What is a Staff Attorney?
“Staff Attorney” is a catch-all phrase describing lawyers who dedicate their services to a specific organization. This may include a corporation, government entity, academic institution, or not-for-profit. Law firm attorneys, in contrast, typically serve many clients who retain them to handle matters that are episodic, labor-intensive, or require specialized legal expertise.
What does a staff attorney do? The short answer is, “it depends.” Given the wide range of potential employers, the day-to-day duties of a staff attorney employed by a legislative body, for example, may vary considerably from the responsibilities of a staff attorney at a corporation down the street. It all depends on what legal services the organization needs on an ongoing basis.
Nonetheless, a few of the more common duties and responsibilities are listed below:
- Performs factual and legal research and analysis
- Attends legislative committee meetings, and prepares legislation
- Develops and conducts in-house presentations for training or professional development
- Drafts and reviews contracts, employment agreements, and a wide variety of legal correspondence
- Advises executives on the potential legal ramifications of proposed organizational policies and procedures
- Protects an organization’s rights in its interactions with external parties
Although the job description varies wildly, the required credentials are relatively straightforward:
- Juris Doctor degree
- State Bar admission
- 3 years of prior associate-level experience in a particular area of expertise
In a homogenous talent pool, it’s critical to set yourself apart. You can differentiate yourself from other candidates by demonstrating these attractive characteristics:
- Exceptional skills in negotiation and interpersonal communication
- Meticulous, detail-oriented approach to work matters
- Up-to-date understanding of the key legal issues germane to an organization
- Ability to communicate persuasively — in writing, speaking, and via audio-visual technologies
Financial compensation alone is rarely the driving force behind legal professionals pursuing these positions. As many staff attorneys will tell you, though, these jobs often reward in ways other than a fat paycheck.
Work schedules tend to be more regular and require fewer on-the-job hours than “partner track” law firm positions. As a result, staff attorney jobs may be attractive to those who are raising children, caring for elderly parents, or simply seeking a different work-life balance.
Additionally, staff attorney positions often attract professionals wanting to participate in an organization whose “cause” they support or whose culture resonates with their values. (Invest some time in speaking with people who serve in staff attorney roles. It won’t be long before you hear anecdotes illustrating how the work of a staff attorney made a significant difference in the lives of others.)
In terms of financial rewards, a staff attorney’s Average National Base Salary (according to our 2017 Salary Guide data) is $96,816.
Keep An Open Mind
If staff attorney positions are even remotely on your career radar, keep an open mind. Is your first impression of a staff attorney keeping you from giving these jobs the attention they deserve? Remember that these positions vary considerably from organization-to-organization.
So even if you were not excited about the last position you reviewed, the next one you encounter might be a game-changer for your career.