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Contract Attorney Career Guide

What is a contract attorney?

A contract attorney is a lawyer who specializes in contracts—creating, reviewing, negotiating, and understanding them. They make sure their clients’ contracts are legally sound and protect their interests. These attorneys are super important in many industries since contracts are a big part of business deals.

Duties and responsibilities

Contract attorneys write, check, and update contracts to make sure they reflect what the client needs and wants. They also negotiate contracts to protect their clients’ interests. If there’s a disagreement about a contract, they help their clients resolve it through negotiation or even court actions if needed.

Work environment

Contract attorneys usually work in offices, like in law firms, companies, or government agencies. Their job involves a lot of research, negotiation, and writing. It can be challenging, especially with complicated contracts or big business deals.

Typical work hours

Contract attorneys typically work regular office hours, Monday through Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. But they might work longer when dealing with tough contracts or tight deadlines. Flexibility and readiness to work extra hours are part of the job.

How to become a contract attorney

Becoming a contract attorney requires both school and real-world experience. It’s a path that needs hard work and commitment, but it can lead to a great job in law.

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree

Start with a bachelor’s degree. You don’t need a specific major, but subjects that improve your thinking and writing, like English, business, or political science, can help. Doing well in college can boost your chances of getting into a good law school.

Step 2: Take the LSAT

The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is a necessary test for getting into law school. It checks skills you’ll need for law studies, like understanding complex texts and solving problems. Score high on this to better your chances at top law schools.

Step 3: Go to law school

After the LSAT, attend a law school that’s approved by the American Bar Association to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Keep your grades up, as they can affect your internship opportunities and first job.

Step 4: Find an internship or clerkship

Try to get an internship or clerkship, especially in a place that deals with contracts. This experience is invaluable and can help you make meaningful professional connections.

Step 5: Pass the bar

To legally practice law, pass the bar exam in the state where you want to work. This tough test covers a lot of law topics and usually lasts a few days.

Step 6: Gain experience

Start working in a legal job, even if it’s a junior position, to gain experience. Working under experienced attorneys can teach you a lot about contracts.

Step 7: Get extra qualifications (optional)

If you want, you can get extra qualifications like a master’s degree in law (LLM) focusing on contracts or a certification in contract management. These can make you stand out and open up more job opportunities.

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

Contract attorneys can choose from various specialties depending on what kind of contracts they want to work with and which areas of law they’re interested in.

  • Corporate contract attorney: These lawyers handle business contracts in the corporate world, such as those needed for mergers or company policies. Their main job is to make sure these contracts follow the law and protect the company from legal problems.
  • Intellectual property contract attorney: These attorneys specialize in contracts about creative work like inventions, trademarks, or copyrighted materials. They ensure that the rights to these creative works are clearly defined and protected in contracts. 
  • Real estate contract attorney: Real estate contract attorneys deal with agreements related to property transactions, like buying, selling, or renting spaces. They verify that these contracts are legal and safeguard their clients’ interests.
  • Employment contract attorney: These attorneys focus on contracts between employers and employees, covering job duties, salary, and workplace rules. They help make these agreements clear to avoid misunderstandings and legal issues later.
  • Freelance contract attorney: Freelance contract attorneys are not attached to one firm or company. They work on their own, handling contracts for different clients, which can range from big companies to individual entrepreneurs. 

Top skills for contract attorneys

Being a successful contract attorney means having a set of specific skills that help you handle contracts expertly and efficiently.

  • Strong research skills: These attorneys need to be great researchers since they have to stay updated on laws that vary across different places and industries. They must thoroughly understand the legal rights and duties in contracts to protect their clients.
  • Problem-solving skills: Since contracts often lead to disputes or contain unclear terms, being able to solve these issues creatively and effectively is crucial. Good problem-solving skills help them resolve conflicts and ensure the contract terms are fair and clear from the start.
  • Negotiation skills: Negotiating is a big part of the job. They must be skilled negotiators to get the best terms for their clients, making sure the agreements serve their clients’ interests well.
  • Excellent communication: These attorneys must be clear communicators, both in writing and speaking. They need to explain complex legal terms in simple language and listen carefully to their clients to understand and meet their needs.
  • Time management and organization: With many clients and contracts to handle, being organized and managing time well is essential. This helps ensure all contracts are handled efficiently and deadlines are met without any mix-ups.
  • Attention to detail: Even small mistakes in a contract can cause big problems. Contract attorneys must carefully check every part of a contract to avoid errors and ensure everything is correct and protects the client.

Contract attorney career path

Contract attorneys have various career opportunities as they gain experience and specialize in more complex legal areas, which can also lead to better job prospects and higher earnings.

Corporate roles

One option is to move into a corporate setting, working as corporate counsel or a legal consultant. In these roles, they advise companies on business strategies, navigate legal rules, and manage internal legal issues. Larger companies often have their own legal teams that benefit from experienced lawyers.

Private practice

For those who like the idea of running their own business, starting a private practice in contract law is another route. This allows for flexibility and control over work, but success in private practice usually requires a strong network of clients and industry contacts.

Academic and government careers

Some attorneys might prefer to go into academia, teaching at law schools or conducting legal research. Others may be drawn to public service, working in government agencies where they can focus on laws that govern contracts and regulations. These roles offer a chance to contribute to policy development and legal reforms, impacting the legal field more broadly.

  • Going global: There’s a growing need for contract attorneys who understand international laws. Companies often work across different countries, so lawyers who know multiple languages or have experience in international business are especially valuable.
  • New tech: Tools like AI-powered contract management systems help handle everyday tasks, so attorneys can spend more time on complex negotiations and strategic decisions. Those who are good at using these new technologies are likely to be in high demand.

Employment projections

The job market for contract attorneys looks promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment for lawyers, including contract attorneys, is expected to grow by 10 percent through 2031. This growth rate is faster than average compared to other jobs.

Contract attorney career tips

Understand your area of law

Specializing in an area like corporate, family, or intellectual property law means you need a deep understanding of not only general legal rules but also your field’s specific tactics and details. Keep up with the latest legal journals and court rulings to stay sharp and effective in handling cases.

Prioritize communication

Good communication is as important as legal expertise. Being clear and straightforward ensures that everyone knows what’s going on legally, what they need to do, and what the possible outcomes are.

Stay detail-oriented

Attention to detail is crucial in law. A small mistake in a contract or legal document can lead to big problems. Always be thorough in reading and writing legal documents to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Build a professional network

Networking is key in law. A strong professional network can lead to mentorship, partnerships, and new opportunities. Join legal associations, attend industry events, and connect with colleagues online to expand your contacts. Here are a few associations you might consider:

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

Engage in continuous learning

The legal field constantly changes, so continuous learning is essential. Keep up-to-date by:

  • Taking courses in your specialty
  • Attending industry conferences
  • Reading industry-specific publications
  • Getting certifications like the 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.