Financial Services

  • Bankruptcy Analyst
  • Director of Regulatory Affairs
  • Entrepreneur
  • Foreclosure Administrator
  • Investment Banker
  • Loan Officer
  • Probate Administrator
  • Property Manager
  • Public Finance Consultant
  • SEC Compliance Officer
  • Title Search Agent
  • Trust Officer
  • Trust Risk Analyst

Contracts

  • Contract Administrator/Analyst
  • Contract Negotiator
  • Grant Administrator
  • Licensing Manager
  • Purchasing Officer

Court Administration

  • Bankruptcy Administrator
  • Calendaring Clerk
  • Court Administrator
  • Jury Commissioner
  • Legal Affairs Director
  • Pretrial Services Officer
  • Sanctions Coordinator
  • Settlement Director
  • Trust Account Supervisor
  • Victim Services Coordinator

Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement

  • ATF/DEA/FBI Agent
  • Code Enforcement Officer
  • Crime Analyst
  • Immigrant Rights
  • Inmate Services
  • Inspector General
  • Internal Affairs Officer
  • Investigations Review specialist
  • Securities Fraud Investigator
  • Seized Property Administrator
  • Victim Compensation Officer

Education

  • Director of Legislative Affairs
  • Law Librarian
  • Law Professor
  • Legal Research & Writing Instructor
  • School District Administration
  • Undergraduate Professor (e.g., Law & Economics, Jurisprudence, Judicial Process)
  • University Administration (e.g., Program Director for alumni relations, development, career services, financial services, admissions, student services, etc.; assistant or associate dean)

Environmental Policy

  • Compliance Officer
  • Consultant/Policy Analyst
  • Director of Environmental Affairs
  • EPA Official
  • OSHA Specialist
  • Regulatory Affairs Officer
  • Resources Manager

Human Resources

  • ADA Officer
  • Affirmative Action Officer
  • Benefits Coordinator
  • Civil Rights Analyst
  • Ethics Officer
  • HR Director
  • Internal Affairs Ombudsman
  • Legal Career Advisor
  • Legal Recruiter
  • Professional Standards Administration
  • Salary Administrator

Insurance/Risk Management

  • Claims Examiner
  • Insurance Issuing Officer
  • Litigation Examiner
  • Policy Analyst
  • Risk Manager
  • Workers’ Compensation Specialist

Intellectual Property

  • Copyright Examiner
  • Corporate Liaison Officer
  • IP Director
  • IP Licensing Officer
  • Patent Administrator
  • Patent Examiner
  • Trademark Administrator

International (Federal)

  • Asylum Officer
  • CIA Analyst
  • CIA Legal Compliance Officer
  • Customs Officer
  • Diplomat/Diplomatic Staffer
  • Export/Import Compliance Officer
  • Industrial Security Specialist
  • Passport/Visa Issuance Officer
  • Security Classification Administrator
  • Trade Zone Manager

International (Private)

  • Aid Development Officer (e.g., Save the Children)
  • Business Development Agent
  • Commodity Distribution Officer
  • Governmental Liaison
  • Grand and Donation Manager
  • Land Titling and Registration Agent
  • Legal/Judicial System Developer (U.N. and Sovereign States)
  • Non-Government Organization (NGO) positions
  • Program/Sector Chief (e.g. UNICEF, Project Hope)

Labor Relations

  • Industrial Relations Specialist
  • Contract Administrator
  • Labor Negotiator
  • Management Consultant
  • Union Consultant

Legal Administration

  • State Bar Administrator
  • Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Specialist
  • Law Firm Administrator
  • Legal Services Program Director
  • Jury Selection Expert

Legal Information & Research

  • Archivist
  • Law Librarian (School or Private Firm)
  • Legal Research (Legal Publications; Law Firm Research Services)
  • Policy Research Analyst

Legislative Affairs and Policies

  • Campaign Manger
  • Chief of Staff
  • Congressional Affairs Specialist
  • Congressional Liaison
  • Legislative Assistant
  • Lobbyist
  • Political Strategist
  • Registrar of Voters
  • Regulatory Analyst
  • Subcommittee Staffer (e.g. Assistant to the Senate Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs)

Media & Entertainment

  • Copyright Researcher
  • Legal Clearance Officer
  • Legal Editor
  • Legal Reporter
  • Sports/Literary/Talent Agent