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What Is It Really Like to Be a Lawyer?

A lawyer's expertise and area of the law will determine what they experience during their career.
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  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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What it’s really like to be a lawyer depends on each lawyer’s own situation. In other words, it’s entirely subjective. The kinds of factors that help form an attorney’s opinion, however, are fairly concrete. These factors include choosing which type of lawyer to become, his experiences during law school and internships, and what he encounters once he graduates and begins practicing law. Some potential or current law students might benefit from interviewing experienced lawyers.

After he decides he wants to be a lawyer, one of the first things a person considers is what type of lawyer he wants to become. Most commonly, this means what kind of law he wants to practice. In some situations, though, it can mean whether he wants to work for a law firm, for himself, or for his area’s court system as a public or court-appointed defender.

Various factors help people decide what kind of attorney they want to become. Sometimes personal interest and passion play a role, and other times money and prestige help form their decisions. Generally, if an attorney doesn’t enjoy or believe in the kind of law he practices, or decides the money isn’t worth the time and effort, he can become unsatisfied.

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Attending law school and completing an internship can give students an idea of what it’s like to be a lawyer. Still, these don't provide a crystal clear picture. In other words, what a student experiences in the classroom or working for another attorney might not be what he experiences once he becomes an actual lawyer. During law school and their internships, some potential lawyers decide they want to focus on another area of law. Some even decide practicing law isn’t for them.

After a person has chosen the kind of lawyer he wants to be, completes his internship, and graduates from law school, he must then begin to practice law. At this point, a new group of factors will help him determine what it’s like to be a lawyer. Such factors include where he works, the kinds of hours he works, and the money he makes.

For example, he might get hired at an established law firm and work with other attorneys, or he might start his own practice and work by himself. Each of these options can mean the new lawyer will have to work long hours. This is because he might be responsible for the cases the firm’s partners don’t want, working to make partner himself, or working enough cases to keep his own practice open. If the new lawyer enjoys long hours, or if the money is worth spending more time working, he might continue being a lawyer long enough to gain the seniority or reputation necessary to take fewer cases and make more money. On the other hand, his personal situation and accompanying factors might be such that he decides practicing law isn’t the right job for him.

Although every attorney has his own opinion regarding what it’s like to be a lawyer, it might be beneficial for potential lawyers to talk with others in their prospective fields. For example, before enrolling in law school, a potential student might meet with several seasoned lawyers who practice the kind of law he’s interested in. He can ask them about the beginning years, the kinds of hours they worked in the past and work in the present, and even whether their salaries play a role in their satisfaction.

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Logicfest
Post 2

@Soulfox -- that is a tough, but fair, analysis. Back in the early days of the legal profession in the United States, people became lawyers by apprenticing with one for a few years and then approaching the judge about taking an exam that, when passed, would allow that prospect admittance to the bar. In some ways, it is a shame that we have gotten away from that process.

Still, people who want to know if they would like to pursue a career in the law are well advised to interview a few practicing attorneys and get a feel for what those people do on a daily basis. Some people will find the work appealing and some will not. It is a great idea to find out what kind of person you are before deciding on becoming a lawyer.

If you are in law school, make sure to do a clerkship with a firm that practices in the area that interests you. You can learn from that experience if you want to be a lawyer for a living. If not, take heart -- a law degree is a great thing to have. It is a doctorate and looks impressive if you want to be an educator, head up a company and do all sorts of things that don't involve working as a practicing attorney.

Soulfox
Post 1

This is, in all honestly, one of those questions that students should ask themselves before going to law school. Hey, being a lawyer looks great on television -- attorneys, after all, drive expensive cars, take part in dramatic trials and appear to be rolling in cash and enjoying wonderful success.

In reality, most attorneys haven't seen a 40-hour work week in years. A good number of them struggle to make ends meet in the early years and some never hit their stride and make the kind of money they dreamed they would before entering law school. Most of them don't wind up with those high profile, lucrative cases -- they wind up trying to figure out how to keep people out of jail for multiple DUI charges, dreaming of a high paying personal injury case that may or may not show up, spending hours working through tough divorce and custody issues and generally spend years trying to find areas of practice where they can make good money and do thing things they like.

Ah, but it's not all bad. Getting started as a lawyer is tough, but those who can figure out what they like doing will find they can make a good living and have a satisfying career. Still, a lot of attorneys wash out before they reach that point.

The attorneys that are the most successful are usually the ones that truly love what they do and see practicing law as a calling more than a way to make a good living. If you visit with the career services office at most any law school, you will learn a disturbing statistic -- at least half (sometimes more) of graduates at most law schools wind up not practicing law a decade after they graduate. There is a reason for that -- practicing law is a tough career that burns out all but those who absolutely adore it.

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