Medical Malpractice Attorney Careers: Salary & Job Description

About this article
A medical malpractice attorney's median annual salary is around $115,000, but can be much higher. Is it worth the education and licensing requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a medical malpractice attorney is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Medical malpractice attorneys can act as both advisors and advocates for clients involved in situations where medical negligence is suspected. While becoming a medical malpractice attorney can be a good career option, it's important to weigh all the factors so you can make an informed decision.

Pros of Becoming a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Excellent income (median annual salary of roughly $115,000 in 2014)*
Comfortable work environment*
Work offers a variety of duties*
Good opportunity for own practice (22% are self-employed)*

Cons of Becoming a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Must be licensed*
Can be stressful*
Fierce competition for law school and jobs*
May require long hours*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Medical malpractice is defined as improper treatment of a patient by a health care professional to the extent that it causes a compensable injury. Medical malpractice attorneys can represent the health care professionals who are being sued or the plaintiffs who have filed the suit. Attorneys meet with clients and witnesses to ascertain the facts, as well as research information on their own and with the help of paralegals and assistants. The lawyer argues the case in court for the client.

Attorneys work in offices much of the time, but may have to travel to visit clients in hospitals, homes or jails. They often work long hours, especially those with large law firms, and spend many hours conducting research and reviewing files. The job can be stressful, especially when taking a case to trial.

Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of all types of attorneys would grow by ten percent from 2012-2022, about the average rate for all occupations. The BLS said competition for jobs would be fierce because there are more attorneys graduating from law school than there are jobs. Many graduates choose to work for temporary staffing firms in order to gain experience practicing law.

Salary Information

The median salary for attorneys of all types was approximately $115,000 in May 2014, according to the BLS. Attorneys who prosecute medical malpractice cases usually work on a contingency basis, meaning they get a portion, usually one-third, of the judgment or settlement the defendant pays to the plaintiff after deducting costs and fees. These amounts can total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, some states have passed laws to cap the awards juries can make.

What Are the Requirements?

An aspiring attorney needs an undergraduate degree, then three years of law school. While there is no specific major for medical malpractice attorneys, you can take courses on the subject in law school. You'll need solid critical thinking abilities, sound research skills, management ability and excellent verbal and written communications skills.

Getting into law school is competitive. You must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to gauge your aptitude for the study of law. When deciding on admissions, law schools will look at your LSAT score, undergraduate GPA and the results of your personal interviews with admissions representatives. Law school emphasizes teaching you the logical thinking skills a lawyer needs. In your first year, you'll study general topics such as civil procedure and torts. In the second year and beyond, you can choose your course of study based on your interests.

After you graduate, you must pass a written bar exam in the state where you intend to practice. All states have their own requirements. Most states mandate that you keep your legal knowledge up to date by completing continuing education classes regularly.

What Employers Want

Since attorneys are so plentiful, employers can be picky about who they hire. Most advertisements for medical malpractice attorneys call for someone with experience in litigating complex malpractice cases. Here's a sampling of job postings from real employers in April 2012:

  • A malpractice firm in California needed a malpractice specialist to work as a contract employee to help with trial preparation. The applicant needed at least four years experience in malpractice litigation.
  • In New York, a firm was looking for an attorney who had experience defending medical malpractice cases against long-term care facilities. This person would handle high exposure and complex cases and should have at least ten years experience in medical malpractice, including actual jury trials.
  • An insurance firm in Texas needed an attorney to handle cases with exposure up to $1 million. The job included providing legal counsel to management as well as supervising the defense in litigation. The ideal candidate needed seven years experience and to have served as first chair counsel in at least ten jury trials.

How to Stand Out

With competition for jobs so fierce, you need to do what you can to stand out from the crowd. Taking advantage of internships or clerk jobs while you're in law school will give you valuable experience, especially if you work with a firm that specializes in medical malpractice.

Membership in your local bar association will also get you noticed. Volunteer to work on bar association committees and with community activities that are law-related. Networking with the people you meet in your internships, your job, community activities and at law school will help you get ahead throughout your career.

Other Career Options

While become a medical malpractice attorney is a solid choice for a career, you may want something that's less competitive, with fewer education requirements or better hours. You can consider several related options.

Paralegal

If you like the law, but don't relish the long hours or the years of schooling, perhaps becoming a paralegal might be a good career for you. Paralegals perform tasks to support lawyers, including drafting documents, researching cases and maintaining files. Most have an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

The BLS forecasted that employment of paralegals and legal assistants would grow by 18% from 2010-2020. The median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was almost $47,000 in May 2011.

Mediator

Would you rather help people reach an agreement than fight it out in court? Mediators work with disagreeing parties to settle their disputes outside of the courtroom. There are several educational paths to becoming a mediator. Mediators sometimes have law degrees, but many hold master's degrees in law or public policy. You can earn a master's or doctoral degree in conflict management or complete a certificate program. Some mediators obtain doctoral degrees through four- or five-year programs. Many mediators also complete 40 hours of basic training and an additional 20 hours of advanced training, depending on state and court requirements.

As predicted by the BLS, employment of mediators, as well as arbitrators and judges, will grow more slowly than other occupations, about seven percent. Most openings will come from retirements and people leaving the profession. The median annual salary for mediators, arbitrators and conciliators was about $60,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    2. Northcentral University

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    4. Saint Joseph's University

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    5. Baker College Online

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    6. Penn Foster Career School

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    7. Argosy University

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    8. Grand Canyon University

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    10. Widener University

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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?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Baker College Online

  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Legal Secretary

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?