How to Become a

Trial Attorney or Litigator

The complete career guide to be a Trial Attorney or Litigator: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $136,260
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 5.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Fast Paced Career
    Career Attribute

Trial attorneys and litigators represent clients in cases that go to trial for resolution. They present opening and closing statements, prepare and present arguments on the client’s behalf, and examine and cross-examine witnesses and others who present testimony—all to encourage a favorable trial outcome.

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What is a Trial Attorney or Litigator?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in trial attorney roles:

  • Prepare arguments on behalf of clients
  • Participate in preliminary court hearings before trials
  • Participate in jury selection activities, seeking jurors who are likely to side with clients
  • Represent clients in court litigations, arguing on a client’s behalf to a jury and/or judge
  • Deliver opening and closing statements, present cases and arguments, and examine/cross-examine individuals who provide testimony

A Day in the Life

While all attorneys practice law, not all attorneys have the experience required to lead trials as trial attorneys or litigators. Trial attorneys and litigators specialize in arguing on the behalf of clients in court trials, presenting arguments to a judge and/or jury, and seeking judgment that’s favorable to clients. Trial attorneys can be generalists—litigating for various types of trials—or they can specialize in a specific type of law. Litigators commonly specialize in criminal, contract, injury, or estate law.

Trial attorneys may be involved with cases from the beginning, or they may be brought in at the last minute when a case cannot be resolved outside of a courtroom. They analyze the evidence, interview witnesses or individuals who may provide testimony, and scour historical court decisions that are related to the case. All of this information is collected and used to prepare opening and closing statements, the sequence of arguments, and examination and cross-examination techniques.

Litigators are also responsible for participating in pre-trial proceedings where a judge determines whether or not a case should go to trial. If a case goes to trial and will be argued in front of a jury, the trial attorney assists with jury selection. In jury selection, the litigator interviews potential jurors and recommends those he/she feels have personalities and backgrounds that support a client’s point of view. The litigator then argues on behalf of the client in proceedings, seeking a favorable outcome.

Typical Work Schedule

Trial attorney litigators normally work the regular full-time working schedule of 40 hours per week mainly during business hours when courts are in session. However, depending on the place and the number of clients, the work can get very stressful and the working hours can sometimes reach 70 hours per week. The job requires being involved in every stage of the trial process which requires additional time and effort from the litigator. That is why overtime is common in this role and you can expect to commonly work evenings and weekends to be able to have enough time to conduct research, prepare and reviewing documents, interview witnesses or individuals who may provide testimony, and scour historical court decisions that are related to the case, analyze different evidence and prepare arguments and statements for your cases. You should also dedicate sometime to stay updated regarding the changes to the state and federal laws related to your work.

Projected job growth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for lawyers in general including litigators is expected to increase by 4 % from 2019 to 2029 which is as fast as the average for other jobs. This increasing demand for legal work is expected to continue as different individuals, businesses, and all levels of government require legal services in many areas which a litigator can provide. Competition for this job is expected to be fierce despite the expected overall growth in the field due to the increasing numbers of law graduates every year who will compete for the same positions. Statistics show that there are around 34,000 lawyers graduating yearly in the US in addition to the foreign lawyers joining the US job market after completing their degree abroad.

Typical Employers

If you decided to become trial attorney litigator normally work for law firms. You may also have the choice to shift work to different positions for the government such as public defender, prosecutor, or district attorney which may open different paths to your future. In addition, you may prefer working individually opening you own law office or share offices with other attorneys.

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How To Become a Trial Attorney or Litigator

The first step in becoming a trial attorney or litigator is earning a bachelor’s degree. The major you choose as an undergraduate is fairly flexible, though many aspiring litigators choose to study pre-law. A pre-law major will help you prepare for taking the LSAT. However, if you choose another relevant major—English, political science, history, philosophy, or sociology—you can just as easily self-study for the LSAT and earn a good score. A high score on the LSAT is a prerequisite for most law schools.

The next step is to apply for and be accepted into law school. Law school is usually a three-year program that results in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. During law school, you should choose an area of focus. Some aspiring trial attorneys go into programs that are catered specifically for trial or courtroom law, while others focus in an area of law that interests them, such as estate law, environmental law, or personal injury law. Earning a J.D. degree is a prerequisite for taking the bar exam, which is required for licensing.

After law school, lawyers must take and pass the bar exam to become licensed to work as attorneys in their state of practice. After becoming licensed, many aspiring litigators take positions as public defenders, defending individuals who are unable to afford legal counsel. Some also move into prosecutor roles and try accused individuals for some time before moving into private practice. These positions allow aspiring trial attorneys to learn the ins and outs of litigation with a large support network—and plenty of training—before they move in to private practice.

Trial Attorney or Litigator Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Trial Attorney or Litigator salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Trial Attorney or Litigator's can make an average annual salary of $136,260, or $66 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $76,300 or $37 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #22 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Trial Attorney or Litigator. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Trial Attorney or Litigators

  • 91%   Doctorate
  • 4.1%   Masters
  • 3.5%   Bachelors
  • 0.5%   Associates
  • 0.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Trial Attorney or Litigator job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 43,800 jobs for a total of 822,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 5.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #401 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Trial Attorney or Litigators

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Legal services 376,100 22,100 22%
Self-employed workers 165,500 -1,800 -2%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 55,600 5,300 5%

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