The Myth of the "Typical" Attorney
As with many professions, the discipline of law has gained a reputation over the years. However, too much of what we think we know about attorneys come from television and film – fancy suits, working 80 hours a week, and making big money.
Let’s take a step back.
While this is true for some lawyers (and most wear suits, of course!), there is a lot more to our beloved attorney friends that people may not know. Lawyers are a crucial part of this society and keep the justice scales balanced.
How Did We Get Here?
As college undergraduates, aspiring attorneys prepare to take the LSAT. The LSAT is an entrance exam for law school. After the application process and decision making, law school is a three-year process. And by “process,” we mean sacrifice, late nights, and living on student loans. Law students take difficult courses, devote long hours of studying, and engage in (mostly unpaid) internships to gain experience.
After graduation, they sit for the bar exam. It’s a good thing they are “sitting,” too, because the bar exam is 2 or 3 days and between 6 and 8 hours each day. Did you catch that? The test is for two or three days!
It’s offered twice per year, and it tests for a wide range of subjects. If they pass on the first try, they then have to fill out paperwork, take an ethics exam, and go through an interview. After all of this, they get sworn in to practice law in their state.
Some would say that becoming an attorney requires superpowers.
What Do Attorneys Do?
Attorneys provide advice and represent people in a wide range of legal issues, including:
- Criminal (when accused of a crime)
- Family (divorce, custody, and more)
- Housing (such as landlord-tenant issues)
- Civil (such as lawsuits)
- Wills, Trusts, and Estates
If you hire an attorney, they will be your advocate. They understand the legal system and are fighting for you in it. They likely have relationships with key people, including opposing attorneys, judges, and other key players. They help keep law and order while working for justice.
"The most significant superpower? An attorney ensures that your voice is heard, that you have a plan to move forward with confidence."
Did You Know?
Many jobs are more multifaceted than one may realize — lawyers are no exception. Here are some facts that you may not know about attorneys:
- For every state that an attorney is licensed in, they have to go through that state’s bar exam. They may waive into another state without a bar exam, but it takes at least five years of law practice and a lot of paperwork in most states.
- Attorneys usually specialize in an area of law. Each area of law is unique, and it’s challenging to know everything. That is why attorneys focus on a specific area so that they can be experts in that field.
- Unless the attorney works a government or non-profit job, they are encouraged to take on pro-bono cases. Pro-bono cases mean the lawyers represent you for free. It’s common for each state to require a certain amount of pro-bono hours.
- Lawyers are required to adhere to rules of professional conduct. Attorneys can be suspended or lose their license from their state if they violate these rules.
- Lawyers have to stay up-to-date with the laws since they can change frequently. They have to take Continuing Legal Education courses to ensure that they adapt and stay abreast of the evolving legal landscape.
Many attorneys do more than just represent you in court. In many cases, they are a confidante and an advisor. In other cases, they help with other things, such as providing a referral to a mental health service. They can ensure you are getting the benefits you need.
The most significant superpower? An attorney ensures that your voice is heard, that you have a plan to move forward with confidence.
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By: Joanna Smykowski
American Bar Association, Pro-Bono Reporting.