California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Lawyers in California

May also be called: Attorneys; Attorneys at Law; Associates; Associate Attorneys; Partners; and Legal Counselors.

Specialties within this occupation include: Civil Attorneys; Criminal Lawyers; Family Lawyers; Personal Injury Lawyers; Real Estate Lawyers; Estate Lawyers; Insurance Attorneys; Military Lawyers; Corporate Lawyers; Entertainment Lawyers; Environmental Lawyers; Intellectual Property Lawyers; Probate Lawyers; Real Estate Lawyers; Sports Lawyers; Tax Attorneys; and Title Attorneys.

What Would I Do?

Lawyers, also called Attorneys, are essential part of the legal system. Lawyers advise clients about their legal rights and obligations. They act as advocates for their clients in court or negotiation proceedings. No matter what their role, all Lawyers research, interpret, and apply case law to the specific issues faced by their client.

Most Lawyers are in private practice, concentrating on criminal or civil law. Others work for law firms, the government, or various businesses. Lawyers may specialize in a number of areas of law. Some fields include: bankruptcy, international, environmental, maritime, patent, intellectual property, real estate, elder, mediation, personal injury, probate, and taxation law. Other specialists are listed below.

Criminal Lawyers represent clients charged with a crime. They prepare for trial then represent their client in court. If they lose the case, they may file an appeal to present elements of their case before appellate judges.

Civil Attorneys handle cases that are noncriminal. Their clients may want money for a personal injury, property damage, or remedy for a breach of contract. They also assist clients with lawsuits, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles, and leases.

Corporate Lawyers advise companies about legal issues that arise from business activities. These issues may involve taxes, contracts, bankruptcy, licensing, patents, government regulations, intellectual property rights, or collective bargaining agreements with unions.

Government Lawyers represent the government in civil and criminal cases, help develop federal and state programs, draft and interpret laws and legislation, and establish enforcement procedures. Some of these Lawyers work for the district attorney, public defender, or attorney general.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Advise clients concerning business transactions, claim liability, advisability of prosecuting or defending lawsuits, or legal rights and obligations.Speech Clarity
Interpret laws, rulings and regulations for individuals and businesses.Reading Comprehension
Analyze the probable outcomes of cases, using knowledge of legal precedents.Judgment and Decision Making
Present and summarize cases to judges and juries.Oral Expression
Evaluate findings and develop strategies and arguments in preparation for presentation of cases.Problem Sensitivity
Gather evidence to formulate defense or to initiate legal actions, by such means as interviewing clients and witnesses to ascertain the facts of a case.Inductive Reasoning
Represent clients in court or before government agencies.Law and Government
Examine legal data to determine advisability of defending or prosecuting lawsuit.Critical Thinking
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Lawyers work in settings that range from modest offices to comfortably furnished suites in law firms. Offices are usually quiet and equipped with private areas for interviews and meetings to ensure attorney-client confidentiality. Most Lawyers spend the greater part of their time researching case law and writing official court documents. They may research law in a public or in-house law library or by using the Internet and legal databases.

Lawyers can spend a good deal of time in court, whether it is for an indictment, trial, or a motion to be argued in front of a judge. Lawyers may travel to appear in court, visit another lawyer’s office, see a client or witness, or visit an administrative agency.

Lawyers often work under pressure to meet important court filing deadlines. They may work evenings and weekends to prepare for a trial, frequently working over 40 hours a week.

There has been little or no unionization of Lawyers; however, membership in The State Bar of California (State Bar) is a requirement to practice law. Membership involves a lengthy process to join, then yearly membership fees and continuing education to remain active.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The practice of law involves a great deal of responsibility. Individuals planning careers in law should work well with all kinds of people and be able to win the confidence of their clients, associates, and the public. Perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability are essential to Lawyers, who analyze complex cases. Integrity, excellent writing skills, and strong communication skills are also necessary to be successful.

Lawyers should also have good analytical and speaking skills and a high moral character. The position of Lawyer will appeal to those who enjoy leading people and making decisions. This job satisfies those with enterprising interests. Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Salaries vary with the size, type, location, clientele, and reputation of law firms. On one hand, new Lawyers or trial Lawyers who are paid on contingency basis may lose money. On the other hand, partners in law firms may earn over $1 million per year.

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Lawyers in California is $148,167 annually, or $71.24 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$102,454$148,167>$145,600
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits provided by private firms and government agencies include vacation, sick leave, holidays, retirement, and comprehensive health plans. Corporate Lawyers may receive bonuses and stock options. Self-employed Lawyers are responsible to provide their own benefits.

What Do Local Employers Say About Benefits?  Of the 537 employers in California, almost all provide medical insurance and vacation, and most provide sick leave and retirement plan benefits to Lawyers who work full-time.

Percent of Employers Who Provide
Specific Benefits by Time Base
Benefit TypeFull-TimePart-Time
Medical Insurance88%6%
Vacation81%9%
Sick Leave76%7%
Retirement Plan65%8%
Dental Insurance58%4%
Life Insurance53%5%
Vision Insurance39%3%
Disability Insurance37%5%
Paid Time Off Bank15%2%
No benefits5%12%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

Of the 476 employers surveyed who responded in California, who provides medical benefits, almost all reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for full-time, and almost all reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for part-time Lawyers.

Percent of Employers Who Paid Medical
Insurance by Portion Paid by Time Base
Portion Paid by Employer:Full-TimePart-Time
All64%56%
Half or more31%35%
Less than Half4%9%
None1%0%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

What is the Job Outlook?

As the population grows, the demand for legal services will increase in areas such as health care, intellectual property, elder, and environmental law. In addition, an expanding level of business transactions also creates more legal matters. However, the demand for discretionary legal services, such as drafting wills, is affected by the economy. Demand for Lawyers will be restricted as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to perform legal work.

Job growth will be concentrated in salaried jobs as businesses and government agencies employ a growing number of staff Lawyers in urban areas. The number of self-employed Lawyers is expected to grow slowly, due to the difficulty of establishing a profitable new practice in the face of competition from larger, established law firms. For Lawyers who wish to work independently, establishing a new practice will probably be easiest in small towns and expanding suburban areas.

Competition for job openings should be intense due to the large number of students graduating from law school each year. In fact, Lawyers are increasingly finding work in less traditional areas for which legal training is an asset, but not a requirement. Less traditional areas include administrative, managerial, and business positions in banks, insurance firms, government agencies, and other organizations.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Lawyers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Lawyers are expected to increase by 11.3 percent, or 9,900 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Lawyers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
87,40097,3009,90011.314,000
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 990 new job openings per year is expected for Lawyers, plus an additional 1,400 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 2,390 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Lawyers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
9901,4002,390
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for admission into many law schools. However, some law schools will accept applicants who have completed at least two years of college or demonstrated equivalent knowledge through the College Level Examination Program. Although there is no required course of study for entrance into law school, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required to be taken prior to applying for admission. There are LSAT preparation courses offered by private companies that are very helpful. A high score on the LSAT and a high college grade point average is preferred for admission. However, law schools also look for well-rounded applicants. Competition for admission is strong in many law schools due to a much higher number of applicants than can be admitted. Consequently, prospective students generally apply to several law schools.

Upon graduation, students receive a juris doctor degree (J.D.). Those planning to specialize or teach may prefer an advanced law degree. Others may take an additional semester or year of training to obtain an additional degree or certification in a specialized field such as public administration.

In California, there are the following types of law schools: those approved by the American Bar Association, those accredited by the California State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners, correspondence schools registered with the Committee of Bar Examiners, and unaccredited law schools.

Very few choose the alternative to law school which is studying under a judge or practicing attorney. Those who choose the alternate course of study, correspondence course, or unaccredited law school, must pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination before receiving credit for their first year of law study.

Admission to the State Bar is required in order to practice law in California. The admission process starts with registering as a law student within 90 days of beginning law training. To qualify for admission applicants must complete the necessary general and legal education. They must pass the three-day California Bar Examination, the one-day Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination, the State Bar’s moral character background check, and the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (unless they have established exemption).

Experience

Pre-professional experience as a legal intern or law clerk is strongly recommended because it will provide a law student with valuable experience and may lead to a permanent job. Summer or part-time law clerk positions can also help students decide what kind of practice best suits them.

Early Career Planning

Students interested in becoming a Lawyer should take courses in English, government, foreign languages, public speaking, philosophy, history, economics, mathematics, and computer science. To develop skills helpful to become a Lawyer, students can write school publications, join the school debate team, and participate in school government.

Apprenticeship and Work Study Programs

A less common training method to meet California's legal education requirements is to spend at least four years studying law under the personal supervision of a California judge of record or a California attorney in his or her law office. (The attorney must be an active member of the State Bar who has been in practice for the last five years or longer.) For more details, visit the State Bar's Web site.

Continuing Education

Continuing legal education credits are required to maintain membership in the State Bar. Every three years members must submit proof of 25 hours of continuing legal education. Lawyers must also keep current with changes in law and court decisions that may affect their field of practice.

Licensing and Certification

Only members of the State Bar can practice law in California. The State Bar issues a bar card showing an individual’s bar number upon completion of membership criteria. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

An optional certificate of admission or certificate of standing can be ordered upon obtaining membership from the State Bar. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Law, Attorney, American Bar Association, State Bar of California, and Law School Admission Counsel.

    A list of some California law schools is provided on the State Bar’s Web site and at the Law School Admission Council’s Web site. In deciding which law training to choose, some recommend checking the students’ pass/fail rate for the bar exam and First-Year Law Students’ Examination for the schools considered. The State Bar’s Web site publishes these figures in their examination results information section.

  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Competition for job openings should be intense due to the large number of students graduating from law school each year. In fact, Lawyers are increasingly finding work in less traditional areas for which legal training is an asset, but not normally a requirement. Less traditional area include administrative, managerial, and business positions in banks, insurance firms, government agencies, and other organizations. The largest industries that employ Lawyers are as follows: The largest industries employing Lawyers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Legal Services 47.8%
Local Government 10.8%
State Government 4.7%
Federal Government 3.0%
Insurance Carriers 1.1%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

What Employers Say...

The Employment Development Department surveyed 537 employers in California which employ 6,358 Lawyers. Here's what they had to say:

About Full-Time/Part-Time: Almost All of these firms employ full-time and some employ part-time Lawyers.

About Work Experience:  Of the 537 employers surveyed in California, almost all require new hires to have prior work experience as Lawyers. In the table below, percentages may not add to 100% since employers may select more than one time period.

How Much Work Experience
Do Employers Require?
More than 5 years 20%
25 to 60 months 30%
13 to 24 months 32%
1 to 12 months 26%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

About Recruitment:  Of the 537 employers surveyed in California, most indicate it is moderately difficult to find applicants with experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements, while many indicate it is hard to find applicants without previous experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements to fill vacancies for Lawyers.

About Hiring:  Of the 537 employers surveyed in California, almost all expect the number of Lawyers they employ to remain stable during the coming year.

Hiring Expectations
Expect Employment to Increase 14%
Expect Employment to Remain Stable 82%
Expect Employment to Decline 4%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

About Vacancies:  Of the 537 employers surveyed in California, 49 percent hired Lawyers during the past year. Of the hiring firms, 83 percent filled existing vacancies, 43 percent filled newly created positions, and 8 percent filled temporary assignments.

Finding a Job

Many law students use directories of law firms or government agencies and apply directly by sending resumes. Some find jobs through legal journals and magazines. Jobs can also be obtained through referrals or networking. Professional associations may provide job search assistance. Students can register with their school placement center for job leads and use other career services.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Lawyers.

  • Arbitration
  • Attorney
  • Banks
  • Insurance
  • Law
  • Manufacturers
  • Real Estate

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

The legal profession offers many advancement opportunities. Attorneys who enter practice in private law firms as junior associates may be promoted to senior associates, junior partners, and eventually to senior partners depending upon the size of the firm. Others go into practice for themselves. In government service, promotional opportunities lead to greater responsibilities such as prosecuting more serious crimes. Those in government and large corporations may also be promoted to managerial positions. Some experienced Lawyers are appointed or elected as judges in courts of varying levels. Lawyers also elect to teach law or go into politics.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Lawyers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Claims Adjusters, Examiners, and InvestigatorsGuide
Compliance OfficersGuide
Detectives and Criminal InvestigatorsGuide
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and MagistratesProfile
Judicial Law ClerksProfile
Paralegals and Legal Assistants*Guide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification23-1011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Lawyers23-1011.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)EIA
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Legal Professions and Studies, Other 229999
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Other Law149900