5 minute read


Education and Training: College degree, followed by law school and a bar examination
Average Salary: $115,000
Job Outlook: Good

A barrister is a lawyer who specializes in courtroom advocacy, and they are appointed by an attorney to speak on behalf of the client in court. However in many countries, including the United States, the legal system enables attorneys to act as barristers as there is no real distinction between the two professions.

In countries where there is a separate distinction between the two professions, barristers are able to speak in court and present cases before a judge and jury. They may have undergone additional training in ethics, court practice, and evidence law. In these countries it is the lawyer’s job to review all legal documents and to do much of the preparatory work. They also receive instructions from the client and are responsible for managing the case on a day-to-day basis. Their role is to support the barrister.

In the United States any lawyer who has passed the bar examination, and who has been admitted to practice is able to prosecute or defend clients in a court of law in the state where they are admitted. Rules can vary according to each state, and in some state appellate courts it is necessary for lawyers to obtain a separate certificate of admission before they are able to plead and practice in the appellate court. The rules are also slightly different for federal courts, as these require that a lawyer obtain specific admission to that particular courts bar before they can practice before it. However there is no real difference in the examination process, but in district courts there may be a different examination on procedures and practices within the specific court.

It goes without saying that anyone wanting to become a lawyer or barrister needs to be highly organized with a huge attention to detail. They need to be confident enough to speak out in court, and must be able to deal with people from all walks of life. If they are a defense attorney then they need to be prepared to defend people regardless of their personal opinion.

Education and Training Requirements

The majority of lawyers need to complete a four year college degree, followed by three years of law school before passing a written examination. However these requirements can vary according to each state. Competition for places in law schools is extremely tough. A number of law schools have part-time courses or night classes to enable students to qualify.

Anyone wishing to become a lawyer needs to be extremely proficient in public speaking, reading and researching, and must be able to organize their thoughts logically. Potential law students are recommended to take courses in English, public speaking, philosophy, economics, computer science, and government. The actual courses may depend on the lawyer’s specialization, as for instance, anyone wishing to become a tax lawyer needs to have strong mathematical skills and knowledge of accounting is also advantageous.

Getting the Job

Competition for jobs is pretty tough, especially for new students who have just graduated. Those who have attended law school with a good reputation, and who have excellent academic records will have a much greater chance of obtaining better positions.

As the competition is so intense, a number of lawyers are seeking work in less traditional workplaces where legal training is an advantage. These include government agencies, banks and insurance firms, and even real estate companies. It’s expected that these types of jobs will continue to increase. Other newly qualified lawyers find temporary positions in law firms, and although this might not be ideal, it does gives them much needed experience.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

In general the job prospects for attorneys are extremely good, although this type of job is affected by economic downturns as there is likely to be less demand for legal services such as real estate transactions and will writing. During these times firms are less likely to hire new attorneys.

Most newly qualified attorneys begin their career as associates and will be working under the guidance of more experienced attorneys or judges. After a a few years some will go on to become partners within the firm, and a few of the most experienced attorneys will be elected to become judges. Others may go on to teach law or to use their law degree in different professions.

Although most attorneys will begin their career working for others, a number will go on to establish their own practices, especially in smaller towns and suburban areas where competition from large firms is likely to be far less.

Working Conditions and Environment

The majority of barristers or lawyers work is completed in offices, court rooms, or law libraries. Occasionally they may need to meet clients at their home or place of business, or meetings may take place in prisons or hospitals. They are often required to travel in order to gather evidence and appear before courts, and also to attend meetings.

Salary and Benefits

Lawyers who are on salaries tend to have a fairly structured work schedule with regular hours. Those lawyers who work for larger firms or who are in private practice tend to work much more irregular hours and may well have to work weekends. Long hours are the norm in this job with a lot of lawyers working more than 50 hours per week.

Benefits for lawyers working in large firms are likely to be extremely generous and to include comprehensive health and dental insurance and paid vacations, as well as contributions to retirement plans. The average wage of a salaried lawyer is around $115,000, although graduates are likely to start on around $75,000. The salary of a lawyer will vary according to the type of practice they work for, and their area of specialization, and many will go on to earn considerably more than the average salary.

Where to Go for More Information

American Bar Association
321 N Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 988-5522

Law School Admission Council
662 Penn St.
Newtown PA 18940
(215) 968-1001

National Association for Law Placement
1220 19th St. NW, Ste. 401
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 835-1001

Additional topics

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