What is a Lawyer?

Do you thrive at influencing and persuading others? Are you interested in justice and the law? You may want to consider a career as a lawyer!

The exact terminology for the word "lawyer" varies throughout the world. Attorney, counsel, barrister, or solicitor are all various names given to lawyers. The origin of the profession dates back to ancient Greece, when orators spoke on behalf of friends or citizens at their request.

What does a Lawyer do?

A lawyer is licensed to practice law, and is obligated to uphold the law while also protecting their client's rights. Some duties commonly associated with a lawyer include:

  • Providing legal advice and counsel
  • Researching and gathering information or evidence
  • Drawing up legal documents related to divorces, wills, contracts, and real estate transactions
  • Prosecuting or defending in court
  • Mediating disputes

A lawyer sitting at her desk and working on her laptop.

The law is so broad and extensive that it is impossible for a single lawyer to successfully provide legal counsel across each different area of law. It can be likened to a doctor that focuses on a specific area of the body or a specific type of ailment or disease — lawyers also specialize in one or two related areas of law.

Lawyer specializations include:

Divorce Lawyer
Divorce lawyers specialize in the many legal aspects that need to be addressed when terminating a marriage. Some of these details may include child custody, legal filings, and the division of assets and debts amongst spouses. In the case of legal separations, a divorce lawyer will grant the separation in the form of a court order (a legal separation is a process by which a married couple may formalize a separation while remaining legally married). When there are children involved, a divorce lawyer will help set the terms for child support and child custody.

Throughout the divorce process, lawyers try to ensure that they are protecting their client's rights and that their client is given a just settlement once the marriage has been legally dissolved. A divorce lawyer must systematically investigate each case in order to substantiate the supporting evidence. The compiled paperwork documenting the evidence must cover every single detail before it is submitted to the court. A divorce lawyer must also be an attentive listener and must remain non-judgmental—these skills are vital when dealing with such a variety of clients.

Family Lawyer
A family lawyer handles anything having to do with direct family issues, such as adoption, surrogacy, child abuse, child abduction, spousal abuse, estate or family planning, divorce, custody battles, paternity determinations, juvenile delinquency, child emancipation, prenuptial agreements, and name changes. Lawyers practicing family law represent their clients in family court proceedings or in negotiations and also draft any necessary legal documents.

While some family lawyers only focus on divorce, most cover all areas of family law. Divorce law and family law are sometimes thought of as one in the same, however, divorce law is only one of many issues a family lawyer deals with. It is interesting to note that a family lawyer can handle a divorce, but a divorce lawyer usually does not have the expertise to represent clients in other family law matters.

Immigration Lawyer
Immigration lawyers determine the legal rights, obligations, and duties of individuals considered aliens and specialize in helping them gain legal citizenship within a specific country. They will also assist with citizenship tests, represent individuals in court to prevent them from being deported, and help get immediate access citizenship to those in emergency situations.

The immigration process can be very complicated - immigration lawyers do a lot of work on behalf of their clients, such as analyzing all the possibilities and strategies that might be needed throughout the process, preparing paperwork, organizing the documents and forms that will be needed for the application, and preparing testimony and statements. They usually act as mediators between clients and immigration authorities.

Criminal Lawyer
A criminal lawyer represents defendants and organizations facing criminal charges in state and federal courts. This can include fraud, domestic violence crimes, theft, embezzlement, violent crimes, driving under the influence (DUI), sex crimes, and drug-related crimes. The scope of practice for a criminal lawyer includes trials, bail bond hearings, post-conviction remedies, plea bargains, and revocation hearings (parole or probation).

After investigating a case, a criminal lawyer will interview all witnesses involved, research the statutes, case law, and crime codes, and then build a defence as well as develop a case strategy. Negotiation with the prosecution is typically involved in order to plea bargain to lesser charges. During trial, the criminal lawyer will advocate for the defendant and argue motions (motions to dismiss or motions to suppress), and also argue appeals — all motions and appeals need to be drafted and filed by the lawyer in advance.

Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer
Accident and personal injury law involves civil law cases that focus on physical and psychological injuries due to an accident. This type of lawyer tends to practice primarily in the area of law known as tort law, and provides legal service to those who claim to have been injured as a result of the negligence of another person or entity.

They help those who have suffered injuries get reimbursement for the costs that they have incurred - this compensation is often needed to pay for medical treatment and make up for lost wages. Examples of common personal injury claims include traffic collisions, slip and fall accidents, workplace injuries, defective products, and professional malpractice.

Most accident and personal injury claims are settled without going to trial. There are times, however, that the only way for a victim to get compensation is by going through a full civil trial, if their insurance company denies the claim. Litigation can be extremely complex and requires strict adherence to specific procedures and rules of evidence.

Business and Corporate Lawyer
Business and corporate lawyers can handle a wide range of legal issues for publicly held companies and privately held businesses, and specialize in counseling and guiding their clients through complex legal processes.

They focus on agency and employment law, contracts, sales, commercial paper, business organizations, and property and bailment. Their expertise can range from being able to assist brand new internet companies with their start-up needs to negotiating complex acquisitions for multibillion dollar companies.

Business transactions may include: negotiating, drafting and reviewing mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; advising on the rights and responsibilities of corporate directors and officers; assisting with the financial information business owners must provide to their employees, owners, and shareholders; and assisting with the mandatory reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other government agencies.

Close up of man's hand signing a contract.

Bankruptcy Lawyer
A bankruptcy lawyer assists individuals or organizations that make legal declarations stating their inability to pay their creditors. Understanding the process and filling out the bankruptcy forms can be daunting. Due to the complicated nature of bankruptcy filings, most are completed by bankruptcy lawyers that not only give legal advice but will handle the paperwork from start to finish.

A bankruptcy lawyer will meet with potential clients to: review their income, debts and assets; determine if bankruptcy is right for the them; determine which chapter of bankruptcy to file; determine a filing date; and enter into a contract with the client.

On the appropriate date, the lawyer will file the petition electronically with the court. When the date for a hearing is set by the court, the bankruptcy lawyer, the debtor, and the bankruptcy trustee will meet and discuss the situation. Following that, the bankruptcy lawyer will make sure that the client meets any obligations required by the bankruptcy trustee and will keep the client updated regarding the confirmation and discharge of the bankruptcy.

Employment Lawyer
An employment lawyer governs the employer-employee relationship which includes contracts, regulations, bargaining agreements, protection against discrimination, sexual harassment, wages and hours, health and safety, and severance negotiations. Other responsibilities may include advising employers on environmental regulations or defending employers in front of governmental boards and agencies. Employment lawyers also assist in employment-related lawsuits.

Employment lawyers advise employees and employers on the local, state or federal government's legal standards in order to make sure that there is consistent and fair treatment. For employment lawyers who represent the employer, they help employers draft policies that inform management to not discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, age, national origin, religion or disability. Employment lawyers may also help advise employees on their rights to form a union, as well as their responsibilities regarding union workers.

Animal Lawyer
An animal lawyer is involved with legal cases involving veterinary malpractice, wrongful death, tainted pet food products, dog bite defence cases, discrimination, landlord-tenant disputes, estate planning, purchase disputes, animal cruelty, and other animal related legal issues.

Animal lawyers may be hired by animal welfare organizations, animal protection groups, pet service providers, conservation organizations or by individual clients. An animal lawyer will advise clients, research cases, review and prepare legal documents, conduct depositions, create pet trusts, argue cases in court, file class action lawsuits and a variety of other duties. They may also publish case studies in journals dedicated to the study of animal law.

Are you suited to be a lawyer?

Lawyers have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if lawyer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Lawyer like?

A lawyer can work in a law firm, private company, or even work for state as a public defender or for the prosecution. Newly hired attorneys usually serve as clerks in charge of researching information and aiding in preparation for upcoming trials.

Most lawyers work 50-80 hours per week, including weekends.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does one decide what type of lawyer to become?

It would be a good idea to ask yourself a few questions when considering what type of lawyer to become:
- What attracts you to being a lawyer?
- What motivates you to make it your career?
- Who do you see yourself representing?
- What type of impact do you want to have in the world?
- What types of situations do you see yourself wanting to be engaged in?
- What type of lifestyle do you see yourself having in your profession?
- What do job prospects look like for the type of law you are considering?
- What classes do you enjoy the most in law school?

Most lawyers get into law for personal reasons. For example, if you feel strongly about worker's rights, then labour law might be the route for you. Strong beliefs about the rights of immigrants? Immigration law. The environment? Environmental law. If you want to make an impact in something you feel very strongly about, and there's a law for it, consider that avenue.

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What makes a great lawyer?

Great lawyers have invested much time and effort in understanding people, building relationships, and in being great leaders. They have great communication skills (both written and verbal), a high level of intelligence, excellent analytical skills, and excellent advocacy skills. They have a passion for their particular specialty, a high level of commitment to their work and to their client, and are an expert in their field. They also understand their client's objectives, and advocate on that basis; not just on the basis of the law itself.

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What are the negative aspects of being a lawyer?

A career in law can be demanding and stressful. A few common complaints from legal professionals are: long hours, court deadlines, billing pressures, changing laws, high-pressure deals, and difficult clients. If you throw in rising business pressures, continually evolving legal technologies, and climbing law school debt, it's easy to see why lawyers are sometimes stressed.

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Lawyers are also known as:
Attorney Associate Attorney Solicitor Counsel Barrister Advocate