Where Do Lawyers Work?

Lawyers work in various settings. They may operate out of private practices, corporate legal departments, or government agencies.

Most newly licensed lawyers begin as salaried associates at law firms. Over time, many become partners of these same firms with partial ownership stakes and management duties.

Lawyers tend to work long hours regardless of their role or responsibilities; this is particularly true of those seeking professional advancement.

Private Practice

Lawyers working in private practice typically are employed by law firms; some work as partners sharing profits and risk while others serve as associates not yet at partner level.

Law firms typically feature multiple offices and a diverse client roster, creating an increasingly heavy workload and demanding schedule for new attorneys trying to reach billable hour targets and advance into partnerships.

In-house legal teams typically implement systems to effectively manage a heavy workload and prevent their lawyers from becoming overwhelmed with unprioritised requests, such as service standards or prioritising matters based on priority status. While this could be good or bad depending on organisational trends and culture, this may limit opportunities for career progression.


Many lawyers work for government entities at state, city and federal levels. Government attorneys represent criminal defendants before criminal courts; defend citizens in civil suits relating to their rights to housing, education, health care and employment; draft laws and regulations and provide advice; as well as provide draft research advice regarding laws and regulations.

Federal employees work at the White House, in the offices of presidents, governors and city mayors; district attorneys or state attorney general’s offices (which serve both criminal and civil litigation); public defenders offices; as well as executive agencies such as departments of commerce and energy.

Government attorneys typically begin as General Service employees (GS), earning promotions based on experience gained during law school or through other sources, along with pay increases that correlate to local costs of living.


Corporate lawyers face a wide array of legal and business issues. Most specialize in corporate practice at large or mid-size law firms; new attorneys must decide within five years whether to transition into partnership status.

Large law firms prioritize associates who can bill many hours quickly, often setting minimum billing requirements for them. Working in this field is no small endeavor: attorneys in this arena have the opportunity to become supervisory attorneys, managing attorneys, deputy chiefs or even general counsels depending on their skills, interests and the whims of corporate boards; additionally they deal with drafting and reviewing legal contracts for businesses and venture capitalists.


Legal professionals looking to make an impact in their community should consider working for nonprofit organizations as an avenue. Such groups offer legal professionals a great chance to assist individuals and families, tackle social justice issues and promote civil rights while working alongside professionals from other fields (social workers and educators) which broadens perspective and allows problem solving on an integrated basis.

Nonprofit attorneys may also participate in pro bono cases, providing their services at no cost or reduced hourly rate. Pro bono legal professionals find the experience rewarding as they work towards causes they care deeply about while shaping laws and policies to advance social change. Furthermore, nonprofit attorneys provide advice regarding formation of nonprofit entities such as New York not-for-profit corporations and Delaware nonstock nonprofit corporations.

Think Tank

Think tanks may not be well-known among policy organizations, yet their research and advocacy work is vitally important to society. Think tanks can be found worldwide and include some well-known institutions such as Brookings Institution, Chatham House and American Enterprise Institute.

Think tank researchers typically come from academic fields like political science, PPE, law and economics; they require strong research and writing abilities and often collaborate closely with academic institutions – with their research frequently being referenced in media articles and by academia itself.

Are You Looking to Join a Think Tank? For those interested in making their mark in think tanks, seek information about open positions from within their network. Unlike Congress, which may have more stringent hiring and application norms that you must abide by, think tanks often lack such restrictions on who may apply or hire.