Employment Attorney Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Entry-level employment attorneys earn a median wage of about $80,000. Is this worth the years of schooling required? Learn the truth about job duties and career outlook, and read postings from real employers that can help you decide if becoming an employment attorney is best for you.
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Pros and Cons an Employment Attorney Career

Employment attorneys represent employers or workers in employment litigation. Following is a list of pros and cons that can help you decide whether this occupation is right for you.

Pros of an Employment Attorney Career
Can work in various settings (private practice, government, etc.)*
Very high earning potential (around $196,000 for the 90th percentile)**
Get to help protect employees' rights*
Arguing cases in court can be exciting*

Cons of an Employment Attorney Career
Usually requires at least seven years of schooling*
Course of study can entail significant debt***
Usually work long hours*
Strong competition for jobs*
Must take an exam to become licensed*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com, ***Yale Law School

Career Information

The American Bar Association (ABA) combines labor and employment law under one category, so the titles 'employment attorney' and 'labor attorney' may be used interchangeably. As an employment attorney, your job would involve defending the rights of employers or employees. Attorneys who protect the rights of employers are usually in-house staff members of a corporation or government agency. If you're an in-house attorney who oversees a legal department, you would be called a general counsel. In-house employment attorneys often deal with employment litigation, which is commonly a lawsuit filed by an employee against an employer.

You can also work for a private practice or organization that focuses on protecting the rights of employees. Types of cases you might deal with include age, gender or race discrimination, employee benefits, equal pay rights, sexual harassment and workplace safety. To perform your job effectively, you should have knowledge of various laws that govern labor and employment activities. Among them are Child Labor Protections, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Being familiar with these and other labor and employment regulations at the federal, state and municipal levels can help you better serve the clients you represent.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of lawyers could increase by ten percent from 2012-2022, which was about as fast-as-average compared to other occupations (www.bls.gov). A demand for attorneys is likely to be prevalent within the federal government to handle civil and criminal cases. However, some factors that are limiting job growth for attorneys include federal and state budget cuts and businesses outsourcing certain legal tasks to accounting firms and paralegals.

The BLS also reported that you may face stiff competition in the job market as a recent law school graduate. Typically, the number of jobs available is smaller than the number of candidates seeking employment. To find work, the BLS reported that some new lawyers have turned to staffing agencies to fill temporary positions. Additionally, your job prospects may improve by relocating to another state. As of 2015, entry-level employment attorneys in the lowest tenth percentile earned less than $54,000, while those in the highest tenth earned about $96,000 or more, according to Salary.com. In addition, the top 10% of employment attorneys with at least eight years of experience earned approximately $196,000 or more annually, according to Salary.com.

What Are the Requirements?

Degree Requirements

According to the BLS, you generally need a bachelor's degree and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) to prepare for a career in employment law. Typically, you would spend at least seven years in school: four years for your undergraduate degree and three years for your law degree. In most cases, you're required to earn your J.D. from a law school that's accredited by the ABA. In addition, some ABA-accredited institutions may request that you demonstrate competency for the study of law by taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Having excellent critical thinking, analytical, verbal and interpersonal skills is a must if you're considering a career in law.

Licensure Requirements

To practice law, you must pass the ABA licensure exam for your designated state. Each state and jurisdiction has specific requirements for its bar exam. If you desire to practice law in multiple states, you might have to take the bar exam for each state, according to the BLS. In addition to passing the bar, you're usually required to prove to the admitting board that you're of good character and can serve as a representative for others.

Continuing Education Requirements

Depending on the state or jurisdiction in which you practice, you might need to earn continuing legal education (CLE) credits to remain licensed. Typically, this must be done every year or every three years, according to the BLS. As of May 2012, there were 48 jurisdictions that required attorneys to participate in CLE, as reported by the Continuing Legal Education Regulators Association. Each jurisdiction determines what courses or programs are eligible for credits.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings request candidates who have experience in employment law litigation and counsel. Also, the majority of job announcements were targeted to candidates who already had work experience in the field. A minimum of three or five years of experience was the most requested. Following are some job postings that can give you an idea of what real employers were looking for during May 2012:

  • A New York City staffing agency was looking to hire an employment law attorney for a long-term contract position. Candidates needed 5-10 years of experience, a J.D. and strong knowledge of employment investigations. Job duties included responding to questions and issues concerning the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • A California law firm was seeking a labor and employment attorney with at least three years of experience in labor and employment litigation and counsel. Candidates needed a California bar license.
  • A financial services company in San Antonio wanted to hire an employment law and litigation management assistant general counsel. Job duties for this position included performing compliance and legal research and working on employment contracts and claims. This position required a J.D. and five or more years of experience in-house or at a private practice.
  • A staffing agency in California sought a labor and employment associate with three or more years of experience in labor litigation and providing counsel to employers. Candidates needed a J.D. and licensure.

How to Stand Out in the Field

To gain a competitive advantage in the field of employment law, while participating in activities that can apply toward CLE credits, you can become a member of the ABA's Section of Labor and Employment Law. Some of the benefits of membership include the ability to attend major conferences, network with other employment law attorneys and government officials, participate in standing committees and receive publications, such as the Section's Law Review, the ABA Journal of Labor and Employment Law, and the Labor and Employment Law Newsletter.

All of these benefits can give you a competitive advantage in learning the latest information about your field, and some may qualify for CLE points depending on your state. For example, the ABA reported that attendance at the 2012 Annual Section of Labor and Employment Law Conference could provide you with a year's worth of CLE credits.

Alternative Careers

Paralegal

If you'd like to work in the legal field but don't want to spend several years in school, consider becoming a paralegal. According to the BLS, you would only spend two years in school to earn your associate's degree in paralegal studies. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another discipline, you can complete a paralegal certificate program usually within a few months. In addition, employers typically provide on-the-job training for college graduates who have no formal education in the field.

As a paralegal, some of your job duties would consist of assisting attorneys during trials, collecting court evidence, such as affidavits and formal statements, performing research on legal articles and regulations, preparing legal correspondence and verifying factual information for cases. These duties are often typical for paralegals at litigation law firms. If you work in corporate law, you may spend more time preparing documents, such as employee contracts, financial reports and shareholder agreements. As noted by the BLS, employment growth for paralegals was expected to increase by 18% from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the median salary earned by paralegals was around $47,000, according to the BLS.

Mediator

If you'd like a legal career that focuses on meeting the needs of all parties to bring about resolution, working as a mediator may be ideal for you. You can work in this field as a lawyer or a trained professional in conflict resolution or dispute management. If you choose the professional training route, you can gain formal knowledge by completing a certificate or master's or doctoral degree program. As noted by the BLS, a master's degree in a related discipline, such as law or public policy, is usually adequate to work in this field.

As a mediator, you would be a neutral member who's there to assist opposing parties in coming to a resolution out of court. Out-of-court disputes are usually conducted in a private, less formal hearing. You would offer suggestions that can benefit both sides without making binding decisions. According to the BLS, opposing parties often take their cases to court or try to resolve conflicts without the help of a mediator. As a result, there is less demand for mediators, which has contributed to the slower-than-average employment growth projected for the occupation from 2010-2020. The BLS reported that mediators earned a median wage of approximately $60,000 as of May 2011.

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Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
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  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

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Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Master of Public Administration - Government and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

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Widener University

  • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration

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