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Choose the Legal Job That You Want

published February 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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( 5 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Choose the Legal Job That You Want

There is as much variety among corporate legal staffs as there is among private law firms. Some corporations have only one legal employee-the general counsel. Others have huge, far-flung departments. Personalities among corporate legal staffs also vary. Some are intense. Others are laid-back. Some are dominated by powerful individuals. Others operate on a team concept. Some keep most legal work for themselves. Others farm most of it out to private firms. Some hire only specialists, while others search for generalists.

Since each corporate legal department is part of a corporation, such departments tend to handle the type of legal problems shared by all corporations. Thus, most publicly owned corporations have in-house lawyers who specialize in securities law-compliance with the many laws regulating public disclosures that must be made about their operations. Most also have lawyers experienced in legal issues relating to finance-loan and credit agreements, stock offerings, and bond issuances.

Most corporations hire in-house lawyers either to manage or actually to litigate lawsuits. Disputes frequently arise between corporations. Contract issues, copyright or trademark infringement, and unfair competition are just a few of the myriad disputes between corporations. Corporations also engage in litigation with governmental entities: tax disputes, regulatory issues, and even criminal prosecutions are examples of litigation between government and corporations. Finally, corporations are frequently targets of lawsuits brought by individuals-product liability claims, environmental contamination problems, and simple slip-and-fall cases are among these.

When a corporation is sued or sues, it will usually have one of its lawyers either handle or supervise the litigation. In the former case, the in-house lawyer does exactly what a private practitioner would. In the latter case, the in-house lawyer works with a private lawyer to develop a litigation strategy for resolving the case as cheaply as possible for the corporation. The in-house lawyer reviews and approves actions taken by the private lawyer. Generally, the in-house lawyer is the client representative most closely involved with private counsel.

Finally, in-house lawyers deal extensively with the particular legal problems faced by the companies in their particular industry. A trucking company lawyer will need to know the state and federal regulations governing transportation. A cable company lawyer will keep abreast of statutes and regulations governing the cable industry, as well as court decisions dealing with free expression and libel. A lawyer for a company with significant foreign operations or trade may need to know the laws governing exports and imports, as well as the substantive laws of the foreign countries where it operates.

The benefits of in-house practice include competitive pay, excellent benefits (insurance, profit-sharing, vacation, and pension plans are usually superior to what you get at law firms), often less stressful work, no time sheets or billing targets, and the opportunity to make a transition into a business rather than a purely legal position.

How can you get an in-house job? Some in-house positions are open to those right out of law school. Interviewers will come to your law school. Other times, corporations hire from the ranks of law firms, looking for individuals with specific types of expertise or experience. (Quite often, corporations hire lawyers from firms representing them, since they have had a chance to work with and get to know those lawyers.) You should investigate the potential for advancement at a particular corporation for lawyers with and without prior experience before signing on with a particular company.

Working for the Government

Governments at every level-local, state, and federal-hire lots of lawyers. Some, like the person quoted above, are in policy-making positions. Many others function in more traditional lawyer roles. The most visible government lawyers are prosecutors and judges. But government lawyers practice all kinds of law and are found in many places besides the courtroom.

Prosecutors come in many stripes. If you fight a speeding ticket, your adversary will be a prosecutor. If you pollute a nearby river or fail to pay your taxes or hire an illegal alien, your adversary could very well be a prosecutor.

Prosecutors try cases. If you want to gain trial experience, becoming a prosecutor is one of the best ways to do it. Because criminal defendants have a right to speedy trial, criminal trials often take precedence over civil trials. In fact, some lawyers are concerned that our federal courts are becoming the federal criminal courts because criminal cases are crowding out civil cases.

Government trial lawyers also defend the government against civil suits. Claims against the government raise issues of employment law, constitutional rights, prisoners' rights, zoning, tax, denial of govern-mental benefits, and simple negligence or personal injury cases.

Governments run the courts, and the courts employ many lawyers. Most obviously, the government employs judges. Getting "hired" as a judge is a little different from getting hired as almost any other kind of lawyer. It's been said that federal judges are lawyers who knew a senator. Depending upon the state's laws, state and local judges are lawyers who either knew the right politician and were appointed to their positions or were themselves successful politicians elected to judgeships.

Courts and judges employ lawyers as clerks. A judge's law clerks are usually top law school graduates who work with a judge for a year or two following graduation. Judicial clerks get a brief, but exciting, chance to participate in the judicial decision-making process. They help the judge research legal opinions, assist the judge with trials or appeals, and get to discuss the judge's thinking about pending cases in the privacy of the judge's chambers. Court clerks do any number of things, from researching motions and writing draft opinions to various administrative functions that keep the courts working.

Government lawyers not only help interpret and enforce laws; they also help make them. Legislatures hire lawyers to advise legislative committees. These lawyers help draft the actual language of statutes-and provide important insights and analysis of the effect of draft legislation.

The executive branch hires lawyers of its own both to run executive departments and to assist with the legislative and regulatory process. Every major government agency has its own counsel's office. These lawyers may have regulatory enforcement duties, administrative duties, policy-making duties, or a combination of these. And, of course, government executives such as the President hire their own legal counsel.

Government service also provides reasonable job security, except for political patronage positions. One outmoded perception is that government lawyers don't work very hard. The hours probably are more predictable in non-policy-making and non-trial positions. But for the lawyers in policy-making positions, for public defenders, prosecutors, and others who litigate, the hours as a government lawyer are just as demanding as they are in private practice.

Representing the Public Interest

There are at least two broad categories of nonprofit organizations that employ lawyers. First are the groups, such as state legal services organizations, which provide legal advice to the poor. Second are the wide varieties of issue-oriented groups that attempt to affect public policy.

Legal services organizations are sometimes private and sometimes governmental or quasi-governmental organizations. The federal government has for years funded the Legal Services Organization, which provides federal funding to nonprofit organizations representing the poor across the country. Many states and cities have similar groups that are funded both with money from government and by interest earned on client trust funds that otherwise would go to the banks holding those funds. These legal services organizations typically provide landlord-tenant, divorce, and other litigation-oriented services to indigent persons.

There are literally thousands of issue-oriented nonprofit groups, many of which rely on lawyers. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have gained prominence in part through high-profile lawsuits intended to protect the environment. Groups on both sides of the abortion debate have used lawyers and litigation to affect public perceptions and public policy. Lawyers are also active in nonprofit organizations opposed to the death penalty. Even nonprofits that do not engage regularly in litigation hire lawyers as lobbyists, strategists, and policy makers for their groups.

Back to School

Practicing law isn't for everyone. Inevitably, many of the brightest law students decide against practicing law and opt, instead, to teach it. For these lawyers, the appeal of law is primarily intellectual. Legal practitioners look at law to determine the permissible boundaries of their clients' activities. In essence, the practice of law amounts to advising clients whether their activities fall within those boundaries and resolving disputes when they don't. Teaching law, in contrast, provides the opportunity not just to teach where those boundaries are. It also permits law professors to think, debate, and write about where legal boundaries ought to be drawn and why.


There are many jobs held by lawyers that don't fit in these broad categories. Some of the options that a law degree keeps open are in non-legal positions. Many corporate CEOs are lawyers. As are many journalists, lobbyists, and politicians.

Legal Options for Non-lawyers

You don't have to go to law school to work in a law-related job. There are many roles for non-lawyers in and around the legal profession. Perhaps the most visible legal position for non-lawyers is that of paralegal or legal assistant. Legal assistants work directly with lawyers in law firms and corporations. They are not paid as well as lawyers are, and the law puts certain limits on the things they can do (because they aren't licensed, they can't "practice law"). But paralegals play a vital role in the legal profession. They draft contracts, handle real estate closings, assist with income tax preparation, and manage documents in complex litigation. Some paralegals are career professionals. Others just want to get a year or two of experience while deciding whether to go to law school.

Title searchers are one form of specialized paralegal. Title searchers go to the land records for a city or county and research the ownership of particular pieces of property over time. They also can determine whether a bank has a mortgage on the property or whether there are restrictions on how the property can be developed or used. Title searching is sometimes performed by lawyers, but is often performed by non-lawyers who work for law firms, title insurance companies, or title searching firms. You can't buy or sell a house, or even take out a home equity loan, without the help of a title searcher.

Another law-related job is that of jury consultant. Jury consultants help trial lawyers pick jurors that are more likely to be sympathetic to one side or the other. They also assemble mock juries to allow lawyers to try out their arguments in advance of trial to see which arguments work and which witnesses are persuasive. Jury consultants are sometimes lawyers, but often they have psychology or sociology backgrounds.

Legal librarians work in law libraries at law schools, law firms, and corporations. Some law librarians have their law degree, but many studied library science instead. Law librarians do everything that other librarians do - from updating the library's collection of periodicals to indexing the collection to re-shelving the books. Some legal librarians do some legal research too. Especially with the rise of computer-based legal research, law librarians have become more involved in certain types of legal research.

All of these positions are related to the law. All require specialized training. And while a law degree would be helpful in most of these jobs, it is usually not required. If you have an interest in the law, but for whatever reason are not sure that you would like being a lawyer, you should explore these and other law-related jobs as alternatives.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published February 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 5 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.