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Legal Careers in the USA

Legal careers in the USA studentAccording to recent statistics the legal services industry in the United States generated around USD $256billion in revenue in 2013 – and this figure gives you an indication that the demand for legal services in the United States is always on a rise! The present generation of would-be lawyers seems to be driven by the competitive spirit and the several alternative avenues that a law degree provides. When it comes to seeking long term legal jobs in the US, it is important to bear in mind that an LLM (Master of Laws) degree isn’t a substitute for the 3-year JD – however it would definitely enhance your CV and could help you achieve the legal career of your dreams. 

While you may be considering doing an LLM or JD in the US to pursue a career in academia or to enhance your chances of joining an international organisation, a majority of law students do look at legal careers within the US either in law firms, multinational corporations or the judiciary. Whichever route you plan to take, it is important that you know your choices right from the time you decide to study law. You can start by looking at the popular careers in law or by finding out how much lawyers usually get paid.

Popular legal profiles range from defence attorneys, government counsels, corporate counsels (also known as in-house counsels) to legal aid lawyers. Lawyers can specialise in a particular area such as environmental law, tax law, intellectual property law, family law, securities lawyers, etc. Apart from these, lawyers also consider becoming arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators. If eligible they may become judges or hearing officers where they apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. 

Benefits of gaining an LLM program

Although gaining a Master of Laws qualification is not essential when pursuing some legal careers in the United States, there are still many benefits of studying an LLM program. Studying an LLM demonstrates your ability to learn and retain knowledge at a high standard as well as having a keen interest in exploring fascinating legal aspects. Having an LLM on your CV will impress any future employers and help set you on a successful career path. Find out more here.

Legal salaries in the US

The US Bureau of Labour Statistics states that salaries of experienced lawyers would vary widely according to the type, size, and location of their employer. Lawyers who own their own practices usually earn less than those who are partners in law firms and a majority of lawyers worked full-time involving long working hours. The median annual wages for lawyers in the top five industries in which US lawyers worked were as follows (2012 figures):

Annual Wage for Lawyers in Top 5 US Industries 

Finance and Insurance  $134,940
Federal government, excluding postal service  $134,690
Legal services $116,630
Local government, excluding education and hospitals  $87,140
State government, excluding education and hospitals  $79,220

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics


Estimated Salary of a First Year Associate 

Large Law Firm  $ 110,750 - $ 136,500
Mid-sized Law Firm  $ 78,250 - $ 106,750
Small to mid-sized Law Firm  $ 61,000 - $ 86,250
Small Law Firm  $ 53,750 - $ 75,250

  Source: Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide

The Top 10 legal careers in the US

Legal Careers in the USA

The legal services in the US have almost always appeared in the list of top-ranking and top-paying jobs and therefore still an appealing career choice for many. Going by criteria such as popularity, remuneration and job satisfaction, here’s a list of the top 10 legal careers in the US.

Litigation and trial lawyers

Lawyers representing clients in both civil and criminal litigation are widely sought.  They lead the way in being the top paid legal professionals and get well paid when they are able to win cases for their clients. The initial salary and experience can vary depending on where and which cases they work.

General counsels

General Counsels head the law departments of corporations. They usually earn an executive-level salary and may make more money through stocks or options.


Judges enjoy healthy benefits, expense accounts and contributions to retirement plans made on their behalf, increasing the size of their compensation package.


Securing a position as a law school teaching faculty, including as a teaching assistant, can be very competitive. Qualifications for top candidates would require a law degree from a top law school, high grades, work experience in the legal practice, publication in scholarly journals, etc. making law school teaching in the US rank among its top-paying jobs. Salaries would depend on the institution, location, years of experience and level of education.

Arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators

Arbitrators are usually attorneys or hold specific industry knowledge. They hear and decide disputes between opposing parties as an impartial third party. Mediators on the other hand help people resolve their disputes. Conciliators are similar to mediators who help guide opposing sides to a settlement.

Litigation Support Roles

The goal of litigation support is to organize, analyse and present case materials through computer systems. Legal professionals in litigation support roles earn good salaries and possess law degrees or advanced degrees in technology, business or finance.  As technology controls the legal practice in handling processes, legal research, database management and administrative activities, legal professionals are increasingly opting for these roles.

Legal Specialist Roles

Legal Specialist roles in specific industry areas are also gaining fast popularity. A legal specialist may be involved in support scheduling, obtaining equipment and edit presentations and notes apart from drafting, editing and updating legal documents and validating them for accuracy. Much of the work involves being part of the organisation’s processes and developing, implementing and validating document management, version processes and discovery processes.

Law Firm Administration

Typically in larger firms, law firm administrators are able to work regular hours and earn good pay. They mostly oversee the business and administrative aspects of running a law firm and perform non-legal aspects of law practice such as financial management and reporting, business development, human resources, facilities management, technology, marketing and practice management. This can be a great career option for those seeking a regular working-hour job within the legal industry.

International organisations

Although not among the top-paying jobs, candidates often consider a career with an international organisation such as the UN, international charities or campaigning organisations. Many students and graduates, particularly with a background in law and having an interest in international relations may consider a career working for an international organisation.  Although rewarding in the long-term, few opportunities are available for new graduates to work in this field other than as an intern or volunteer.

Law firm consultant/Legal recruiterLaw firm consultants enjoy a varied work environment, flexibility and the ability to attend meetings, travel and meet people. Top law firms in the US rely heavily upon legal recruiters for fresh entrants. Legal recruiters are able to identify bright law graduates, review their CVs and arrange interviews. Having some experience in recruitment can give better prospects at this profile.


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