For many people heading into or just getting out of law school, the current economy creates questions about the future of this legal profession. The entry of students into law school is largely determined by supply and demand. There are few controls at the university level to govern the number of entering students. At the same time the number of enrolling students is dropping, new career paths are opening up for lawyers.
The Outlook for Lawyers
There will be a 10 percent increase in the need for lawyers through 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. This is in line with the average for other post-graduate professions outside of healthcare, which is nearly double that expected increase.
The average education required is seven years after high school to obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Most lawyers continue to be employed in private practices, but there are openings in many different areas in both the public and private sector. Law school does not prepare students to work in any specific areas, so it’s up to the student to pursue additional education and internships to get into any of the special areas of law.
What You Can Do as a Lawyer
Law school admissions have decreased steadily over the past three years. There was a 13.4 percent decrease between 2012 and 2013. The need for lawyers in private practice largely determines this demand, so a decrease in admissions can mean more openings in some of the specialty positions.
Once out of law school, your career can take a number of paths. For example, the current CEO of Ernst & Young, Mark Weinberger, was appointed as assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Tax Policy because of his work as a lawyer with the tax code. His role was to explain the complicated tax process to Congress.
Some of the many opportunities as a lawyer include the following positions:
- Government counsels: This role is normally found in government agencies. They interpret and write regulations and laws. They also create the procedures to enforce those laws. They may write legal reviews of decisions made by other government agencies. They can also argue criminal and civil cases for various government interests.
- Corporate counsels: These lawyers work for corporations. They will be involved in interpreting laws for executives and making recommendations regarding business activities. The corporate attorney may also work with patents, contracts, taxes, union agreements and government regulations.
- Legal aid lawyers: Legal aid lawyers typically work in areas where a private attorney is unavailable or not affordable. This can include work for non-profit organizations, companies that work with disadvantaged people, immigration organizations, and civil liberty organizations. These lawyers will deal with rent and lease issues, job discrimination, wage issues and immigration rights.
- Environmental lawyers: These lawyers may work for the government, environmental interest groups and certain waste management and recycling companies. They interpret the various environment regulations for their organizations to make sure they are in compliance. They may also be involved in writing new environmental laws or updates to existing regulations.
- Intellectual property lawyers- In this digital age where records are more often kept electronically, these lawyers are experiencing an increased demand. Their role is to protect the rights of a company to the patents, trademarks and various creative works, such as music and books it may produce.
Supporting Roles and the Lawyer
The need for supporting roles, such as paralegals and legal assistants, are increasing twice as quickly as lawyers. This may be an indication of more responsibility moving from the lawyer to lower-paid support personnel. The upside is that with more support, lawyers will have more time to spend on the specialties in demand, such as environmental law and intellectual property.
Are you considering a career in law? Share your thoughts in the comments.