Lawyers are often portrayed in Hollywood flicks as wealthy, successful and powerful men and women who deliberate in exciting legal battles with extremely high stakes. What you don't usually see is the reality of practicing law: the preparation that goes into becoming a lawyer, the sacrifices made and the often unglamorous work that it involves.
After high school, lawyers generally study for no less than seven years, including a four-year bachelor's program followed by law school. Getting into a top law school is competitive.
The costs of most law school programs are not attainable by the general public, which results in law students taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Among the top 20 law schools as rated by "U.S. News and World Reports," full-time tuition in 2013 ranged from an annual instate cost of $25,780 at the University of Washington in Seattle to $53,150 at Cornell.
Many young law students dream about using their degree to change the world. They envision embarking on an altruistic career in the nonprofit sector, helping those individuals who are most in need. However, the nonprofit world cannot compete with law firms when it comes to pay scale, and lawyers fresh out of college are generally in such debt that working for a nonprofit is simply not an option.
It's not only competitive to get into law school, but finding a law job after becoming licensed is increasingly difficult in the United States today. The so-called "lawyer's glut" refers to the high number of lawyers graduating law school compared with the relatively low number of entry level law careers.
2016 Salary Information for Lawyers
Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.
Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.