Lawyers act as both advisors and advocates to their clients. They represent either the defense or prosecution side in criminal and civil trials. They are responsible for presenting evidence and arguments that best support their client. Lawyers advise their clients regarding a multitude of issues in both business and personal matters. Lawyers will usually specialize in a certain area of law, such as healthcare, probate, international, and environmental law, among others.
Most lawyers work in private practices dealing with either criminal or civil law cases. The National Association of Law Placement (NALP) found that 58 percent of 2002 law student graduates had gone into private practice as of this year. Lawyers involved in criminal law represent clients who have been charged with crimes and defend them in courts of law. Those practicing civil law assist their clients in such matters as litigation, wills, contracts, leases, and mortgages.
Other lawyers work mainly in corporations, nonprofit organizations, government offices, and educational institutions. Corporate lawyers, also known as house counsel, usually advise companies on legal issues related to its business operations such as patents, government regulations, contracts, or union issues. Government lawyers work for the state attorneys general, prosecutors, public defenders, and within the courts. At the Federal level, attorneys investigate cases for the U.S. Department of Justice and other agencies. Government lawyers help in developing programs and laws, establishing procedures, and fighting government civil and criminal cases. Lawyers that work for nonprofit organizations help disadvantaged people in handling their civil cases. A small number of lawyers work as professors at universities, many part-time.
A day in the life…
While lawyers conduct most of their work in offices, libraries, and courtrooms, they will also find themselves traveling to gather evidence, appear in courts, and meet with clients. Hours and workloads vary among attorneys. Salaried lawyers usually work a fairly standard schedule and receive a standard paycheck, while those at private practices usually work overtime, and bill their clients by the hour. Private practice lawyers clock overtime hours mainly because of large amounts of research, client meetings, and document preparation. On the whole, most lawyers often work long hours, with about half working 40 hours or more per week. They often face additional time pressure when a case is being tried due to the large amount of preparation required. Generally, legal work is not seasonal, but tax lawyers and other such specialists will often experience work peaks at certain times in the year.
A typical day for a lawyer will depend heavily upon the type of law they are practicing. But in general, lawyers will spend a lot of time researching, preparing paperwork such as briefs and contracts, preparing for and participating in trials, and advising clients. All of these activities require them to spend long hours in law libraries and online databases researching laws and precedents.
Education and training
A bachelor’s degree is required for admission into law school, as well as a competitive score on the law school admission test (LSAT). Attorneys spend at least three years in law school working towards their Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Before they can practice law, students must pass a state’s bar exam, which can include both a bar and ethics exam.
Advanced law degrees are helpful for those planning to specialize in a certain area, research, or teach law. Some law students pursue joint degree programs, which usually require an additional semester or year. Joint degree programs are offered in a number of areas, including law and business or public administration. After graduation, lawyers must keep themselves current on legal and non-legal developments that may affect their area of practice. Currently, 39 states and jurisdictions require that lawyers be involved in Continuing Legal Education (CLE). Law schools and state and local bar associations provide continuing education courses for lawyers, and some states even allow CLE credits to be obtained through participation in seminars on the Internet.
Employment for lawyers is expected to grow about as fast as the average through 2010. Demand will result mostly from general growth in population and the consequent increased business activities and needs. Legal actions will increase mainly in healthcare, intellectual property, international law, elder law, environmental law, and sexual harassment. Easier and cheaper access to legal clinics and legal service programs is expected to result in an increase in the use of legal services by the middle class population.
Demand will be hampered by the fact that many businesses are increasingly using large accounting firms and paralegals to perform some of the same functions that lawyers do. In addition, mediation and dispute resolution are being used more often as alternatives to litigation. Competition will also affect employment in this field, as an increasingly larger number of students graduate from law school each year. As a result, law school graduates are increasingly accepting work in related administrative and managerial fields.
Many lawyers decide to leave their firms after two or three years, going to work for corporations, non-profits, or government bodies, or leaving the profession altogether. Legal consulting, legal education, law school administration, government lobbying, and legal recruiting are some of the more popular areas lawyers tend to move into.
Other fields for with legal training is necessary include paralegal and legal assistant, law clerk, title examiner, abstractor, arbitrator, mediator, conciliator, judge, magistrate, administrative law judge, adjudicator, and hearing officer.