Pre-Law Advising

Careers in Law

When considering a career in law, one factor to think about is the various settings in which legal work is done. Lawyers use their degrees in many different settings; you may find each attractive for different reasons.

Private practice is the representation of clients in exchange for a fee – as opposed to working for the government, in-house at a company, as a public interest lawyer or in a non-legal services job. Lawyers in private practice may, and most do, charge hourly fees; there is an entire subset of lawyers who agree to represent clients in exchange for a share of the settlement or judgment that the client receives in the case (contingent fees).

There are two basic types of private practice, the sole practitioner and law firms. In solo practice one lawyer has their own practice. They may have additional paralegal or administrative help but are the only lawyer in the practice. Law firms consist of groups of lawyers working together, historically organized as partnerships – sharing the profits and losses from their work. Law firms may be sprawling with 1000+ lawyers in offices around the globe, smaller regionally-based firms, or small local firms.

Many businesses hire lawyers as their own employees. Depending on the size and complexity of the company, the in-house staff may vary in staffing and in the nature of the work they do. In-house lawyers may do litigation, tax, corporate, environmental, patent, regulatory or other types of work. The top in-house lawyer in a company is the “general counsel” or “chief legal officer.” 

Lawyers work for federal, state and local governments in a variety of capacities. They may be prosecutors handling criminal cases, regulatory lawyers in government agencies  interpreting and enforcing laws and drafting regulations; politicians and political staffers are often lawyers. 

Judges and judicial clerks are also government lawyers. Clerks are often relatively recent law school graduates who spend a year or two assisting judges with legal research, drafting opinions and managing trials. Some courts have permanent clerks.

Almost all lawyers do some form of public service work (pro bono), others work full time in the public interest sphere. They may be public defenders representing indigent clients, lawyers in legal services clinics who assist low-income clients with civil disputes, immigration matters, domestic and family law cases, housing matters and even small business engagements. This category may include organizations that do “impact litigation” – cases that address socially important legal matters that affect large numbers of people.

Lawyers can be found in many professions outside of the practice of law itself. Many lawyers who start off in corporate and finance work move into investment banking, private equity and asset management; many lawyers become consultants or business executives; they may be found in publishing, the arts and entertainment businesses, consulting, public interest advocacy in leadership and non-lawyer roles.