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Contract Attorney Career Guide

What is a contract attorney?

A contract attorney is a legal professional who focuses on all contract aspects, including their creation, review, negotiation, and interpretation. They ensure their clients’ contractual agreements are legally sound, fair, and in the client’s best interest. These attorneys play a crucial role in various industries, given that contracts form the backbone of most business transactions.

Their expertise provides clients with security and peace of mind, knowing that their contractual agreements are managed and overseen by a professional with a deep understanding of contract law.

Duties and responsibilities

A contract attorney is primarily responsible for drafting, reviewing, and revising contracts. They work with clients to understand their needs and make sure these are adequately reflected in the contract’s terms and conditions. They’re also responsible for negotiating contract terms with other parties to reach agreements that protect their clients’ interests.

Additionally, they interpret contracts, providing clarity and guidance to clients about their rights and obligations under the agreement. If disputes arise related to a contract, these attorneys represent their clients in resolution processes, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation.

Work environment

Contract attorneys typically work in office settings, whether in a law firm, corporation, or government agency. Their role heavily focuses on research, negotiation, drafting, and consultation. This job can be intellectually demanding and occasionally high-pressured, particularly when dealing with high-stakes contracts or complex contractual disputes.

The work often requires collaboration with other attorneys, professionals from other disciplines, and various levels of management within client organizations.

Typical work hours

The work hours for contract attorneys can vary, but they generally align with regular business hours, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. However, due to the nature of their work, they might need to work beyond these hours when dealing with complex contracts or working toward tight deadlines. Being flexible and prepared for occasional extended work periods is a common aspect of the role.

How to become a contract attorney

Becoming a contract attorney involves academic and practical preparation, as this job requires a solid understanding of contracts and legal procedural matters. It’s important to remember that this journey requires dedication and hard work but can ultimately lead to a rewarding legal career.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree. While there is no required major, law schools often favor applicants with backgrounds in fields that develop analytical thinking and writing skills. These disciplines include English, history, philosophy, business, and political science. Excelling in undergraduate studies also increases your chances of being accepted into a reputable law school.

Step 2: Take the LSAT

The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is a critical component of law school applications. This standardized test assesses your readiness for law school, focusing on reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and writing abilities. Aspiring attorneys should prepare thoroughly for the LSAT, aiming to score as high as possible to increase their chances of admission into their desired law school.

Step 3: Attend law school

After passing the LSAT, the next step is to complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Maintaining good grades in law school is essential as it may determine your opportunities for internships and your first job after graduation.

Step 4: Take part in an internship or clerkship

Experience in the legal field can be immensely beneficial when seeking to become a contract attorney. An internship or clerkship in a law firm specializing in contract law can provide essential practical experience and networking opportunities. Internships or clerkships can be completed during law school, typically after the first year.

Step 5: Pass the bar

The bar examination is the final barrier to becoming a practicing attorney. You’ll need to pass the bar in the state where you intend to practice. The content and format vary by state, but it generally consists of one to three days of testing on various aspects of law and professional ethics.

Step 6: Gain experience

To be more desirable to potential employers, relevant professional experience is key. This may mean starting in a junior legal role and working your way up or working as an associate under experienced attorneys.

Step 7: Pursue additional qualifications (optional)

While not always necessary, pursuing additional qualifications such as a master’s degree in law (LLM) with a focus on contract law or gaining certification from the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) can give you an advantage in the market. These additional steps demonstrate a higher level of expertise in contract law and can open opportunities for advanced roles within the field.

How much do contract attorneys make?

There are many variables that go into determining how much a contract attorney makes, from company size to experience to education, just to name a few.

Highest paying industries

  • Legal Services – $150,410
  • Federal Government – $144,300
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $159,200
  • Insurance Carriers – $146,290
  • State Government – $115,820

Highest paying states

  • California – $173,970
  • New York – $167,110
  • Massachusetts – $165,610
  • Connecticut – $153,640
  • Illinois – $152,980

Browse contract attorney salary data by market

Types of contract attorneys

In this section of the career guide, we explore the diverse types and specializations related to the profession of contract attorney. Various options exist based on the areas of law they choose to specialize in and the types of contracts they manage.

Corporate contract attorney

In the corporate world, a contract attorney is typically responsible for drafting, analyzing, and reviewing business contracts to ensure legal compliance and protect clients from potential legal issues. Their focus might include mergers, acquisitions, or corporate governance.

Intellectual property contract attorney

Intellectual property contract attorneys focus on contracts related to patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. These legal professionals handle the intricate details of intellectual property rights and contracts. They may work for corporations, law firms, or as consultants for individuals and smaller companies.

Real estate contract attorney

These attorneys handle contracts for buying, selling, leasing, and use of property. Their work focuses on making sure that all real estate agreements are legally binding and protect the best interests of their clients.

Employment contract attorney

Employment contract attorneys specialize in contracts that define the relationship between employers and employees. They draft, analyze, and review employment agreements, non-compete agreements, privacy agreements, and other related contracts. Their contribution is critical in stipulating clear terms and conditions for both parties and minimizing potential disputes or legal issues.

Freelance contract attorney

Freelance contract attorneys provide their services on a contractual or temporary basis rather than being tied to a specific firm or corporation. They may work in any of the above fields or offer more general contract law services. Their flexibility allows them to cater to a wide range of clients, from multinational corporations to individual entrepreneurs.

Top skills for contract attorneys

Thriving as a contract attorney requires a diverse set of skills and aptitudes. The following descriptions provide insights into the abilities anyone aspiring to this role should focus on developing.

Strong researching abilities

Grasping and staying updated on laws related to contract matters is integral to this role. Their knowledge must stretch across different jurisdictions and sectors to meet clients’ rights, obligations, and best interests. This requires systematic and thorough research, so an aptitude for investigation is essential for a career as a contract attorney.

Formidable problem-solving skills

Dealing with contracts invariably involves encountering and resolving disputes or potentially ambiguous clauses. Whether mitigating issues during contract formulation or tackling conflicts after a contract’s implementation, finding effective solutions is a cornerstone of the job. Thus, solid problem-solving skills are indispensable for those aiming to excel in this career.


In the world of contracts, negotiation is instrumental. Negotiation skills ensure they can obtain favorable terms and conditions for their clients, whether individuals or organizations. These legal professionals must be able to maneuver discussions and navigate concessions tactfully.

Remarkable communication skills

These attorneys must articulate information effectively. In drafting contracts, they need to lay out terms and conditions that all parties can comprehend. Additionally, they must be able to translate complex legal terms or technical details into simpler language that is easy for their clients to understand. Good listening skills also come into play, allowing them to fully understand their clients’ needs and concerns.

Time management and organizational abilities

Contract lawyers often juggle multiple clients and contract negotiations simultaneously. To maintain efficiency and avoid mix-ups, they must organize their tasks and manage time effectively. These skills help to guarantee that all contract dealings proceed smoothly and within stipulated timelines, allowing for a seamless contract management process.

Unmatched attention to detail

Contracts are intricate by nature, and a slight misinterpretation or oversight in a clause can lead to serious legal consequences. Possessing meticulous attention to detail is non-negotiable for these professionals, who must be vigilant to every clause, every line, and every word in a contract to provide complete accuracy and utmost protection for their clients.

Contract attorney career path

For contract attorneys, there are numerous future job opportunities and roles to consider as part of a career growth strategy. Over time, they can specialize in complex areas of law, handling higher-level disputes and transactions, which can increase marketability and earning potential.

Another career path could be shifting into the corporate world as a corporate counsel or legal consultant to advise on business strategies, navigate legal regulations, and handle internal legal matters. Larger organizations, for instance, tend to have in-house legal teams where an experienced attorney could fit in perfectly.

Alternatively, those with a robust entrepreneurial spirit might enter private practice offering contractual legal services. This path offers potential benefits like flexibility and control over engagements. To do this effectively, it would help to have developed a substantial network of clients and industry contacts.

Lastly, some might opt for a career in academia, lecturing at law schools or serving as legal researchers. Those passionate about public service could pursue positions within government agencies, focusing on regulatory and contractual law. Such a shift could open policy development and reform opportunities, influencing the broader legal landscape.

The ongoing trend toward globalization in business presents an even greater need for expertise in contract law. Many businesses operate across national boundaries, necessitating a detailed understanding of international contract law, which also places a premium on multilingual attorneys or those with significant experience in international business environments.

Advancements in technology have also influenced the role of contract attorneys. Legal technology tools, such as AI-powered contract management systems, are becoming increasingly popular in handling routine tasks, allowing these lawyers to focus more on strategic work and complex contract negotiations. Those who can adapt to these changes and incorporate technology into their practices are expected to be in high demand.

Employment projections for contract attorneys

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for lawyers, which includes contract attorneys, is projected to grow 10 percent through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

Contract attorney career tips

Understand the nuances of the practice area

You will often work in a specific area of law, such as corporate law, family law, or intellectual property law. It’s important to fully understand the general legal principles and the particular nuances and strategies that apply to your chosen focus area. This can help you effectively navigate cases and provide quality legal services to your clients. Regularly review the latest legal journals and stay informed about recent court decisions in your practice area.

Prioritize communication

Although legal expertise is crucial, this should be complemented by excellent communication skills. Clear and concise communication ensures that everyone understands the legal procedures, obligations, and potential consequences.

Stay detail-oriented

Law requires meticulous attention to detail, where any overlooked clause in a contract or error in a legal document can potentially have significant consequences. Critical reading and writing skills are fundamental for reviewing contract stipulations, writing legal drafts, and verifying that all paperwork is correct and complete.

Build a professional network

Networking is vital for any career, and the legal profession is no exception. Building a robust network can provide opportunities for mentoring, partnerships, referrals, and advice. Attending industry events, participating in professional legal organizations, and connecting with peers and mentors online can all contribute to your network. Below are some relevant professional associations for contract attorneys:

  • American Bar Association (ABA)
  • American Association for Justice (AAJ)
  • Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)

Engage in continuous learning

The legal field is constantly evolving with new laws, legal interpretations, and regulations. Staying updated in this ever-changing field and engaging in continuous learning throughout your professional journey is imperative. These might include:

  • Taking professional development courses in your specialty area
  • Attend industry conferences
  • Subscribe to industry-specific publications
  • Get certified in specialized areas such as Certified Contract Management Professional (CCMP)

Where the contract attorney jobs are

Top employers

  • Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
  • Kirkland & Ellis LLP
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Baker McKenzie

Top states

  • New York
  • California
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • LawJobs
  • Zip Recruiter


What is the role of a contract attorney?

A contract attorney is a legal professional primarily engaged in the drafting, reviewing, and negotiating of contracts. They ensure that agreements are legally sound, align with the client’s best interests, and meet regulatory standards. These legal practitioners can work across varied sectors, handling employment, commercial, real estate, or licensing contracts.

What educational background is necessary for a contract attorney?

Aspiring contract attorneys must attain a bachelor’s degree before entering law school to earn a JD degree. After graduation, they must pass the state bar exam where they wish to practice. It’s advantageous to take courses or gain experience in contract law during law school, and some might also choose to further their education with a master’s degree in contract management.

What vital skills should a contract attorney possess?

A contract attorney should have an excellent understanding of contract law and a strong analytical ability to interpret and translate complex legal language. Valuable skills include meticulous attention to detail, superior negotiation, communication, argumentation, and research abilities. They should be knowledgeable about regulatory changes and be able to work under pressure while meeting deadlines.

Are there special certifications or training required for a contract attorney?

After earning a JD degree, passing the bar exam is mandatory to practice law. Certifications aren’t typically required, though obtaining a Certified Commercial Contracts Manager (CCCM) or Certified Professional Contracts Manager (CPCM) certification from the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) can greatly enhance job prospects and credibility in the field.

Does a contract attorney work independently or with a team?

This depends on the nature and complexity of the contracts. They often work closely with other lawyers within a firm, a legal team within an organization, or other involved parties like executives, managers, or clients while negotiating and drafting contracts. Sometimes, especially for less complicated contracts, they may operate independently.

What is the work environment like for a contract attorney?

The work environment can be quite dynamic. They might work in a law firm, a private corporation, or government agencies, each having varied work cultures and demands. Generally, it’s a desk job but may require a fair amount of travel for client meetings. They often have to manage tight deadlines, which might result in longer work hours.

How does a contract attorney advance in their career?

Career advancement for contract attorneys can take on various forms. With experience, they may become the head of a legal department or senior partner in a law firm. Alternatively, some use their skills and knowledge to make a lateral move into a related field, such as contract management or negotiation. Continued learning and certification programs can also bolster advancement options.

What is a typical day in the life of a contract attorney?

Most of their day is spent analyzing and drafting contracts, which involves reading, interpreting legal provisions, negotiating terms, and ensuring the client’s interests are protected. They may also research laws and regulations, meet with the clients or concerned parties, and review any issues related to existing contracts.

Do contract attorneys specialize in specific areas or industries?

Yes, contract attorneys can specialize in specific types of contracts related to certain industries. For example, those in the technology sector may specialize in software licensing contracts, while those in real estate might handle lease and property sale agreements. Specialization lets them gain in-depth knowledge of contractual needs and industry regulations.

What is the professional outlook for contract attorneys?

As long as businesses continue to enter into legal agreements, the need for contract attorneys will remain. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow in line with the average for all occupations. Prospects are particularly favorable for those with advanced knowledge or specialization in sectors steady in demand, such as technology or healthcare.