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All That You Wanted To Know About Attorneys At Law

published February 18, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 6 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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The more detailed aspects of a lawyer's job depend upon his or her position and field of specialization. Even though all lawyers are allowed to represent parties in court, some appear in court more frequently than others. Lawyers who specialize in trial work need an exceptional ability to think quickly and speak with ease and authority, and they must be thoroughly familiar with courtroom rules and strategies. Trial lawyers still spend most of their time outside the courtroom conducting research, interviewing clients and witnesses, and handling other details in preparation for trial.
All That You Wanted To Know About Attorneys At Law


Besides trial courts, lawyers practice law in a variety of places. The majority of lawyers are in private practice, but specializations in other areas of law exist for those interested in legal careers.


Lawyers can work for large or small firms, operate their own private practices, or represent clients as public defenders. They work in either criminal or civil law or both.

Criminal Law

In criminal law, lawyers represent individuals who have been charged with crimes and argue their cases in courts of law.

Civil Law

In civil law, attorneys assist clients with litigation, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles, and leases. Some manage a person's property as trustee or, as executor, see that provisions of a client's will are carried out. Others handle only public-interest cases, civil or criminal, that have a potential impact extending well beyond the individual client.

Other lawyers work for legal aid societies-private, nonprofit organizations established to serve disadvantaged people. These lawyers generally handle civil rather than criminal cases.

Some other specializations within civil law include:
  • bankruptcy
  • environmental law
  • family law
  • insurance law
  • intellectual property
  • international law
  • probate
  • public defense
  • real estate law

House Counsel

Lawyers sometimes are employed full-time by a single client. If the client is a corporation, the lawyer is known as house counsel and usually advises the company about legal questions that arise from its business activities. These questions might involve patents, government regulations, contracts with other companies, property interests, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

Government Attorneys

Attorneys employed at the various levels of government make up still another category of legal practitioners. Lawyers who work for state attorneys general, prosecutors, public defenders, and courts play key roles in the criminal justice system. At the federal level, attorneys investigate cases for the U.S. Department of Justice or other agencies. Also, lawyers at every government level help develop programs, draft laws, interpret legislation, establish enforcement procedures, and argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government.

Law Clerks

Law clerks are fully trained attorneys who choose to work with a judge, either for a one- to two-year stint out of law school to gain experience before practicing law or as a full-time professional career. Their duties involve mainly research and writing reports.

Law Professors

A relatively small number of trained attorneys work in law schools. Most are faculty members who specialize in one or more subjects, and others serve as administrators. Some work full-time in nonacademic settings and teach part-time.

Working Conditions for Legal professionals

Lawyers and judges do most of their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. Lawyers sometimes meet in clients' homes or places of business and, when necessary, in hospitals or prisons. They frequently travel to attend meetings; to gather evidence; and to appear before courts, legislative bodies, and other authorities. Salaried lawyers in government and private corporations generally have structured work schedules. Lawyers in private practice may work irregular hours while conducting research, conferring with clients, or preparing briefs during non-office hours. Lawyers often work long hours, and about half of all practicing lawyers regularly work fifty hours or more per week. They are under particularly heavy pressure, for example, when a case is being tried. Although work generally is not seasonal, the work of tax lawyers and other specialists may be an exception. Because lawyers in private practice can often determine their own workloads and when they will retire, many stay in practice well beyond the usual retirement age.

No matter the setting, whether acting as advocate or prosecutor, all attorneys interpret the law and apply it to specific situations. This requires research and communication abilities. Preparation for court includes keeping abreast of the latest laws and judicial decisions.

Lawyers perform in-depth research into the purposes behind the applicable laws and into judicial decisions that have been applied to those laws under circumstances similar to those currently faced by the client. While all lawyers make use of law libraries to prepare cases, some supplement their searches of the conventional printed sources with computer software packages that automatically search the legal literature and identify legal texts that may be relevant to a specific subject.

In litigation that involves many supporting documents, lawyers may also use computers to organize and index the material. Lawyers then communicate to others the information obtained by research.

The Training You Will Need

To practice law in the courts of any state or other jurisdiction, a person must be licensed, or admitted to its bar, under rules established by the jurisdiction's highest court. Nearly all require that applicants for admission to the bar pass a written bar examination. Most jurisdictions also require applicants to pass a separate written ethics examination. Lawyers who have been admitted to the bar in one jurisdiction occasionally may be admitted to the bar in another without taking an examination if they meet that jurisdiction's standards of good moral character and have a specified period of legal experience.

Federal courts and agencies set their own qualifications for those practicing before them.

To qualify for the bar examination in most states, an applicant must complete at least three years of college and graduate from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or the proper state authorities. (ABA approval signifies that the law school, particularly its library and faculty, meets certain standards developed by the association to promote quality legal education.)

Seven states accept the study of law in a law office or in combination with study in a law school; only California accepts the study of law by correspondence as qualifying for taking the bar examination.

Several states require registration and approval of students by a state board of law examiners, either before they enter law school or during the early years of legal study.

The required college and law school education usually takes seven years of full-time study after high school: four years of undergraduate study followed by three years in law school. Although some law schools accept a very small number of students after three years of college, most require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. To meet the needs of students who can attend only part-time, a number of law schools have night or part-time divisions, which usually require four years of study.

Acceptance by most law schools depends on several factors: the applicant's ability to demonstrate an aptitude for the study of law, usually through good undergraduate grades; the Law School Admission Test (LSAT); the quality of the applicant's undergraduate school; any prior work experience; and sometimes a personal interview. However, law schools vary in the weight that they place on each of these factors.

All law schools approved by the American Bar Association require that applicants take the LSAT. Nearly all law schools require that applicants have certified transcripts sent to the Law School Data Assembly Service. This service then sends applicants' LSAT scores and their standardized records of college grades to the law schools of their choice. Both this service and the LSAT are administered by the Law School Admission Services.

Graduates receive the degree of bachelor of law (LL.B.) or juris doctor (J.D.). Advanced law degrees may be desirable for those planning to specialize, do research, or teach. Some law students pursue joint degree programs, which generally require an additional year. Joint degree programs are offered in a number of areas, including law and business administration and law and public administration.

Earnings for Lawyers

Factors affecting the salaries offered to new graduates include: academic record; type, size, and location of employer; and specialized educational background.

Salaries of experienced attorneys also vary widely according to the type, size, and location of the employer. Lawyers on salary receive increases as they assume greater responsibility. Lawyers starting their own practices may need to work part-time in other occupations during the first years to supplement their incomes, which usually grow as their practices develop. Lawyers who are partners in law firms generally earn more than those who practice alone.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published February 18, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 6 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.