With lawyers playing an important role in society, plus earning comparatively high salaries and commanding respect, it is easy to understand why many university students choose to follow this career path. In this Academy Projects summary, we will explore the facts of what it is like to be a lawyer and whether the reality of day to day life as an attorney is at all like what is portrayed in the media and beyond. Then in our next review, we will continue our exploration by delving into some of the more interesting fields of legal specialization, such as cybersecurity law and what it takes to be a human rights or trade secret lawyer.

Working hours for lawyers

What many attorneys new to the field of law find is that the key time metric that most firms focus on is billable hours. There will normally be an expectation that you will bill a certain number of hours per day, say seven or eight, and these billable hours are what the firm will charge directly to the client. Over and above this you will likely have to deal with ongoing training, non-billable in-office meetings and just general work to keep everything moving forward. In reality, this means that the working hours for most lawyers are long and exhausting; however, while some may view this as a negative, many find the work highly richly rewarding and challenging. The workload in a law firm may also vary across the year and you may even find your hours varying if you end up working for an overseas client in a different timezone.

How much do lawyers earn?

There is considerable variation in terms of the annual salary an attorney is expected to earn. Factors which determine how much you will make in salary include location, field of law, prestige of firm you work for, years of experience, the number of billable hours you log, and whether the firm offers a bonus and profit sharing scheme or not. If you work in New York City and handle corporate law for multinational companies, then you can expect to earn far more than you would earn representing a small firm in a regular sized town of course. While there is variation in salary, the good news is that as a field, law generally attracts higher pay, plus offers an excellent path for career progression and earnings.

Becoming a Partner

If you want to eventually achieve the highest levels of remunerations within the field of law, then your goal will have to be to make partner within a firm. Reaching partner status within a successful law firm can, in many cases, lead to a seven-figure annual salary. This achievement requires long-term dedication and loyalty with a single firm however, usually taking many years if not decades. You need to establish yourself within a firm, build connections, consistently demonstrate your worth by meeting and exceeding targets and build up your reputation both with clients and with existing partners. While not an easy goal to achieve, from an earnings and prestige perspective, making partner is still the ultimate goal for many attorneys, i.e. as opposed to starting one’s own independent practice for example.

Law is a demanding field and you will be expected to work longer and harder than most other professionals. That being said, it is a highly rewarding and respected profession with a clear career progression. It is also very well paid with lawyers who make partner often earning high six or low seven figure salaries.