Becoming a Constitutional Lawyer: Job Description & Salary Info

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A lawyer's median annual salary is around $114,970. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a constitutional lawyer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Constitutional Lawyer

Constitutional lawyers represent clients for a variety of reasons in both federal and state courts at all levels. Read on to learn if becoming a constitutional lawyer is right for you.

Pros of a Career as a Constitutional Lawyer
High wages (median annual salary of $114,970 in 2014)*
Job opportunities in public and private organizations**
Good growth rate (6% increase for 2014-2024)*
Variety of job tasks (research, advising, presenting cases, etc.)*

Cons of a Career as a Constitutional Lawyer
Significant amount of education required (4-year bachelor's degree and a 3-year Juris Doctor)*
Intense competition for jobs*
Long hours are common*
Trials can put a lot of pressure on lawyers*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Multiple job postings from May 2012

Essential Career Information

Constitutional lawyers deal with how the Constitution and its amendments, including the Bill of Rights, are interpreted. Cases of this type are argued predominantly in the federal courts, which were set up by the Constitution, but only a limited number of them go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court each year. These cases involve a myriad of issues including rights to privacy, equal protection under the law and freedoms of religion and speech. Some cases start in state courts and later transfer to federal courts, so you may work in both types of court systems. This work requires thorough familiarity with constitutional law.

Salary and Job Prospects Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned a median annual salary of $114,970 in 2014. Job opportunities were projected to grow by six percent, which is about as fast as average, from 2014-2024, with intense competition for jobs because there are more lawyers graduating from law schools than there are openings. The BLS also predicted that government work would stay strong, but that budget cuts would likely dampen growth in the public sphere also.

Career Requirements

Undergraduate Studies

As an aspiring lawyer, you can earn a bachelor's degree in a number of programs that emphasize courses like history, English and public speaking. If you have an interest in constitutional law, you might want to consider related majors such American history, public policy or political science. Upon graduation, you will then need to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which is required for entrance into law school.

Law School

To become a lawyer, you'll need to complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program through a law school that has been approved by the American Bar Association. First year law school coursework covers subjects such as constitutional law, taxation, contracts and civil procedure. During the last two years, law students may specialize, so if your aim is constitutional law, you might take advanced courses in the first, fourth and fourteenth amendments, litigation in the federal court systems or current issues before the U.S. Supreme Court.

To specialize in constitutional law, you may also consider earning a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. This degree generally takes a year to earn and most programs allow you to design your curriculum to meet the needs of the specialization you seek. Typically, this course of study is undertaken after you have worked for a couple of years as a lawyer, although some students continue on directly after earning their J.D.

Licensure

In all states, you will be required to become licensed by passing the individual state's bar exam after graduation from law school. As of 2011, 45 states required continuing education for lawyers in order to retain their licenses to practice. This continuing education may be available through your state Bar Association, as well as through law school continuing education courses. States vary in what they accept, so you'll need to verify what's required by your state.

Useful Skills

You will need the ability to logically analyze the issues presented by the situation which gave rise to the suit. You will then research these issues and prepare and present the case in court. To do this well, you must be a clear communicator, both in writing and in speech. The ability to think on your feet and to articulate your thoughts clearly will help you to be successful in this field. In some cases, you may work as a part of a team, handling an aspect of a larger case, and you will need excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

What Employers Are Looking For

Lawyers are required to hold a J.D. and state licensure for employment, and may also be expected to hold some experience in the field. Excellent communication skills, analytical and research skills tend to be listed in required skills sections. Professional deportment and interpersonal skills were also mentioned. A sampling of jobs available in May 2012 follows:

  • A county in Texas sought a regional assistant public defender for capital cases to provide representation for capital defendants in criminal proceedings, with the specific charge of ensuring that their constitutional rights were defended. Duties included preparation, presentation and disposition of the cases. A J.D. from an accredited law school and admission to the Texas State Bar were required, along with litigation experience.
  • A Minnesota state office advertised for assistant attorney generals to provide a wide range of legal work involving constitutional, statutory and enforcement matters on behalf of the public. Successful track record, excellent academic credentials and superior analytical, communicative and research skills were required.
  • The New York City office of a national constitutional rights foundation posted an opening for a staff attorney to work in both federal and state courts. Participation in court cases, strategizing on priorities, performing public speaking engagements at conferences and engaging with the media were listed as job duties. Travel, supervision of staff, a J.D., one year of experience, and commitment to the mission and priorities of the organization were required.

How to Stand out in the Field

The experience you get working, interning or clerking while in law school will stand out on a resume, so you'll want to take every opportunity you can to engage with the field you'd like to practice in upon graduation. Volunteer or work experience in organizations which promote civil rights or protection of religious freedoms, for example, might enhance your resume.

There are a variety of organizations and societies that you can join as a law student that promote constitutional issues. They vary in terms of how they interpret the Constitution, and run the gamut politically. Joining an organization is something you can do to differentiate yourself from a field of applicants, however you should consider carefully the impact this might have on your career prior to joining any one of them.

Other Careers to Consider

Mediator

If you aren't interested in the pressure of defending cases in court, you may consider becoming a mediator. These professionals work outside of the courtroom, seeking to settle issues by offering solutions in private hearings. Some mediators are former lawyers, but others have completed graduate programs in subjects like conflict resolution or public policy. According to the BLS, mediators earned a median annual salary of about $60,000 in 2011, and job growth in the field was projected to be seven percent from 2010-2020, which was slower than the average.

Law Professor

If you aren't interested in practicing law yourself, you might consider training attorneys. Law professors typically have worked as lawyers and have earned a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. You would be responsible for preparation and implementation of lessons, advising students and assessing their progress. You might also conduct research and publish the works that result from it. Postsecondary teaching jobs were projected to grow by 17% from 2010-2020 by the BLS, and law professors earned a median annual salary of about $93,000 in 2011.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Post University

  • B.S. in Legal Studies
  • A.S. in Legal Studies
  • A.S. in Criminal Justice

Education Level:

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Government - International Relations
  • Master of Arts in Government - Law and Public Policy
  • Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Government - International Relations and Foreign Policy

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster

  • Career Diploma - Legal Secretary

What is your highest level of education?

Baker College Online

  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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