What is a Research Attorney?
A Research Attorney, or a legal researcher, is a person who performs tasks such as conducting legal and other types of research; collecting evidence; summarizing written materials; organizing, analyzing, and presenting findings; writing reports; and overseeing projects. Law firms, corporations, government agencies, and universities frequently employ legal researchers. U.S. News & World Report states that most attorneys can expect to work long hours during high-pressure periods in their career.
The role of a research attorney is to assist attorneys in the preparation of cases. They may also be responsible for creating and managing search databases, conducting interviews and fact-finding, preparing memos, and summarizing documents. In order to become a research attorney, one must possess a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school and have passed the Bar exam in the state where they plan to work. Previous legal experience is not always necessary, but it can be helpful. Research attorneys typically earn salaries that range from $40,000 to $60,000 per year. Some may earn more depending on their level of experience and the type of organization for which they work.
A large part of the role of a legal researcher for an organization like a law firm will be assisting attorneys with case preparation and management. Legal researchers are responsible for collecting evidence, summarizing written materials, organizing, analyzing, and presenting findings; writing reports; and overseeing projects that are assigned to them by their supervisor. The role of legal researchers also often involves conducting legal and other types of research as required by their employer's needs (e.g. conducting interviews and fact-finding, preparing memos, summarizing documents).
What Does a Research Attorney Do?
The specific tasks that a research attorney performs may vary depending on the organization they work for, but some of the more common duties include conducting legal and other types of research, collecting evidence, summarizing written materials, organizing, analyzing and presenting findings, writing reports, and overseeing projects.
Research Attorney Duties and Responsibilities:
The specific duties and responsibilities of a research attorney vary depending on their level of experience, the type of organization they work for, and the specific project that they are assigned to. However, common duties and responsibilities may include:
- Conducting legal and other types of research;
- Collecting evidence;
- Summarizing written materials;
- Organizing, analyzing, and presenting findings;
- Writing reports;
- Overseeing projects.
Research Attorney Education Requirements and Degrees
In order to become a research attorney, one must possess a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school and have passed the Bar exam in the state where they plan to work. Education beyond the Juris Doctor is not always necessary, but it can be helpful.
Research attorney roles generally do not require advanced degrees, but a master's degree can be helpful due to the research demands of litigation.
What Should I Major in to Become a Research Attorney?
The type of major one chooses may not matter as much as their coursework and grades. A master's degree can be helpful, but many law firms will not require this for entry-level positions. To find a position in research, it is very important to distinguish oneself from the competition by excelling in coursework that is relevant to the legal profession. For those seeking employment with a corporation or government agency, previous internships and practical experience may also give you an edge over other candidates during the hiring process.
Most Common Colleges for Research Attorney
Here are the schools from which a high percentage of research attorneys hail according to a recent survey:
Harvard University, Washington University in St. Louis, New York University School of Law, Stanford University, Georgetown University Law Center, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Columbia University School of Law.
How Can I Get Real Research Attorneys Experience as an Undergrad?
When applying for undergraduate programs and internships it can be advantageous to take relevant coursework such as statistics, science (especially biology), psychology, and economics; participate in extracurricular activities related to those fields, and join research or academic organizations.
Where Can You Work After Graduating with a Bachelor's Degree? Those who only possess a bachelor's degree may have difficulty finding positions in legal research. Instead, it is often more common for individuals with a bachelor's degree to pursue positions in other fields or continue their education in a graduate program.
What Can I Do With a Law Degree?
Law graduates can also enter careers in law enforcement, business and finance, government, communications, consulting, and non-profit work. Attorneys are often required to have years of experience practicing law before being considered for judicial appointments or elected positions such as district attorney or judge. There are many paths one can take after graduating from law school. The most direct path beyond the bar exam is to apply for jobs with large firms or corporations that regularly hire attorneys. Alternately, one can choose from a wide variety of government or public interest positions.
Essential Research Attorney Skills
- Strong research skills
Research attorneys are responsible for conducting legal research and gathering evidence to support their findings. They must be able to effectively search for and analyze information from a variety of sources.
- Excellent writing skills
Research attorneys must be able to write clearly and concisely, presenting their findings in a clear and logical manner.
- Strong analytical skills
In order to understand complex legal issues, research attorneys must be able to think critically and analyze data effectively.
- Good organizational skills
Research attorneys must be able to organize and manage large amounts of information efficiently.
- Attention to detail
Research attorneys must pay close attention to detail in order to ensure that all relevant information is included in their findings.
- Strong interpersonal skills
Research attorneys must be able to work effectively with others, both as part of a team and independently.
- Flexible thinking
Research attorneys must be able to adapt quickly to changes and new information in order to continue conducting effective research.
- Good problem solving skills
Research attorneys must be able to identify and solve legal problems quickly and efficiently.
- Ability to work under pressure
Research attorneys often have tight deadlines and must be able to work effectively under pressure.
- Ability to multitask
Research attorneys must be able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously without becoming overwhelmed.
- Strong computer skills
Research attorneys must be proficient in using computers and various software programs for legal research purposes.
- Knowledge of legal terminology and principles
Research attorneys must be familiar with the legal system and concepts such as tort law, contract law, and criminal prosecution.
- Ability to translate legalese into plain English
Clearly written reports require research attorneys who can take complex ideas and paraphrase them in a way that is easily understood by laypeople.
- Responsible for interpreting important information to clients
Research attorneys not only conduct their own research but also interpret it for their clients so they can understand what it means in terms of their case or defense.
- Ability to separate fact from fiction
Legal research requires disregarding personal biases to present objective information about the case at hand.
Skills For Your Resume And Career
A strong resume and cover letter are key to standing out among other applicants and landing an interview. You may also want to consider developing a personal website to showcase your work. Some other tips that can help you during the job search process include:
- Developing a professional social media presence;
- Networking with people who have similar career goals;
- Volunteering or working part-time in related fields such as writing, research, or investigation;
- Attending law school fairs and networking events;
- Contacting professors and asking them about opportunities for research assistance at their institutions;
- Attending job fairs and other career-related events.
Mental Skills and Traits for Research Attorneys
As a research attorney, you may be responsible for working on complex projects that require organization, attention to detail, analytical skills, and persistence. Employers also look for people who can perform their duties in a timely manner while managing deadlines well. In addition to these skills and traits, employers typically seek out candidates who have excellent communication skills (which means being able to communicate in writing), strong writing abilities, the ability to work under pressure with tight deadlines, an interest in law or litigation, an ability to work independently, good teamwork skills when collaborating with others, the willingness to learn new things, and the ability to stay up to date with current events.
Jobs a Research Attorney Can Hold
After passing the Bar exam and completing an accredited law school, research attorneys may find work in a variety of settings. Some may choose to work for private law firms, while others may decide to work for government agencies or corporations. There are also many opportunities to become a self-employed consultant. The following are some of the most common job titles held by research attorneys:
- Research Attorney;
- Litigation Attorney;
- Legal Assistant;
- Court Reporter;
- Process Server.
Research Attorney Salaries
Research attorneys earn an average yearly salary of $64,582. Those with five years or less of experience usually make around $47,000 per year, while those who have worked for more than 20 years can expect to take home an average salary between $83,000 and $110,000 per year.
Research Attorney Salaries by Education
A research attorney with a bachelor's degree usually earns an annual salary of $53,000. However, those with a law degree can expect to make an average of $86,000 per year. Master's and doctoral degrees may lead to even higher salaries; for example, research attorneys who have a master's degree often earn around $75,000 annually, while those with a doctorate can expect to make an average of $107,000 per year.
How Much Do Research Attorneys Make in Different Industries?
Research attorneys often earn more in certain industries. For those interested in being a research attorney, you should focus your job search on industries such as:
- Law Firms - research attorneys working for law firms generally take home the highest salaries among all industry positions;
- Federal Government – lawyers and paralegals working for the federal government tend to make good money as well;
- Law Enforcement – individuals who work as legal assistants or investigators typically have good-paying jobs with good benefits. The salary varies depending on the employer and geographic location, though law enforcement jobs typically pay better than other fields that require similar skill sets.
How Much Do Research Attorneys Make in Different Regions?
Research attorneys in the West, Midwest, and Northeast tend to earn much higher salaries than those in the South. For example, research attorneys working in Alaska are often able to take home well over $100,000 each year while working in Louisiana these individuals generally do not break six figures annually. The average salary for a research attorney will vary greatly depending on geographical location.
- Not all states recognize community property or equitable distribution when it comes to property division upon divorce, so there are only nine community property states in which to practice family law: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada (only if both parties agree), Texas (if husband and wife agree), Washington (if both parties agree), and Wisconsin.
- The states that follow community property rules are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
- Community property is an ownership system in which most or all assets acquired during the course of a marriage are considered jointly owned by both spouses. Generally speaking, community property laws dictate that any asset or debt acquired during the marriage is to be split evenly between the spouses when they divorce.
- Equitable distribution, on the other hand, is a system used in states that do not recognize community property. This approach generally means that each spouse gets an equitable (fair) share of the marital estate based upon factors such as income, length of the marriage, age of the spouses, and health. Generally, courts will attempt to divide the property equally, but this is not always possible.
Research Attorneys Outlook
The outlook for research attorneys is positive. The job market for lawyers is expected to grow by 10 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due, in part, to an increase in litigation and a rise in demand for legal services from corporations, individuals, and government agencies.
The increasing demand for legal services is good news for research attorneys, as this growth will create more jobs in the field. In addition, those with experience and specialized skills will be in high demand. As a result, research attorneys who are able to demonstrate their expertise and dedication to their work should have no trouble finding a job that meets their needs and pays well.