Career Development

What Does an Attorney Do?

Find out what an attorney does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as an attorney.

A lawyer is a professional who practices law. Lawyers are trained to handle legal matters and represent clients in court or other proceedings, such as negotiations or settlements. They may also advise clients on how to best proceed with their cases.

There are many different types of lawyers, each with their own area of expertise. Some specialize in certain areas of the law, such as tax law, criminal law, family law, etc. Others focus on specific client needs, such as business lawyers who help companies navigate complex legal issues, or personal injury lawyers who assist individuals who have been injured in an accident.

Attorney Job Duties

An attorney typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Representing clients in court during trials, negotiations, settlements, or other legal proceedings
  • Communicating with clients to explain legal issues and reviewing case details with them
  • Drafting legal documents such as contracts, wills, trusts, and pleadings
  • Conducting legal research using online resources such as LexisNexis or Westlaw to find relevant case law or statutes
  • Researching case law and developing arguments based on precedents in similar cases
  • Interpreting laws, statutes, and regulations to ensure compliance with federal and state codes 
  • Negotiating with opposing counsel to reach an agreement on legal issues or cases
  • Preparing cases for trial by working with clients to obtain evidence and depositions from witnesses
  • Participating in trials by presenting arguments to the judge or jury on behalf of clients

Attorney Salary & Outlook

The salary of a lawyer can vary depending on a number of factors. Lawyers with more experience and education typically earn higher salaries than those with less experience and education.

  • Median Annual Salary: $112,525 ($54.1/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $209,500 ($100.72/hour)

The employment of attorneys is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Demand for legal services will depend on the growth and profitability of law firms. However, demand may be tempered by cost concerns as clients seek ways to reduce legal expenses.

Attorney Job Requirements

To become an attorney, one typically needs to complete the following:

Education: Attorneys need to complete a bachelor’s degree before they can apply to law school. A bachelor’s degree in any field is acceptable, but many aspiring attorneys choose a degree in political science, English, history or another discipline that will help them understand the law and the legal system.

Law school usually takes three years to complete. During the first two years, students take classes in civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, constitutional law and torts. The final year is spent taking courses in advanced legal topics, such as international law, tax law and business law.

Training & Experience: Most attorneys receive on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship or internship while in law school. During these periods, they work closely with experienced attorneys to learn the skills and techniques they will need to succeed in their careers.

When they begin working for a firm, most attorneys receive additional on-the-job training to learn the specific procedures and practices of their employer.

Certifications & Licenses: All lawyers need to earn licensure before practicing. Each state has different requirements for earning a license, but all of them require candidates to pass a bar exam. Bar exam content may vary from state to state, depending on different laws.

Attorney Skills

Attorneys need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: Communication is the ability to convey information to others. As a lawyer, you may need to communicate with clients, other lawyers, judges and other court officials. You may also need to communicate complex legal information to clients in a way that they can understand. Effective communication skills can help you in your career as a lawyer.

Research: As a lawyer, you may need to research case law, statutes or other legal documents. You may also need to research laws and regulations to help your clients understand their legal rights. It’s important to be able to research effectively and efficiently. You can use research skills in other areas of your career as well, such as when you’re preparing for a negotiation or drafting a contract.

Organization: Organization is another skill that can help you become a successful attorney. You may need to keep track of many documents, files and other information at your workplace. Being able to organize your work space and files can help you find what you need quickly and efficiently. You may also need to organize your time to ensure you meet deadlines and complete all your work.

Negotiation: Negotiation is the ability to reach an agreement between two parties. As a lawyer, you may need to negotiate with opposing counsel or parties involved in a case. You may also negotiate with clients to help them understand the best course of action for their case. For example, you may negotiate with a client to reduce the amount of time they need to spend in court.

Critical thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to analyze a situation and make a decision. As a lawyer, you may need to make important decisions about cases, such as whether to accept a case or how to proceed with a case. You may also need to make decisions about how to handle a case, such as whether to negotiate with the opposing party or whether to take the case to trial.

Attorney Work Environment

The work environment for attorneys varies depending on the type of law they practice and the size and location of their firm. Most work in private offices, although some may have cubicles. Attorneys who work for large firms usually have nicer offices than those who work for smaller firms or work alone. Many attorneys work long hours, including evenings and weekends. This is especially true of attorneys who work in private practice or for large firms. Attorneys who work for corporations or government agencies usually have more regular hours. The work of attorneys can be stressful, and they must be able to handle deadlines and pressure.

Attorney Trends

Here are three trends influencing how attorneys work. Attorneys will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Legal Tech

The legal industry is changing rapidly as technology becomes more prevalent. This is leading to an increased demand for attorneys who are familiar with legal tech products and services.

As legal tech grows in popularity, attorneys who are able to use these tools will be in high demand. They will be able to provide their clients with a better experience by providing them with easy access to legal information and resources. In addition, they will be able to save time and money by using legal tech products that automate tasks such as document review.

More Focus on Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is a growing trend in the legal profession that focuses on resolving disputes outside of court. This method allows parties to work together to find a resolution that is mutually beneficial, which can often be more effective than going to trial.

As collaborative law becomes more popular, attorneys will need to learn how to effectively utilize this process. This includes understanding the different types of collaborative law and how to structure agreements that work for all parties involved.

Legal Technology Will Become More Important

As legal technology becomes more important, attorneys will need to learn how to use these tools in order to stay competitive.

In the future, legal professionals will need to be able to not only understand how to use legal technology, but also develop it. This will require a deep understanding of both the law and computer programming.

How to Become an Attorney

There are many different paths you can take to become an attorney. You could attend law school, which requires three years of study and a passing score on the bar exam. Or you could pursue a degree in another field and then take courses in law as a second career.

No matter what path you choose, it’s important to be prepared for the challenges that come with being an attorney. This includes having strong writing and speaking skills, being able to think critically about complex issues, and being able to work independently.

Related: How to Write an Attorney Resume

Advancement Prospects

There are many ways to advance in the field of law. One of the most common is to move up the ladder within a law firm. Associates may become partners, and partners may become managing partners. Some attorneys may move into government positions, such as becoming a prosecutor or working for a government agency. Others may become judges. Still others may open their own law firms.

There are many different types of law, so attorneys may also advance by specializing in a particular area of law. For example, an attorney who starts out practicing general law may eventually specialize in tax law, or an attorney who starts out in family law may eventually become a divorce lawyer.

The best way to advance in the field of law is to gain experience and to develop a reputation as a competent and ethical attorney.

Attorney Job Description Example

At [CompanyX], we provide high-quality legal services to individuals, families, and businesses in a confidential and cost-effective manner. We are looking for an attorney to join our team who shares our commitment to excellence and who will provide our clients with the highest level of legal representation. The ideal candidate will have experience in the areas of family law, criminal law, and/or business law. He or she will be a skilled advocate who is able to think outside the box to find creative solutions to complex legal problems. The ability to work independently and as part of a team is essential.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Understand the client’s business and objectives to provide sound legal advice
  • Research and analyze legal issues, identify solutions, and recommend a course of action
  • Prepare and draft legal documents such as contracts, agreements, leases, and wills
  • Advise clients on legal rights and obligations, and represent them in court or before government agencies
  • Negotiate settlements of disputes on behalf of clients
  • Keep abreast of developments in the law that may affect the client’s business
  • Maintain client confidentiality
  • Manage and delegate work to support staff, including paralegals and legal assistants
  • Develop and maintain relationships with opposing counsel, witnesses, and others involved in the case
  • Stay within budget and billing targets set by the firm
  • Adhere to ethical guidelines set forth by the state bar association
  • Attend continuing education courses to maintain and improve knowledge and skills

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school
  • Admission to state bar in good standing
  • 3-5 years of experience as an attorney
  • Excellent research, writing, and analytical skills
  • Strong oral advocacy and communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Experience in the practice area of the open position
  • Experience with motion practice and/or trial work
  • Clerkship experience
  • Membership on law review or other journal

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