Trial Lawyer Job Description

Who doesn’t love a movie where trial lawyers go head-to-head in dramatic courtroom action? Scenes such as these encourage many young students to pursue a career as a trial lawyer. The courtroom drama is only a fraction of the trial lawyer’s duties on a day-to-day basis though.

Court House

Outside the courtroom, trial lawyers have many other responsibilities not quite as glamorous as Hollywood lawyers portray. They often spend days reviewing files, making contact with witnesses, and talking to parties involved in their case. They also  must fill out and file a variety of documents with the court system. Each of these processes can take weeks or months as trial attorneys prepare for trial.

They will also spend time in court meeting with other attorneys for routine processes. These include arguing motions, selecting jurors for jury trials, and scheduling. Because trials are expensive, many cases, both criminal and civil, never even make it to the courtroom; the case is often settled out of court instead.

Trial Lawyer Education Requirements

Trial lawyers, like any attorney type, will need an education that includes an appropriate bachelors degree, taking an LSAT test to enter law school, completing law school, and passing a bar exam. Each state may have varying requirements for their state bar. It’s a good idea to consider each state’s requirements when selecting a school.
For the most part, all students will take similar courses of study for law.
Coursework in the core areas of law will include topics in:

  • Criminal law
  • Courtroom law
  • Property law
  • Contract negotiation
  • Constitutional law
  • Ethics and Lawyers
  • Torts
  • Civil and criminal procedures

The law is fluid and dynamic. New laws take the place of old and precedents change. The educational requirements for the trial lawyer will be a lifetime pursuit if they want to stay current and relevant.

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Skills for the Trial Lawyer

The trial lawyer first and foremost must be well versed in the law. They also must stay current on changes in the law throughout their career. They need to be extremely detail oriented as well. Trials are complicated and filled with a myriad of facts and issues. The skilled trial lawyer will be able to spot small issues that could make or break a case.

The trial lawyer’s personality will also need to fit the demands of the job. While they need to be shrewd and cunning negotiators, they also need to be personable, persuasive, and get along well with others. They will have to posses a certain finesse that allows for confrontation and assertiveness while maintaining an open line of communication.

Trial lawyers must excel in communication skills as well–both verbal and written. They will spend a great deal of time either writing, or speaking with others in connection with the trial. This style of communication needs to be artfully persuasive and legally accurate.

Salary and Career Outlook for Trial Lawyers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics places the average trial lawyer salary at $77,200 per year. Assistant or junior attorneys may be under $62,340 while senior positions can pay well over six figures, depending on the employer. Private attorneys often make more than public defenders, for instance.

As a professional group, the job outlook for lawyers is average. In the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a ten percent increase for all attorneys. The trial lawyer’s job outlook is also relatively stable compared to other corporate professions.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Legal Support Workers, All Other reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.

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