Becoming a Litigation Attorney: Job Description & Salary Info

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A litigation attorney's median annual salary is around $96,834, but is it worth the lengthy education requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a litigation attorney is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Litigation Attorney

Litigation attorneys represent clients in legal matters and disputes. Learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a litigation attorney and decide if it's right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Litigation Attorney
High pay ($96,834 median annual salary as of 2014)**
Advancement opportunities with experience (become a judge or teach in law school)*
Variety of specialization options (real estate, personal injury, insurance, etc.)*
Possibility to be self-employed (22% of lawyers were self-employed in 2012)*

Cons of Becoming a Litigation Attorney
Lengthy education requirements (7 years of study past high school)*
Highly competitive field*
Long work hours*
High stress from working in a courtroom*
Must complete continuing education in most states (45 states have this requirement)*

Sources:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Litigation attorneys handle legal disputes between two parties. For example, they might handle lawsuits, personal injury disputes or property disputes, and they have the option to specialize in any of these areas. As a litigation attorney, you'll interview and advise clients, research law books and prepare legal briefs. You may also represent your client in court, question witnesses, present evidence and meet with judges or other attorneys to discuss legal matters.

You might work in an office and travel to meet with clients at a variety of locations. Work hours can be long because of the research and document preparation that's required for many cases, especially in large law firms.

Salary Info and Job Prospects

According to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers' salaries vary depending on their location, their experience and the type of law firm at which they are employed. Partners in law firms tend to earn more than those who own their own firm. The median salary for litigation attorneys as of July 2015 was about $96,000 a year, according to

Employment of attorneys is expected to grow at an average pace of 10% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. The increase in qualified law graduates may result in strong competition for job openings, as well as more graduates accepting temporary positions to work on an as-needed basis.

What Do Employers Look For?

Education Requirements

To become a litigation attorney, you'll need to complete a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program from an American Bar Association-accredited (ABA) school after completing a bachelor's degree program. Law schools have different admission requirements but typically require applicants to pass a Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as a condition of enrollment.

During your second year of law school, you may have the option to begin a litigation certificate program or begin a concentration in litigation and/or dispute resolution. You can specialize in civil, criminal or other types of litigation depending on the school. These programs typically include role playing to teach students how to argue in court, in addition to providing litigation-focused coursework in civil procedures, criminal procedures, mediation and legal writing.

Licensing Requirements

All states require attorneys to become licensed through the ABA. Graduates must apply for bar admission through their state to take the bar exam. Licensing requirements include meeting education requirements (usually a J.D. from an ABA-accredited school), earning passing scores on the bar exam, and undergoing background checks and character assessment.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers look for litigation attorneys with at least a few years of experience in the field, and all require applicants to be licensed. Some list specific skills, duties and other requirements, depending on the specialization of the firm or company. The following job postings from April 2012 can give you an idea of what employers look for:

  • A Las Vegas insurance company looked for a litigation attorney with at least 3 years of personal injury defense experience. Job duties include assisting the claims department and defending first- and third-party cases. Some ideal qualifications include excellent analytical, computer and writing skills.
  • A Connecticut insurance company advertised for a disability litigation attorney to fill a temporary position that may become permanent. Experience in disability claims was listed as a requirement.
  • A New York law firm looked for a litigation attorney with at least 6 years of experience to work in the defense and insurance field. Qualifications include defense experience and excellent writing and communication skills. Ideal candidates were expected to work well with a team and be self motivated and detail oriented.

How to Stand out

Because all states require specific education and licensing requirements to become a litigation attorney, gaining experience is one way to stand out to employers. You can take part in school-sponsored legal competitions or moot court to gain experience. You can also work under the supervision of experienced attorney in practice trials or do part-time and temporary work at law firms or government agencies.

Due to strong competition in the field, a willingness to relocate can help increase your chances of employment. Classes in oral and written communication may also be beneficial because much of the work of a litigation attorney involves speaking and preparing documents.

Alternative Careers

If you're interested in a litigation law career but don't want to complete 7 years of schooling, consider becoming a paralegal. In this position, you conduct research, maintain documents and organize evidence to support a lawyer. Most jobs require an associate's degree or certificate in paralegal studies, but this varies depending on the employer. The BLS reported that paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of about $47,000 as of May 2011. Employment in this field is predicted to grow 18% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

If you would rather oversee the legal process than represent one party, becoming a judge may be right for you. While the path to becoming a judge requires a law degree, and most states prefer judges with law experience, most positions require you to be elected or appointed to judgeship through campaigning. Job growth is expected to be slow because of the limited number of positions (7% increase between 2010 and 2020), and the median annual salary of judges, magistrates and magistrate judges was around $120,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.

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