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Career Planning

Academics / Departments & Programs / Pre-Law / Law School & Beyond / Career Planning

What do lawyers do?

Lawyers are advocates for individuals, groups and organizations who need assistance in interpreting and applying the law or who are in conflict with other individuals or groups. The setting in which these lawyers work can vary greatly, from a large corporate law firm to solo practitioners, from non-profit organizations to prosecuting attorneys, from in-house legal counsel to political officeholder plus hundreds of additional opportunities. Each option may involve different tasks and responsibilities and appeal to different individuals.

Stories abound of young lawyers fresh out of law school working in big city corporate law offices, putting in a large number of “billable hours” each year as they work very long days for initial salaries exceeding $120,000. While some of these instances may be true, most law school graduates are not in those situations. Smaller corporate offices in smaller cities may be less demanding — with salaries being somewhat less impressive.

Most lawyers do not work in large law firms, but instead are on their own representing clients on a wide variety of cases. Some individual lawyers share one building with secretarial help and a library while maintaining their own clients and hours. In these cases, salaries may be modest but hardworking solo practitioners can still make a good living.

At Calvin, we believe lawyers can play a vital role in seeking justice and showing mercy as part of their Christian calling, providing a valuable service as counselors to individuals, organizations and businesses.

A degree in the field of law can open many occupational doors; consult 400+ things you can do with a law degree.

How do I decide if I want to become a lawyer?

Before putting yourself through the law school application process and the financial burden and stress of a law school education, consider thoroughly the rigors of law school and the benefits of a law degree. While not all legal occupations require the following skills, the majority do:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Prioritizing
  • Time management
  • Analytical skills
  • Creative ability to work with others
  • Conflict management

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I like to think of ways to solve other people's problems?
  • Do I take pleasure in writing papers?
  • Do I enjoy doing research?
  • Do I like thinking on my feet?
  • Am I comfortable speaking in front of people?
  • Do I find history and current events interesting?
  • Do I work well under the pressure of deadlines?
  • Do I juggle multiple tasks well?
  • Do I thrive in situations of conflict?

Law school is too expensive to attend as a trial run or because you do not know what else to do. Investigate the career before you choose to pursue it.

  • Talk with practicing lawyers from a variety of backgrounds
  • Participate in Calvin's pre-law mentoring program
  • Try an internship or externship in a legal setting
  • Seek out family, friends or members of your church who practice law; see if they would be willing to let you “shadow” them to see what they actually do during the week
  • Talk to people who know you and your skills and see if those skills match well with the requirements of being a lawyer

A law school education is invaluable for developing the ability to analyze issues, identify problems and offer solutions. It will help you build the skills necessary to succeed in law. As you decide whether to choose a career in law, honestly evaluate your skills and interests — no amount of education will help you enjoy things you hate.

A J.D. or LL.M. degree?

The J.D., or Juris Doctor degree, is the first postgraduate—and generally the first professional— degree received in the field of law. In almost all cases, students may only enter a J.D. program after having completed a four-year degree from a university. The J.D. is a three-year program and successful completion is required in order to obtain a license to practice law.

The LL.M., or Latin Legum Magister degree, is an advanced degree usually with an academic or research focus. The LL.M. is an internationally recognized postgraduate law degree primarily earned to gain expertise in a specialized field of law and in some cases, in multinational issues and law. LL.M. candidates almost always hold a J.D. degree as a prerequisite. However, there are a limited number of universities that will consider a student for the LL.M. program if they have a degree in a related area or already have expertise in a specific area of the law. The LL.M. is usually a one-year, full-time program.

The highest degree of law is the J.S.D. (sometimes also called the S.J.D.), or the Doctor of Judicial Science degree. Obtaining a J.S.D. requires an additional year of study after the LL.M., and individuals holding this degree tend to be primarily legal scholars and law professors.

What about paralegal certification?

Paralegals provide important assistance in legal firms, government agencies and many other settings. They assist attorneys with casework, complete research, draft documents, communicate with clients, manage files as well as many other duties. Paralegals do not present cases in court, cannot give legal advice and do not hold a Juris Doctor degree.

For additional information about the paralegal profession, training and certification and job duties, visit:

Quick Facts

  • $70,000

    was the national median starting salary for all law school graduates nine months after graduation in 2018


    of new law school graduates in 2018 were employed in business and private sectors


    of lawyers work in "private practice", with 63% in offices of ten or fewer attorneys


    of the jobs obtained by 2018 law school graduates required passing the bar

There are many career options available with a law degree from private practice in a legal firm to government agency work. Lawyers specialize in civil liberty, employment, environmental law, personal injury, human rights law, and other options. Prosecutors and defense counsel practitioners work in criminal litigation. Other attorneys explore methods of advocacy, work for non-profit organizations, practice tax or patent law and more. The path you can take after law school branches in many directions.

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