What is it like to practice law? You would think that the practice of law would be like the law school environment, only better because this time you get paid. It is true that there will be similar work requirements expected of you in practicing law as were expected of you in law school, since extensive research assignments and long hours of drafting legal documents cannot be left behind at graduation. And yet, unlike law school, you are much more on your own to sink or swim.
The Practicalities Of Practicing Law:
How many copies of this document you file, where you file it, and how much it costs are seldom taught in law school. Unlike medical school where a significant amount of time is spent in hands-on application with patients, in law school you will probably not deal with real flesh and blood clients unless the law school you attend has a "legal clinic" or some other community service in which you can participate.
A lot of the practice of law is learned by practicing law. You learn slowly at first, taking hours or even days to prepare documents that later will take only a fraction of the time previously expended. With time, confidence replaces doubt and efficiency replaces fumbling.
If you are extremely fortunate you will acquire, or be assigned, a legal secretary. A good legal secretary is invaluable when it comes to the practical ins and outs of law practice; knowledgeable support staff can accelerate the learning curve in a dramatic fashion.
Many people choose the legal profession because they believe that there is a lot of money to be made in the practice of law. They are correct, but not to the extent that television and movies have glamorized the profession. Obtaining a multi-million dollar settlement entitling you to a one-third share based upon a contingency agreement is very rare. When you average out the contingency fees received for successful resolution of conflicts with the unsuccessful contingency cases, you basically earn your standard hourly billing scale, more or (frequently) less.
You can make a very comfortable living practicing law providing you work hard, have patience, and experience a little luck. In law, as is true in many professions, there is a direct correlation between time expended and money earned. If you are willing to put in the time to generate large numbers of billable hours, you will reward yourself if you choose to be a solo practitioner or be rewarded by thankful partners if you practice with a law firm.
The legal profession does rank as one of the top-paying occupations in the country, with starting salaries for new associates at some of the nation's largest firms being exceedingly high. Partners share firm profits, which, depending on the size of the firm, can be quite substantial.
When you were a child and an adult asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what was the response that always got that smile and nod of the head, as if to say that you had chosen well despite your youth? You had two choices: either you wanted to be a doctor or you wanted to be a lawyer.
Being an attorney does carry with it a certain aura. People know how tough law school is and that you are a living example of a survivor of years of higher education beyond college. You are one of those smart enough to make it through a program known for its ruthlessness, and as a result, once you obtain your law degree and pass the bar, you have power-power obtained through education in a field that many consider too complex for comprehension. You are sought out to explain and help oth-ers through difficulties that they feel they cannot deal with alone. As an expert, your knowledge is valuable and, as your knowledge can assist others, you are deemed to be a valuable member of society.
Variety of Law One Can Practice:
Although there are still many attorneys that have a general practice, a growing number of attorneys now specialize in selected areas of law. The need to specialize is being driven by a rising complexity in each individual area of law; indeed, it is now a full-time endeavor to attempt to remain current in even one area of law.
Law school affords a view of the staggering choices one has when evaluating which field of law to practice. You can practice in the public sector or in the private sector, military or civilian law, civil or criminal law, corporate or consumer law. In law school you will get a glimpse of many of these different fields and will view some positively and others quite negatively. You can learn from negative experiences since the broader field is narrowed by an elimination of topics that do not interest you.
As you were pushed early to declare a major in undergraduate school, you would be equally well-advised to determine your interests in law as soon as possible. You should try to take classes that deal with your topics of interest even though you will generally be afforded few electives in your educational program.
Sometimes your particular area of practice finds you. To illustrate, one associate's first case concerned a sailing accident involving a private boat and a naval vessel. All at once this associate was the firm's expert on sailing accidents of all kinds. He had become selected for a field, but not by his own initial choosing.
Network with Other Lawyers:
Part of the allure of becoming an attorney is becoming part of the "law club." The authors have found other attorneys a very valuable source of information when they become stumped or just need some advice. All attorneys were inexperienced at one point and they remember how tough it can be just out of law school. Besides obtaining help on existing cases, lawyers will often refer work to one another if a case requires expertise that additional counsel can provide.
You will rapidly find that a growing number of your friends are attorneys and that they will become more and more a part of your social world as well. This is not surprising because you share common interests and backgrounds. Rubbing elbows with fellow attorneys provides such additional advantages as creating a built-in source for learning about potential investments and business developments as well as contributing to a possible political network.
People generally do not seek the advice of counsel when everything is fine. Most often lawyers obtain clients when the client is in a stressful situation. Since your job as an attorney is to perform your very best for your client, if the client thinks you are doing everything you can to resolve the problem in a fair and equitable manner, he or she can be the most appreciative person in the world. The client feels good about what you are doing and you feel good about helping him or her. It is at times like these that you realize the legal profession can be very rewarding indeed.
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