Whether you're considering enrolling in law school or are just about to finish your degree, knowing what a lawyer's duties and responsibilities are can help you decide what type of law you want to practice, or even if a legal career is right for you. No matter which state you ultimately practice in, you'll have to adhere to ethics rules that impose certain responsibilities and standards on lawyers. You should also familiarize yourself with the day-to-day duties.
Lawyers Are Subject to Ethical Standards
To safeguard clients and the general public, states enforce rules of professional conduct on lawyers, which outline some fundamental duties and responsibilities that you'll follow each day of your career. Although the rules are extensive, and may vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, they typically require you to be an advocate for your clients and to keep their best interests in mind at all times. Lawyers must also refrain from charging clients unreasonable or excessive fees. In addition, lawyers have a responsibility to keep information about their clients confidential as part of the client-lawyer relationship.
Duties and Responsibilities Depend on Practice Area
Some lawyers spend most of their time in court, while many others rarely see a courtroom. However, they all provide legal advice one way or another. It all depends on the area of law you choose to practice. If you choose a career in criminal law, for example, you'll likely spend a fair amount of time either defending your clients in court, or prosecuting them on behalf of a federal, state or local government. Tax, intellectual property and securities lawyers, on the other hand, tend to focus more of their time providing legal advice and guidance on transactions such as mergers, acquisitions, patent applications and initial public offerings. Regardless of which type of law you choose, you will need superior research, analytical, communication and writing skills to be successful.
Where You Might Work
The type of environment you work in can also impact what your daily duties and responsibilities are. A large number of lawyers work at law firms. In a law firm setting, you'll likely serve various clients that might range from Fortune 500 companies to individuals. In a law firm, typical duties include meeting with clients, drafting contracts, negotiating settlements and supervising paralegals and other legal professionals. You may even find yourself representing a single client for a portion of your career as many large companies have in-house counsel whose duties might include reviewing business contracts or helping the company create employee handbooks that comply with federal and state employment. Other paths you can take include working for a government agency such as the Internal Revenue Service, where you might draft legal documents and develop litigation strategies against taxpayers; working for a non-profit agency that serves the public, such as the American Civil Liberties Union; or teaching law in an academic setting.
Other Daily Responsibilities of Lawyers
It is unlikely you'll spend all of your time researching statutes, reviewing previously settled cases similar to yours, or drafting complaints, motions and responses -- though these activities will certainly account for a good portion of your time. Administrative tasks are also necessary, and typically include recording each phone call, meeting and other time that's billable to clients. You may also need to ensure client invoices are sent out and eventually paid, manage client funds, and at some point in your career, come up with strategies to attract new clients and grow the practice.
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