Land Use Attorney Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A land use attorney's annual income is about $133,000, but is it worth the lengthy education and licensure requirements? Real real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a land use attorney is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Land Use Attorney

Land use lawyers focus on legal issues related to environmental, zoning, real estate and property law. Read more to find out about the pros and cons of becoming a land use attorney.

Pros of Becoming a Land Use Attorney
High income potential ($133,000 mean salary for lawyers as of 2014)*
Opportunity to participate in environmental preservation or conservation**
Increased credibility and recognition through specialization***
Potential to advance to partnership positions in a law firm*

Cons of Becoming a Land Use Attorney
High level of education required*
High competition for limited jobs (10% growth projected from 2012-2022)*
Long hours and travel required for many positions*
High stress and pressure involved in trial litigation*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Bureau of Land Management, ** American Bar Association.

Essential Career Information

Job Duties and Description

Land use attorneys represent the interests of government regulators, wilderness preservation groups and corporate developers or disposal companies. They practice law as it relates to property rights, urban development and access to natural resources by advising clients, participating in legal conferences and advocating before government agencies.

As a land use lawyer, you will conduct research and write reports advocating for your client's legal claims involving land use. Many of these professionals are employed by local, state and federal government agencies, including regulatory and policy entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to statistics from the National Council of Bar Examiners, the number of successful bar applicants increased significantly from 2002-2011. Prospective lawyers may see a high level of competition for job openings as legal firms continue to reduce costs by utilizing paralegals to perform basic research tasks and government agencies downsizing due to budgetary restrictions. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2012-2022 projections, employment for lawyers should increase 10%, about as fast as the national average for all occupations.

According to BLS 2014 data, lawyers at that time earned a mean salary of about $133,000. Experienced lawyers who achieve partnership status in law firms have the potential to earn much more.

What are the Requirements?

Skills and Qualities

Prospective lawyers should possess excellent analytical skills. Interpersonal communication skills and an acumen for public speaking are also essential traits. As a lawyer, conducting research and writing reports entails a high level of reading comprehension ability as well as written communication skills.

Education Requirements

To become a lawyer, you must graduate from law school and successfully complete a bar examination administered by the National Council of Bar Examiners. For admission to law school, you must have a bachelor's degree and sit for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law school requires three years of study, and culminates in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

Real Job Listings

As a result of the high competition for jobs among licensed attorneys, many career opportunities for land use lawyers require a high level of specialized experience and knowledge of environmental regulations as well as real estate and property law. Here are a few real examples of job postings from May, 2012:

  • Large public university in Alabama seeks general counsel to represent the interests of the board of trustees in litigation, real estate and land use issues. Qualifications include a J.D. degree and 15 years of related experience.
  • West Virginia university research corporation seeks lead land use attorney for land use and sustainable development law clinic to promote adoption of sustainable land use policies.
  • Maryland law firm seeks associate attorney to practice litigation, land use, real estate and environmental law. State bar membership required plus two years of experience.
  • Federal environmental law enforcement agency seeks chief to oversee staff of attorneys and legal support staff to bring civil judicial action in defense of regulations including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Superfund laws. To qualify you must possess J.D. degree and experience managing enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

How to Stand Out in Your Field

Legal Specializations

Although many lawyers gain an advantage in the marketplace through versatility and providing many types of legal services, specializing in environmental law, real estate law or property law may provide you with an advantage when looking for a land use attorney position at a law firm. According to a report published by the American Bar Association, Stephen M. Gursten writes that niche specialization can provide you or your firm with credibility and recognition as well as reduce costs through the division of labor and resources.

Many states allow or require specialization for the practice of certain types of law. Specialized certifications relate to the natural resources or land use issues common to your state of licensure. Generally, specialized certification requires professional practice, continuing education and peer review to maintain your credentials. To prepare for a land use specialization, you may wish to pursue specialized certificate programs or Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree programs in environmental law, natural resources, real estate or urban planning.

Non-Profit Advocacy Centers

As a law student, you may wish to participate in non-profit advocacy through university-funded centers or other regional organizations. Non-profit advocacy can prepare you for several aspects of land use law, including regulatory advocacy, permit procedures and litigation.

Temporary Employment and a Willingness to Relocate

Aspiring attorneys finding a difficult time competing for full-time employment in law firms may find opportunities gaining experience with temporary staffing agencies. Also, positions for inexperienced attorneys may be scarce in certain areas of the country. Flexibility and willingness to relocate for opportunities may provide you with a competitive edge.

Alternative Careers in Law and Environmental Protection

If finding employment as an attorney proves to be difficult, you may wish to consider career opportunities relating to your academic experience or interest in environmental protection. Here are a couple of alternative career options with above-average projected job growth.

Careers as a Law School Professor

One result of the discrepancy between aspiring lawyers and professional opportunities may be increasing opportunities for post-secondary teachers of law. According to BLS 2010-2020 projections, career opportunities for post-secondary teachers, including law professors, should increase by 17% over the coming years. These positions generally require a J.D. degree and often require professional legal or teaching experience. Based on 2010 data collected by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), 88% of law teachers possess a doctorate degree.

In your work, you will develop curriculum for classes, assess student performance and participate in committees and academic organizations. Advancement in your career may entail experience as well as publishing legal analyses in academic journals. Post-secondary law teachers, based on BLS 2011 data, earned a mean salary of about $109,000. As of 2010, nearly one-third of post-secondary teachers were employed as part-time employees. As an aspiring professor, you will most likely need to advance as an assistant professor and then as an associate professor before gaining tenure status.

Careers in Environmental Science

Environmental scientists collect data, including field samples, and conduct research in order to present recommendations and proposals leading to environmental controls and solutions. Based on BLS 2010 data, 43% of these professionals were employed by local, state or federal agencies conducting field and laboratory research.

A bachelor's degree in environmental or life sciences may be sufficient to gain employment for some positions, however, university research is generally led by professionals with an advanced degree. The BLS 2010-2020 projections report a 19% increase in employment for environmental scientists, due, in part, to population growth, expanding governmental regulations and increasing public awareness over environmental concerns. According to BLS 2011 data, these professionals earned a mean salary of about $69,000.

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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Bachelor: Environmental Policy and Management
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

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

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Government - Law and Public Policy
  • Master of Arts in Law
  • Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Government - Pre-Law

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

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

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

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