What called to you be a lawyer? Were you or your family party to – or worse, victims of some sort of legal debacle? Did you just really enjoy watching shows like Perry Mason and wish to become this century’s Attorney Extraordinaire? Is your eye focused on one day becoming a Supreme Court Justice? Or is it just that you have a deep sense of moral right and wish to fight the honorable fight? Whatever your reason, you have chosen what could be a most lucrative and rewarding career path.
Pitfalls to Becoming a Lawyer
Beware, though. Becoming a lawyer is neither easy nor cheap. You will spend anywhere from six to eight years or more in school. You will have to study and memorize case precedents, landmark decisions, weigh moral and ethical issues that might address topics you’ve not yet given any thought to, or already hold strong opinions of. Continuing education is a must. You might get discouraged by the financial strain, time commitment or the seeming futility of upholding or helping formulate laws in the face of public dissent at any point along the way. Surely you have thought about these negative points and still are enamored of judicial ideal and social necessity for law and those who help defend or enforce laws.
Prosecution or Defense?
Your first decision regarding a career in law should be ‘what side are you on’: defense or prosecution? As a defense lawyer you will have the opportunity to represent clients who have suffered a wrong, clients who are struggling for their rights, and help clients document and ensure their rights are protected. As a prosecutor, your primary focus would be to seek justice for a broader spectrum of society, defend and uphold existing laws and ultimately protect society and citizens from wrongdoing by individuals, or groups of individuals.
Defense attorneys have the option of working in public defense arenas, as a member of a law firm, or hang a shingle and operate on their own. Prosecuting attorneys generally represent The People, meaning they are hired, elected and/or appointed to some sort of public office such as a city’s District Attorney’s office, all the way up to United States’ Attorneys, who represent the Federal Government in Federal Court.
What area of law would you embrace? The legal profession is rich with opportunity for its many specialties and various fields. You might consider International Law, Family Law, Constitutional Law or Property and Estate Law, just to name a few.
Where you eventually settle down to live should be a consideration to the type of law you wish or hope to practice. Family Law can be lucrative in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and the American territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam. However, international lawyers might be more active in states or cities that face issues with regard to immigrants. For example: North Dakota and Wyoming might not have a call for much international law because those states’ immigrant population represents only a small fraction of overall residents, but Arizona and California have high profiles with regard to immigration issues and the demand for attorneys well versed in international law in those locales is very high.
A Perspective on Motivation
Perhaps your first consideration with regard to a career in law should be your aspirations. Movies and television tend to depict lawyers as financially well off and pillars of society. While a career in law can indeed be lucrative, if getting rich – or at least comfortable financially is your sole motivation, maybe you should consider another career field.
It is true that lawyers as a group trend toward the higher end of the earnings scale. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer salaries trend upward of $100,000 per year. But, for every lawyer who has successfully entrenched him/herself in the business, has a retinue of stable clients and enriches his/her retirement portfolio with every billable hour, there are scores of attorneys who barely make ends meet after paying their office overhead and any employees they might have. As with any profession, if money is the sole motivator, passion, innovation and progression are not a part of the equation…and they should be.
One should pursue a career in law because he/she feels motivated by moral, ethical and judicial right. Only then can a future attorney endure the financial strain and rigorous demands on time and intellect a law student faces. Only then can a newly ‘barred’ attorney make the best and the most of his/her career. With those motivating factors a student of law can rise above his/her peers and be noticeable to recruiting firms. And only then will such a person be proud to hang a shingle proclaiming: Your Name Here, Esq – Attorney at Law.