Civil Rights Law Jobs in 2023
If you are passionate about protecting people’s freedom, we suggest you consider a career in civil rights law.
Found 331 jobs
College Station, TX, US
3 months ago
Pre-Law Civil Rights/ Disability Discrimination Fellow
Los Angeles, CA, US
3 months ago
Education policy law
New York, NY, US
3 months ago
Senior Supervising Attorney General Civil Liberties
Chicago, IL, US
3 months ago
Are you passionate about fighting for social justice and educating people about their civil rights? Do you have civil rights-related experience, or are you looking to start a career in civil law? Then browse through our list of top-rated civil rights law jobs!
Civil rights laws proclaim that all individuals should receive the same civil liberties, rights, and equal treatment. They also prohibit discrimination in a number of different settings, including education, employment, housing, voting, and lending.
If you wish to learn more about what goes into being a civil rights lawyer, read on.
About Civil Rights Law Jobs
What exactly does a civil rights attorney do? In essence, these law professionals fight to protect the rights and civil liberties of all US citizens. Those who have had their rights infringed upon can pursue civil rights litigation against the offending party, either individually or as part of class-action lawsuits, which is where civil rights attorneys come in.
From that point on, it is the attorney’s job to prove that the violation of their client’s rights really did occur, and to secure the best possible monetary compensation for the damage caused.
It’s essential to learn how to distinguish between civil rights and human rights, and by extension, the differences between a civil rights lawyer vs. a human rights lawyer.
While human rights represent the freedoms that are universal, inalienable, and inherent to all people, civil rights are the liberties a person obtains by being a citizen of a particular country.
Even though there’s an overlap between these two categories, here’s a rough breakdown:
- Human rights include the right to life, the right to a free trial, protection from torture and slavery, the right to an education, and freedom of expression.
- Civil rights in the United States cover protection from unlawful discrimination in voting, employment, education, police services, housing, public accommodations and facilities, federally funded programs, the right to equal protection, the right against self-incrimination, the right to due process, and the right to free speech.
What Do Civil Rights Lawyers Do?
Here’s a short civil rights law job description: These lawyers take on various types of cases in which people’s rights have been violated and need to be defended according to the Constitution of the United States and the corresponding federal and state civil rights laws.
For example, the job of a civil rights attorney may involve advocating for women’s rights, first amendment rights, voting rights, or disability rights. And since civil rights violations can vary greatly, attorneys often specialize in a certain area of civil rights law.
A civil rights lawyer’s career involves pursuing civil remedies by spending a lot of time in the courtroom, following procedures, making motions, and presenting cases with evidence and the conclusions that follow.
However, civil litigation is far from a simple process, so there are many additional aspects to this job. This includes conducting in-depth research, meeting with clients in correctional institutions, interviewing victims and witnesses, filing legal briefs and supporting documentation, filing legal appeals at the state court or federal courts, conducting trial preparations, deciphering laws for individuals, organizations, and businesses, negotiating settlements, and working closely with various judicial chambers.
Different sets of duties come with different specializations that civil rights law career seekers may decide to opt for. If they choose to specialize in the rights of a specific interest group - such as religious, disability, or women’s rights - their career will revolve around cases related to the area they chose to specialize in.
Other attorneys, however, may focus on one major issue, amendment, or bill, such as voting rights, election rights, freedom of expression, libel, the Privacy Act, the First Amendment, or the Eleventh Amendment.
Still, regardless of the specialization a law practitioner may pursue, all civil rights attorney jobs revolve around ensuring that the rights and liberties of US citizens are respected.
Civil rights lawyers mostly work in government institutions and private law firms. Alternatively, these law practitioners do academic research or teach other aspiring attorneys.
Given that there are quite a few ways to work in this field, it’s difficult to talk about a single type of work environment. Still, most civil rights lawyer jobs are office-bound and involve spending a lot of time in the courtroom.
Injuries and Illnesses
While a career devoted to fighting for civil rights isn’t dangerous in terms of exposure to physical injuries, one of the most common problems attorneys face is burnout, as this line of work can be stressful and emotionally draining.
However, if combatting social injustice and protecting civil liberties is what drives you, starting a civil rights law career short-term could be a good way to see if this field of law is for you.
Those thinking about starting a career in civil rights law will definitely want to know how many hours these law practitioners put in every week. Typically, they have a 40-hour work week.
However, due to the nature of the legal industry, overtime is far from uncommon. As such, lawyers who are employed full-time will usually have to put in additional hours conducting research, drafting legal documents, or any other type of time-sensitive work pertaining to their current case.
How To Become a Civil Rights Lawyer
Before you can start applying for civil rights attorney jobs, you’ll need to spend several years getting a Juris Doctor degree. While the law practitioner’s educational path is more or less the same for all lawyers, it also involves specialized training geared toward human and civil rights laws rather than other areas, such as criminal law.
Much like with jobs in international law or environmental law, duties can vary greatly depending on the task at hand, meaning that there are plenty of fields of study and practice that an aspiring lawyer can focus on, including public interest law, family law, and many more.
Here’s an overview of the most important skills a civil rights lawyer should have:
- Communication skills: An attorney’s ability to effectively communicate the premise of their reasoning to the decision-maker (the judge or the jury) can determine the success of any case, so an aspiring lawyer must possess excellent communication skills. In addition to being able to speak fluently and clearly, a good lawyer needs to be able to avoid any ambiguities in their phrasing.
- Persuasiveness: A day in the life of a civil rights lawyer consists of many difficult conversations. The power of persuasion is essential when dealing with a judge, jury, your client, or another attorney regarding any issue.
- Interpersonal skills: The need for advanced interpersonal skills may not be unique to lawyers; however, its importance is more significant in civil rights cases. Given that lawyers spend a lot of time speaking to clients and witnesses, they must be able to get along with everyone and engage in difficult conversations.
- Research skills: A good lawyer always makes sure to explore every facet of a case. To do so, law practitioners need to devote enough time throughout their civil rights law careers to reading about older cases and learning about other areas of law.
- Analytical and problem-solving skills: Given that law is a field that is strictly based on evidence, facts, and logic, all lawyers need to be highly analytical and thorough in their approach to the problems they face.
- Resilience: Civil litigation can draw a lot of public attention, and attorneys must be capable of handling high-profile cases while using the accompanying exposure to educate the public on civil rights issues. It’s also important to keep in mind that this role may subject you to long working hours, tight deadlines, and emotionally draining situations that can challenge even experienced attorneys.
A civil rights lawyer’s education path is similar to the one you’d need to take if you wanted to build your career in any other area of law.
The first step involves obtaining a bachelor's degree. While most law schools don’t require a specific field of study for admission, there are certain courses you may benefit from as an aspiring law practitioner. Those who opt for undergraduate studies that focus on human rights, US government, economics, public speaking, human resources, or history all make for qualified applicants.
The next step toward a civil rights lawyer’s career is taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This exam tests analytical, reading, and critical-thinking skills, and aspiring law students usually take it during the junior year of their undergraduate studies.
After completing your undergraduate studies, it is time to pursue your Juris Doctor degree. Most full-time graduate law programs take three years to complete. In the first year, the courses usually focus on basic law subjects such as constitutional law, contracts, torts, and property law.
During the following two years, students take elective classes and gain hands-on experience by volunteering at legal firms and enrolling in internships. In some law schools, students get to devote more attention to preparing for jobs in civil rights law, exploring topics such as nationality and immigration law, the death penalty, and American Indian law.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Before you can start practicing law, you must pass the required exams to obtain admission to your state’s bar association. While the format may vary slightly from state to state, the bar exam usually lasts two days.
On the first day, candidates typically take the Multistate Bar Examination, a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice test covering topics related to contracts, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, real property, evidence, and torts. State-administered examinations usually take place on the second day.
Note that you won’t be able to apply for civil rights attorney jobs unless you pass the bar exam, so taking enough time to prepare for it is a must.
While attorneys working in the United States aren’t required to pursue education beyond the Juris Doctor degree, additional training can help future law practitioners develop expertise in their field or even expand their qualification area.
In some law schools, you can apply for a Master of Laws degree in human rights or even international human rights. Designed for licensed lawyers who want to pursue jobs in civil rights, these programs usually cover a variety of legal fields such as international criminal law, humanitarian law, the law of war, and refugee law.
Not only can taking the time to specialize in a specific area of law help you earn higher pay, but it can also increase your chances of success when applying for supervisory or high-level administrative positions. Alternatively, attorneys with business training can use their knowledge to start their own law firms.
Civil Rights Lawyer’s Salary
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t gather statistics for specific legal specializations. However, it does provide information on how much lawyers can make in the United States. According to the BLS data, the median annual wage for attorneys was $127,990 in May 2021.
It’s important to keep in mind that civil rights lawyers’ salaries may vary greatly depending on their location and specialties. Moreover, your income will likely increase over time as you gain more professional experience.
Careers in civil rights law can be quite diverse. As a rule, a significant number of public service and government positions are held by law practitioners. However, civil rights attorneys have a wide variety of job positions to choose from that fit their skills and specialties. Many are self-employed and conduct business either through their private practice or as partners in law firms, while others simply hold the title of associate attorney at a law firm.
Based on the information provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for lawyers of all specializations will keep growing by 4%, creating 32,300 new job opportunities for legal practitioners throughout the period between 2019 and 2029.
However, the competition is expected to remain fierce as more job seekers graduate from law school each year. Job prospects should be better for those not opposed to relocation.
Additionally, a demonstrated commitment to the protection of civil rights and prior civil rights and litigation experience are all highly important to paving the way to any civil rights attorney’s dream job.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to become a civil rights lawyer?
In addition to developing a passion for social justice, a future human rights attorney needs to complete many years of schooling. As there isn’t a specific civil rights law degree to pursue, the educational path for all aspiring attorneys is more or less the same. It involves obtaining a bachelor’s degree, preferably one in the field of law, getting into law school, obtaining the Juris Doctor degree, and passing the admission test of the American Bar Association.
What does a civil rights attorney do?
When an individual’s civil rights have been violated or abused, the person has the right to file a civil lawsuit against those responsible, be it another individual or an institution. It’s part of a civil rights attorney’s job description to help ensure the best possible outcome for the person whose rights have been violated.
Throughout the process, civil rights attorneys take on a variety of tasks, such as conducting research, creating legal documents, negotiating settlements, and arguing cases in court. These law practitioners’ job is also to educate their clients about their rights and to keep up with civil rights-related laws and regulations, as they may change over time.
What type of law is civil rights?
Steps to becoming a civil rights attorney include learning about civil rights laws - federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination in settings such as education, voting, employment, housing, lending, and more. These laws apply to everyone in a society and guarantee equal rights to all individuals regardless of their race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
For example, federal civil rights laws prevent public companies in the leisure and hospitality sector, such as hotels and restaurants, from treating customers differently based on their race. In addition to federal and state laws, there are also civil rights laws and ordinances enacted by municipalities such as cities and towns.
What do civil rights lawyers major in?
Most law schools require an undergraduate degree from their prospective students. However, there are no specific undergraduate majors for civil rights law, and you won’t be denied admission to law school based on the major you chose for your bachelor’s degree studies. Even though there isn’t a “right” major to pursue to get into law school, pre-law students may benefit from focusing on courses in English, history, political science, philosophy, public speaking, economics, business, and journalism.
Furthermore, completing undergraduate studies in human rights or government may provide a lot of useful information about the field and potentially prove advantageous when applying for civil rights law jobs.