The 100 Best Jobs #35

Description of Job

A lawyer advises and represents individuals, businesses, and government agencies in either criminal or civil legal matters.

Projected Salary and Benefits

In 2011, lawyers earned a median average salary of $113,310. The best-paid earned more than $187,199, while the lowest-paid made approximately $54,120.

Lawyers in private practice often can determine their own workload and the point at which they will retire, many stay in practice well beyond the usual retirement age.

Required Education

Lawyers must receive formal training. They must hold an undergraduate degree as well as a law school degree before attempting the written bar exam. This final requirement is administered by the state in which one hopes to practice. The exams vary by state but usually consist of a written test that probes knowledge of state laws and ethical standards. Further, an attorney's informal education never stops. A lawyer must be familiar with new legal codes and precedent set by local, state, and federal legislatures and courts.

Working Condition

Lawyers do most of their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. They sometimes meet in clients' homes or places of business and, when necessary, in hospitals or prisons. They may travel to attend meetings, gather evidence, and appear before courts, legislative bodies, and other authorities.

Lawyers who are in private practice may work irregular hours while conducting research, conferring with clients, or preparing briefs during non-office hours. Lawyers often work long hours, and of those who regularly work full time, about half work 50 hours or more per week. They may face particularly heavy pressure, especially when a case is being tried. Preparation for court includes keeping abreast of the latest laws and judicial decisions.

Promotion Opportunities

Most lawyers belong to private practices or firms. They begin as salaried associates, and, if they impress their superiors, move up to the level of partner—a part owner of the practice. A degree of business savvy is required to be successful at this level.

The "in-house" posts offer a higher degree of employment security but come with less autonomy than one has in a private practice.



  • Lawyers are among the highest paid professionals in the legal industry and most attorneys earn salaries well above the national average.
  • For generations, a career as a lawyer has been a hallmark of prestige.
  • Lawyers are in a unique position to help individuals, groups and organizations with their legal problems and further the public good.


  • Deadlines, client demands, long hours, changing laws and other demands all combine to make the practice of law one of the most stressful jobs on the planet.
  • Low public perception of lawyers that is prevalent in today’s society.
  • The stress and demands of law practice have fueled high levels of career dissatisfaction among members of the bar.