Job Title: Attorney
Type of Company: I work for a trial law firm that focuses on defending individuals and businesses in civil lawsuits.
Education: BS, Criminal Justice, Northeastern University J.D., Suffolk Law School (Boston, MA)
Previous Experience: I worked at two previous law firms. The first focused on criminal defense and plaintiff personal injury law. The second firm focused on civil litigation (trial work) including personal injury and family law.
Job Tasks: I am a partner at a law firm which focuses on civil litigation. We primarily defend individuals and companies who are the objects of lawsuits.
Typically, our clients are accused of injuring someone physically or damaging property by their negligence. For example, we represent makers of products that either injure someone because the design of the product was defective or not up to certain standards. These products can include power tools, automobiles, baby bath seats or a simple chair. In these cases the injured party (called the plaintiff) alleges that they were injured when using the product. As a result they sue the manufacturer of the product and ask a jury for money damages. Similarly, we also represent trucking companies and truck drivers when the drivers cause accidents on the highway and injure other motorists or pedestrians. Additionally, we represent construction companies which are accused of poor construction techniques that cause property damage to buildings.
A typical day involves reading and analyzing documents including incident reports, product specifications, medical records, construction documents and witness statements. We also meet with clients, witnesses and experts to better help us defend our client. We also conduct depositions where we ask witnesses and parties to a lawsuit questions under oath.
There is also a lot of writing. We write letters to the clients to keep them informed of the status of their case. We also write motions to the court asking the court for certain things to assist us in the lawsuit. These motions are submitted to the court and then the attorneys argue the merits of the motions before a judge who decides the issue.
All this is done to prepare the case for a jury trial. But sometimes, after learning a little bit about the other party's case or expected evidence, the parties do not want to take the risk of a jury trial. When that happens the parties will agree to argue the case before a mediator whose job it is to try to get the parties to reach a compromise or settlement.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: There are several good things about the legal profession. First, you get a great sense of accomplishment helping your client wade through the legal process. Second, despite what you hear about lawyers, most of the attorneys I deal with (including adversaries) are very ethical people. Third, the rush of trying a case or taking a great deposition gets you to think on your feet. Further, you make a relatively good living and you learn a little about a lot of subjects.
The worst part of the job is the hours. Sometimes, especially when preparing for a trial, you end up working long hours including weekends. However the hours are not all that bad. Because litigation is an adversarial exercise, when you succeed someone has lost. Additionally, there is a lot of competition and you are always trying to distinguish yourself or your firm from others.
Job Tips: Get ready for a lot of school. In addition to obtaining a BS or BA you have to go to law school for 3 years (full-time) or 4 years (part-time). The classes and examinations at law school are very time-consuming, intense and involve a extraordinary amount of reading (often) boring subject matter.
While in undergraduate studies take law-related classes (if offered), writing or English classes and do not be afraid of public speaking. Also while in college try to obtain a position (paid or even unpaid) in a law firm as an intern, a secretary, law clerk or paralegal. It is not a profession for all and it is better to know that before you go to law school, which is very time consuming and costly. I have friends who always thought they wanted to be an attorney, but only realized they didn't upon their first job, three years of law school and $100,000 + later.
Additional Thoughts: It is a very ethical and honorable profession. For every unethical attorney there are a thousand good ones. There are many career paths open to attorneys. Several heads of business and industry have law degrees. Attorneys can work in court room settings like me or they can never see the inside of a court room. Attorneys help persons and companies draw up contracts, wills, trusts, etc. Attorneys assist companies in their human resource departments by developing hiring and firing protocols. Attorneys work in the law enforcement setting as FBI agents, prosecutors and patrol officers.
Each state has its own licensing procedure and in order to practice in more than one state you usually have to take the bar examination in each state.
I wish I'd known the amount of writing that lawyers are called upon to do. I would have taken more writing classes in college, especially persuasive writing courses.
The personal qualities needed to be an attorney include hard work, competitiveness, open-mindedness (the ability to see the other side often helps you present your side) and analytical thinking.
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