Lawyers, also called attorneys, are experts in persuasion and law. While
they perform a variety of functions, their common goal is to use their knowledge
of the law to help clients get what they want and, in a way, to reduce friction.
Law is sometimes called the skeleton of society. It is the underlying,
hidden structure to the interactions between people. Lawyers help guide those
interactions and settle disputes.
Some lawyers work for the government as prosecutors. They prosecute people
charged with crimes on behalf of society. Other lawyers work in private practice.
They may specialize in different areas, like criminal or family law.
Lawyers tend to work long hours, especially at big city firms. "It's a
client-based industry, so when the clients are there and they need you, you
have to be there," says Deanna Morash. She's a lawyer as well as director
of career services at a law school.
Two of the most important qualities a future lawyer can have are a solid
work ethic and attention to detail, says Morash. "In addition to that, strong
reading, writing and analytical skills are also key to success," she says.
Large firms tend to focus on a variety of areas, including complicated
commercial and corporate law. Smaller specialty firms (also called boutique
firms) will often focus on just one or two areas, such as family law or intellectual
Law firms charge on an hourly basis or on a percentage (contingency) basis.
That means that the lawyers get a cut of the settlement or lawsuit once it's
Lawyers work in many places other than just law firms. One big employer
of lawyers is government.
"All levels of government have a need for actual practicing lawyers in
their area," says Morash. "They also want people who weren't necessarily even
called to the bar... but people with law degrees and the skill set that that
Being called to the bar is what happens after a law student has finished
their law degree. When you're called to the bar, you're admitted to a state
law society. You're then qualified to call yourself a lawyer and provide legal
Consulting is another career option that's often overlooked. Lawyers provide
consulting services in the areas of legal issues (of course!), management,
human resources, and business in general. They can also work as in-house legal
counsel for a corporation.
"One of the benefits or upsides of a legal degree is that it provides really
good skills that tend to be transferable to a lot of other areas, so it's
a good foundation," says Morash.
For those interested in humanitarian causes, there are international positions
with non-governmental associations such as the Red Cross and Lawyers Without
Borders. Academia is another option, although a master's degree or PhD in
law is generally required.
Those who want to help people with low incomes can work for a legal aid
office. Jeremy White is the managing attorney at a legal aid office in Virginia.
"[Lawyers] come here because they kind of want to get their hands dirty, so
to speak, and want client contact," says White. "They want to... feel like
they're doing some good.
"It's very tangible, it's real basic needs -- your housing, your health
care, your job," says White. "Even though the case may not be a million dollar
case, the effect on that family is just like a million dollar case would be
to a corporation."
You might think that legal aid work would be an especially difficult area
in which to work. But White says that isn't necessarily true.
"I don't know if it's any more stressful or draining than any other area
of the law," he says. "You've got to have a personality that digs in and can
endure for the long haul, and I think that's probably true across the legal