Lawyers specialize in many different areas. Here are a few:
Litigation is the most exciting, breathtaking, heart-pounding work that lawyers do. Litigation involves something new and refreshing every day, such as:
Legal research. Junior gruntlings spend long hours in the dark recesses of the library researching obscure issues of law. They have been told that the issues somehow relate to a real client in a real lawsuit, but they have never even met the lawyer in charge of the case. For all they know, the whole assignment is a practical joke devised by some senior associate.
Document productions. These consist of two things:
- Examining millions of documents produced by your opponents to try to figure out what documents they have withheld.
- Producing millions of documents to your opponents in a way that conceals the documents you have withheld.
"Privileged" documents may be withheld. According to current practice, a document is "privileged" if it reveals an attorney client communication, a trade secret, or (most importantly) any information that could possibly be damaging to your client. Many law firms have found paper shredders inadequate to handle their privileged documents. So they have replaced them with industrial incinerators.
Interrogatories. Interrogatories are thousands of sub-questions smirkingly inflicted on opposing counsel. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit interrogatories that have the purpose of causing "unnecessary delay" or "needless increase" in the cost of litigation. However, lawyers reason that no delay is unnecessary and no cost needless if it prevents their client from being held liable in court. Litigation is a war, they say, and therefore Rambo discovery tactics are proper.
Taking depositions. This involves sitting in a stuffy room crowded with stuffy lawyers, while one lawyer examines a witness who is sweating 50-caliber bullets. Since you are bored out of your skull, you casually add up the hourly billing rates of the lawyers in the room. You calculate that by the end of that day alone the legal fees in the case will exceed the annual gross income of Biloxi, Mississippi. Regrettably, the deposition will take much longer than a day. By the time all the lawyers in the room have finished examining this teenage witness, he will be drawing Social Security.
Arguing motions. Lawyers argue lots of motions, like a Motion to Strike the Opposing Party's Opposition to Your Opposition to the Opposing Party's Motion to Strike Your Motion to Compel Discovery Because a Word on the Second Page Was Misspelled. You will sit for hours (all billed to your client) in the courtroom, waiting for your turn to argue for fifteen minutes. Yep. It just doesn't get much better than this. Litigators live for glorious moments such as these.
Litigators take great pride in their ability to argue in court, and you will do the same. You speak in court without using notes: you call it "working without a net." You are so good in the courtroom that you are like a lion in a den of Daniels. You give better service per square client than any other lawyer in the state. At least, that's how you describe things to your buddies at lunch.
Negotiating settlements. Spend your time haggling over money like a street vendor in the open market. People say that's how copper wire was invented: two lawyers fighting over a penny. They also say that the difference between a lawyer and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. Opposing counsel threatens to sue your client if you don't settle. "Go ahead," you reply. "Lay on, Macbluff."
Going to trial. Question: What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 50? Answer: Your Honor. Fortunately, most lawyers spend very little time with judges. The average litigator goes to trial only a couple of times in her life. In fact, some insurance defense lawyers actually pride themselves on turning a simple fender-bender into a modern version of the Thirty Years' War. Sometimes it takes so long to get to trial that by the trial date nobody can remember what the case was about. This is not a new phenomenon. The longest lawsuit on record was a case in India that took 750 years. They're actually getting pretty close to wrapping it up.
Although most lawyers rarely go to trial, I know of one lawyer who actually tried 104 cases. He lost 104 of them. When asked to explain, he answered, "You can't win 'em all."
Remember the stress of taking final exams in law school? That's what going to trial is like, except that by comparison law school exams were about as stressful as a Fourth of July picnic. This time something much more important is on the line: somebody's job (not to mention your own), millions of dollars, or even your client's life. Ulcer City. Day after day you stand in court while a grouchy judge whacks you on the head with his gavel. As a key witness testifies, the jury looks about as interested as a fourth-grade class hearing an explanation of long division. Meanwhile, the witness's own lawyer is signaling the answers to him with semaphore Hags.
The story is told of a plaintiff who was seriously injured in a horse-pedestrian accident. The horse rolled over the plaintiff and broke the man's ribs, leg, and arm. On cross-examination, defense counsel asked, "Isn't it true that immediately after the accident, you told the police officer that you had never felt better?"
"Yes," the plaintiff admitted.
"Then how can you claim damages for pain and suffering?" the lawyer asked.
The plaintiff answered, "You have to understand the situation. When the police officer arrived, he drew his revolver and shot the horse. Then, with his pistol still drawn, he walked over to me and asked, 'And how are you feeling?' I replied that I had never felt better."
After the closing arguments, the judge reads the instructions to the jury. The instructions are statements of the applicable rules of law, and it takes the judge about two hours to read them to the jury. It took you three years of hard work in law school to learn them, but a jury right off the street is supposed to memorize them and apply them to an incredibly complex fact situation after hearing the judge read them once in a sleepy monotone. The jury then deliberates for days, and finally returns a verdict against the party whose eyes are too close together.
If litigation is a war, then litigators are the cannon fodder. High-priced cannon fodder, to be sure, but cannon fodder nonetheless. Still, under the proper circumstances, you might consider becoming a litigator. For example, if you were missing some chromosomes.
If you thought that litigation was sedentary, you obviously aren't familiar with business practice. Some business practitioners haven't gotten up out of their chairs for two or three decades. The only indication that they're still alive is that they occasion-ally ask for more coffee.
Transactional work is in some respects more like business than like law. Sometimes this gets carried to extremes. Once a student interviewing at a Beverly Hills law firm asked if she could see the law library, the interviewer sniffed, "We don't do legal research here. We do deals."
Helping clients do mega deals may sound pretty exciting, but it mostly consists of cutting and pasting dreadfully boring documents. Then you get to stand by and watch as your client, who would probably be in bankruptcy without you, becomes a millionaire. Then he doesn't pay his bill.
As a business lawyer you might also do securities work, which consists largely of trying to persuade your client to disclose how much money the company is losing, how many people are suing it, what laws it has broken, and what muffin heads its directors and officers are. Since companies don't like disclosing these things (and then paying you for it), they are constantly looking for lawyers with lower standards. This is called the Trickle down Theory. Water always seeks its own level.
REAL ESTATE WORK
Real estate lawyers become experts in the law governing dirt. It was all so easy in law school: the professor merely wrote on the blackboard, "To A and his heirs," and Black acre was transferred AREAS OF PRACTICE like magic. In real (no pun intended) life (no similarity to law practice intended), you draft an insufferably long agreement that the parties bicker about for months afterward. (So why do they call it an "agreement"?) You also clear countless annoying defects off the title, as if you were picking fleas off a baboon. Then, after all this work, one party or the other backs out of the deal. Sometimes it would be easier to work with baboons.
Personal injury lawyers become experts in penny-ante^1 cases in which somebody gets whiplash in the checkout line at the supermarket. In some personal injury actions, however, juries use the giant-cash-register-in-the-sky measure of damages:
(Annual earnings of a top movie star) X (average lifespan of an Olympic athlete) + (pain, suffering, and indignity of having to deal with lawyers and wear a scratchy suit to court) X (average annual precipitation in the Brazilian rainforest) + (one-half the state budget of New Hampshire) X 150% [to give the plaintiff 100% after the lawyers take a third] x 10957.
These are the lawyers the public hates most. According to the average person, guilty people do not deserve a trial. No, I'm just kidding--the average person does believe that criminals are entitled to a trial. And after the trial, they should be stuck with hot pokers and deported to labor camps in Greenland. After all, there is a BIG difference between criminals and law-abiding citizens. Your average citizen explains, "I pay my taxes (aside from a little chiseling on my tax return), obey the law (except for speeding, gambling, and shady business deals), and support my country (except for dodging the draft). People, who actually get ARRESTED, on the other hand, are criminals. Criminals are hairless rodents wearing clothes. Anybody will tell you that." And everybody does.
Because you love nature, you decide to go into environmental law. You want to protect the birds, the bunnies, and the trees from total destruction by the polluting corporate greedy-bags and the dastardly real estate developers. But after you graduate, you discover that most birds, bunnies, and trees don't even bother to have a checking account. So to pursue your career in environmental law, you end up doing legal work for the polluting corporate greedy-bags and the dastardly real estate developers. "Well, somebody has to do it," you tell yourself. "And it's better if that somebody is a somebody with a conscience." So you feel okay about yourself, as you drive your fossil-fuel-burning car back to your redwood house in a subdivision built on a former wetland.
Do you enjoy solving those puzzles called "Where's Waldo?" which give you a headache and make you go nearly blind scrutinizing the minutest details of an incredibly complex picture? Would you like to do that eighteen hours a day? If so, you should become a tax lawyer. Tax lawyers spend their lives poring over Internal Revenue regulations with a magnifying glass, looking for hidden loopholes for their incredibly wealthy clients. Tax lawyers don't feel guilty about it. Not at all. It's a person's patriotic duty to use the law to his or her own advantage. While it's too bad that non-wealthy people can't afford high-priced lawyers to help them find the loopholes, that's simply a regrettable and extra-nifty consequence of having a free market for legal services. Besides, special interests paid good money to Congress to get those loopholes, and it would be wasteful not to use them. Even profligate.
Entertainment practice largely involves representing tempera-mental people in the film and music industries. These people "do lunch," "take meetings," and "have my people call your people." They also "miss" a lot of meetings. After all, "You can't push an artiste when the vibes are wrong, baby." When the deal slips away, you feel like giving them some wrongful vibes of your own.
You want to pursue public good instead of private interest, so you go to work for the government. You see yourself as a modern-day Marshal Dillon, wearing a big hat and a badge. But things are different today than they were in Marshal Dillon's time. For one thing, he never had to deal with an enormous bureaucracy. You can just imagine him puzzling over the fine print in a government procedures manual: "Let me see, here. First I have to fill out seven copies of Form 2378-50649/s-35. Then I have to transmit them to the Regional Office for preliminary approval. This will take four to six weeks. Then I . . . oh, forget it. Hey, Festus, we're gonna skip the trial. Get a rope."
Also, Marshal Dillon didn't have to deal with civil service employees. Civil service laws protect government employees from being fired for such outrageous reasons as political affiliation, the exercise of legal rights, or incompetence. These laws are just swell for you. Unfortunately, they also protect all the dimwits you have to work with. It's amazing you're able to get anything done at all.
PUBLIC INTEREST WORK
Here's the real reason you went to law school: you wanted to make the world a better place. So after graduation you get a job doing public interest work. Your law practice consists of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. You also share a windowless office with seven other lawyers. Your office equipment consists of a 1963 photocopier, a manual typewriter, and a rotary-dial phone. The carpet is the color of either red or green algae, depending on how the bare light bulb over your desk shines on it.
You wanted to make the world a better place for your posterity, but right now your posterity needs such extravagant luxuries as braces, shoes, and a roof over their heads. You realize that your law degree could earn you a six-figure salary. You try to be true to your ideals, but it's hard. If only lawyers would do more pro bono work, if only government would adequately fund legal services for the poor, if only the legal system were simplified and streamlined. If only if only if only. Meanwhile, you keep working.
In law school your classmates talked a lot about doing public interest work, but most of them gradually succumbed to the siren call of big salaries and prestigious jobs. At your law school class reunion they would be happy to jump-start your car, but they're afraid that the jumper cables might scratch their Mercedes. "Keep up the great work," they say. "I wish I were doing it, too. See you at the next reunion."
International work sounds inviting and enchanting. You imagine that you'll fly to fascinating foreign countries and resolve major issues in international relations, or at least facilitate exciting transnational business deals. Unfortunately, the reality of international work is something else. You find yourself discussing trademark violations on the telephone at 3:00 A.M. with some person in a country you have never heard of. He explains that you are holding the tiny candies upside down: their name is really "W & VV Chocolate Candies." Your brain melts in your mouth.
Estate planning lawyers spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about dying. This is an especially cheerful group of people to work with. Also, these lawyers have to keep a straight face while their client solemnly attests that he is of sound mind--- while he bequeaths his entire $20 million estate to his cat, Puffles. During the ceremony, Puffles sits serenely in the chair at the other end of your office. Next to his accountant.
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