What Are Good Lawyers Made Of?

Is there enough evidence to convict you as “attorney material?” Like any career worth pursuing, a job as an attorney requires a certain skill set. Would a jury of your closest peers find the following exhibits in your repertoire?

Examining The Evidence

Exhibit A: Endurance – You are looking at a 4-year bachelor’s degree + 3 years of law school + the bar exam. Then, of attorneys who work full time, about 33% work 50 or more hours per week. Be ready to work long and work hard.

Exhibit B: Research Skills – This includes reading, listening, analyzing, and synthesizing. Information must be gathered from clients, from lengthy dense texts, and essentially whatever sources necessary to have all the knowledge and documentation required for a particular case. Prosecuting Attorney, Darren Cann, of Mississipi County, MO, points out, “Being an attorney involves hours on hours of reading, comparing, and analyzing cases, which, to most people, would be boring.” However, if this sounds more like an adventure in learning than a chore, this could be the career for you.

Exhibit C: Patience & FlexibilityIt takes patience to develop a winning case, to cope with red tape, and to deal with overworked and understaffed offices as you advocate for clients. It takes patience and flexibility to handle set-backs. Cann recalls a time when he researched an issue, found 50 cases that supported his position, only to have an appellate court overrule those cases the morning of his hearing.

Exhibit D: Organization – This is especially important when juggling larger caseloads, such as those of the New York Legal Aid Society, who handle an average of 592 cases a year, or about 103 at a time. It is also vital in completing Exhibit B.

Exhibit E: Attention to Detail – A particular case may involve dozens of laws, require intensive forms, applications, and documentation, and generally require that no dot or dash be missed. A case that seems fairly straightforward may involve a law with enough ambiguity that you better know your stuff at a microscopic level.

Exhibit G: Negotiation – Interests and opinions may be polarized. It is often the attorney’s job to reconcile these for the best possible outcome in a case. Advocating for the client, compromise, and a little psychology are all part of the process.

Exhibit H: Technological Ability – Computer programming is not a requirement, but effective and efficient use of email, the internet, and mobile communications are essential. This will aid in research, organization, and time management. Clients and colleagues will quickly write off attorneys who do not care to use the latest advances to their advantage.

Exhibit F: Communication Skills – An attorney must be able to effectively and efficiently communicate both in writing and speaking. Both in the courtroom and in the office, thoughts, opinion, and facts must be explained clearly and accurately.

Exhibit I: Fashion Sense – Be ready to dress the part. Attorneys must present a professional appearance. Business dress is required for client meetings, court appearances, and presentations. A polished look is necessary to command respect and inspire trust. Hawaiian shirt Fridays are not a part of this career path.

Exhibit J: No Glitz, No Glam, No ProblemWhile a lawyer may need to look like a million bucks, this job is often low-paying, at least for the first few years. An attorney with less than a year of experience could see a salary in the $40K range; however, this can vary widely. In 2007 the median income for attorneys nine months after graduation was $68,500. All things considered, Cann notes, attorneys are often overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. “It is not the train to easy street,” he confesses. As seen in previous exhibits, this job involves a lot of behind-the-scenes, less-than-glamorous work, rather than the flashy courtroom scenes of TV law or national news stories. Not everyone will have an F. Lee Bailey career.

With all this in mind, the core quality must be a passion for the principle. If you are fighting for something, all of these exhibits are easier to produce. Whether it is defending a client’s rights, fighting for a verdict, or simply guiding someone through procedures, the satisfaction and fulfillment can be worth the fray. If you believe in what you are doing, with a determination to battle for the desired outcome, you are well on your way. But be prepared…

Raising The Bar

Shrinking law schools and saturated job markets may be creating a tougher market for attorneys. Schools such as Touro Law Center, Albany Law School in New York, and Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska are announcing plans to reduce incoming class sizes over the next few years. Others, including University of Delaware, Wilkes University, the University of New Haven, Husson College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook have cancelled plans to construct law schools. A Northwestern University study reports an estimated 15,000 attorney and legal staff jobs have been lost at the nation’s largest firms since 2008.

All these factors create an environment steeped in competition. Fewer opportunities and higher caliber competitors mean careful deliberation for those considering a career in law. Do you think you have what it takes?

What is your verdict?


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