What does a lawyer do everyday?
Lawyers are some of the most hardworking people out there. They put in many more hours of work compared to those in other professions. In fact, what you might see on TV, like lawyers relaxing, chatting and enjoying lunch with clients, is not realistic. The truth is, lawyers work between 50 and 60 hours weekly on average.
In fact, the many hours law students spend to get their degrees are both preparation and practice for them to work hard. This is because of the many obligations these lawyers have to fulfill, and it is simply much more than just showing up in court to make some passionate speech to defend their clients. Here is a sample of an ordinary day for a lawyer in a private practice.
How lawyers start their day
The activities and list of tasks of a lawyer are largely dependent on his or her specialisation, or the area of law that they practice. This means an attorney who is focused on labour law or personal injury will spend more time in administrative hearings or courtrooms as opposed to those who work in real estate or business law.
What is common between many lawyers is the very early start to their workday, as you can expect them to be the first to arrive in the office in the morning, every day. The main reason for this is that they feel more productive when the office is not officially open for the day. This means there are no phone calls, client meetings, or court appearances so they could focus on the other tasks on their to-do list.
They choose this time to either respond to emails or other correspondence or read up on any messages or memos they received. Those lawyers who will head out to court afterward will use this time to review their cases and get ready for the hearing. They might also try to finish some other tasks they cannot accomplish when they are out of the office for the next few hours.
Lawyers also have to prepare a lot of documents related to their active cases, including motions, memorandums, pleadings and similar paperwork. This takes time and mornings are perfect for these tasks because it is quiet enough and their minds are still fresh and alert.
Even though emails and text messaging seem to have replaced telephone conversations as the preferred method of communication for most of the population, phone calls continue to play a key role in a day in the life of a lawyer. For example, the typical personal injury attorney and workers’ compensation lawyer must set aside time each day to make or return calls, particularly to the following:
- Clients: The use of letters or emails to update clients about the status of their cases will not replace a telephone call from the attorney to answer client questions or to respond to concerns a client might have about a case.
- Claims adjusters: Insurance claims adjusters are busy people, so getting them on the phone to discuss a case may not come about without leaving messages and returning their calls. Speaking to adjusters is the only way personal injury or workers’ compensation attorneys can settle cases on behalf of clients.
- Attorneys: It is important for a lawyer, regardless of the area of law in which they practice, to discuss cases with co-counsel or opposing counsel. Attorneys might see each other in court or at administrative agencies, but it is easier to have a meaningful conversation about a case when it is conducted away from distractions and at a time when both attorneys have access to their case files.
On those days when an attorney is not heading out to court or to an appointment, the time in the office is spent seeing clients, preparing pleadings, reviewing correspondence that comes in, and attending to other matters that need to be completed as part of representing the firm’s clients. There are also other tasks that solo practitioners or partners in law firms must attend to that are related to the running of the practice. These tasks might include:
- Marketing: Attracting new clients to a practice is essential to its existence. The internet has opened the door to a new array of marketing tools that attorneys must become familiar with in order to make the best use of them.
- Personnel and staffing: Hiring and training attorneys and support staff take up a considerable amount of an attorney’s time when it is necessary to add or replace someone.
- Continuing education: Lawyers must take courses to stay current in their knowledge of the laws and thus remain in good standing with their state bar association.
Typical Day At Work
On a daily basis, Lawyers analyze the probable outcomes of cases, using knowledge of legal precedents. They supervise legal assistants.
A typical day for a Lawyer will also include:
- Advise clients concerning business transactions, claim liability, advisability of prosecuting or defending lawsuits, or legal rights and obligations.
- Confer with colleagues with specialties in appropriate areas of legal issue to establish and verify bases for legal proceedings.
- Prepare, draft, and review legal documents, such as wills, deeds, patent applications, mortgages, leases, and contracts.
- Study Constitution, statutes, decisions, regulations, and ordinances of quasi-judicial bodies to determine ramifications for cases.
- Act as agent, trustee, guardian, or executor for businesses or individuals.
Life in Government:
There are lawyers at every level of the government — local, state and federal. You could work as a prosecutor; public defender; administrative, executive or legislative staff; or military attorney. As a prosecutor, you would represent the government in prosecuting crimes and as a public defender you would represent criminal defendants who could not afford to hire lawyers on their own. Government attorneys also handle civil cases in which the government is involved. Working as an attorney in an administrative agency or an office in the executive or legislative branches, you could draft, research, provide advice on and enforce laws, rules and regulations.
Committed to making a difference
Regardless of the number of hours worked each week or the area of law in they practice, a day in the life of a lawyer is aimed at achieving a favorable result for a client. For personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers, what an attorney does each day can change a person’s life through a settlement or verdict that provides the money needed to allow the person to recover from an accident and injury.
Things Lawyers Wish You Would Understand
Every lawyer is different, and practices a different type of law, but here are seven things most lawyers probably wish you understood about they job.
1. Legal stuff takes time. Lots of time.
On every episode of The Good Wife or How to Get Away With Murder , a client hires a lawyer in the morning and then everyone seems to be in court by the afternoon. Unfortunately, in real life, court cases take months, if not years to complete, especially if you are dealing with the federal court system. Many types of cases have waiting periods before you can even get a trial, and others are subject to mandatory arbitration (basically where you present your case to a person who is not a judge who helps decide it).
Not only do most legal cases take forever, the end result is very rarely a dramatic trial. By some counts, 80 to 92 perent of civil cases settle out of court. And the same is true for criminal trials as well. There’s a big reason for that: As cool as it is to think of having our Atticus Finch moment, most of us remember that Atticus lost that trial and would prefer to avoid that risk. After all, it’s a much safer bet to accept a deal that you know is okay, than to run the risk of getting nothing, or your client going to jail.
2. When trials do happen, they are incredibly boring.
Anyone who’s had jury duty knows that trials are usually tedious and plodding. Believe me, lawyers know this too, but most of us can’t control the urge to talk a lot — using really big words — even when we’re awful public speakers. The people that suffer the most are court staff (and I should know, I used to be a court clerk). These poor souls have to endure attorneys droning on day in and day out, with only the occasional interesting moment. (I remember one fun day when I was a court clerk where a woman started breastfeeding her four-year-old during her testimony).
Also, court stenographers don’t exist in most places any more. Everything is recorded instead.
3. We most certainly can handle the truth.
The kind of witness questioning you see in the movies and on TV is — and I know this will be a shocker — are much more dramatic than real life. Both witness and lawyers prepare extensively for trials, and maybe once in a blue moon does a witness say something so surprising it changes or ruins the entire case (though I have seen that happen. Once).
In federal court especially, the rule precludes “trial by surprise” because parties have to provide exhibit and witness lists to each other weeks in advance. Furthermore, there are extremely stringent rules about how a lawyer can ask questions and about what. We do yell out objections like “hearsay” a lot, but we don’t go into elaborate speeches while a witness is testifying, unless you’re one of those overly word lawyers that everyone hates.
4. Most of our job is reading, writing, and paperwork.
Seriously. There is a reason most trials are boring, and it’s because all lawyers are taught to do in law school is read and then write about the things we read. A huge hunk of a lawyer’s day — when we aren’t arguing cases or talking clients out of doing really dumb things (“No, you can’t fire that person cause they’re old;” “Yes, they will catch you if you ‘sort of’ break your probation terms”; or being told amazing, ridiculous stories) is taken up with writing pleadings, memos, and letters about what the law means and how it applies. You may think that the law is just what’s in the statute books, but you’d be very very wrong.
A lawyer’s job is about argument. Very specific arguments. You see, America, like all English colonies, is a common law count. What that means is that courts, not legislators, get to interpret exactly what a specific law means. Judges write out what they think laws mean or how a law applies to a certain situation. Most of this intrepretation is enshrined in court opinions, which are oftentimes dry, usually dull, and very rarely well-written. A lawyer’s job is to sort through all this crap to find out what a law means in relation to their cases and clients — and argue it.
5. Not all of us consider ourselves crusaders for justice.
Yes, many bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young people embark on law school with a dream of making the world a better place, but often, after law school, comes the crushing reality of rent and those extra crushing student loan payments. Some of us have to get jobs that simply pay more money. And in those jobs, our job as lawyers is to do what the person who is paying us the money tells us to do.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had other attorneys waste my time (and our clients’ money) droning away on the phone trying to convince me theirs is the side of right. It doesn’t matter, I’m being paid to argue the other side. The same goes when clients effusively thank you for finally listening to them and agreeing — most of us wouldn’t be listening if it wasn’t benefiting our paychecks.