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Public Service Lawyer Job Description, Career as a Public Service Lawyer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Lawyers who work in public service usually specialize. Legal aid lawyers, for example, offer their services to people who cannot afford to pay for them. They give legal advice; draw up legal documents, such as contracts and wills; and represent their clients in court proceedings. Their salaries are usually paid by non-profit organizations or governments. Legal aid lawyers may also work as consultants for public-interest organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Many lawyers in public service work for state, federal, and local government agencies. They draft regulations to implement laws, prosecute criminals, or work as judges and magistrates in the courts. Environmental lawyers assist community groups in protecting environmental standards, often preparing injunctions against corporate activities. They are also consulted on major real-estate transactions because buyers and lenders fear they may inherit cleanup costs for previous toxic leaks or asbestos in buildings.

Education and Training Requirements

High school diplomas, bachelor's degrees, and good scores on the Law School Aptitude Test are required for admission to law school. Law school training usually takes three years and requires such courses as contracts, criminal law, and property law. The second and third years may be devoted to specialized courses about law in public service, including constitutional law, family law, and workers' compensation. Environmental lawyers should have technical familiarity with environmental science.

To practice public service law, graduates of law schools must be admitted to the bar, or organization of lawyers, in the states in which they want to practice. In most states, admission to the bar requires examinations.

Two public service lawyers consult on a case. They work as legal consultants for public interest organizations. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

While still in law school, students can assist attorneys undertaking pro bono work (services donated for the public good). Many law firms and government agencies send representatives to law schools to recruit graduating students. Students with good grades and those who have worked on law reviews published by law schools have the best chances of being hired. Civil service tests are required for government jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Most public service lawyers start as research assistants or law clerks to experienced lawyers or judges. After several years of experience, they may become district attorneys or heads of legal departments in state or federal agencies. From there, they may move to private law firms and use the expertise and contacts they have gained in the public arena.

The number of lawyers practicing environmental law has boomed in recent years and is expected to grow, largely because of renewed attention to air pollution and landfill problems. Some environmental lawyers work for private law firms that have departments specializing in environmental law. Others work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or such organizations as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Working Conditions

Public service lawyers may be required to work long hours, especially during emergency situations. Outside of working hours, lawyers must keep current with new laws and court decisions. Public service lawyers may have to travel to carry out their legal duties.

Where to Go for More Information

American Bar Association
321 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60610 (312) 988-5000

Equal Justice Works
National Association for Public Interest Law
2120 L St. NW, Ste. 450
Washington, DC, 20037-1541
(202) 466-3686

Earnings and Benefits

Lawyers may make a financial sacrifice when they accept jobs in government agencies or legal aid offices. Environmental lawyers, for example, earn only fifty-five to eighty percent of the standard $175 to $200 per hour received by other specialty lawyers. While the median salary for all lawyers was $94,930 per year in 2004, the median salary for public service lawyers specializing in environmental law was $77,500 per year. Benefits usually include health and life insurance and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service