If you’ve been watching Law & Order reruns, you might have a slightly distorted idea of what it’s like to be a lawyer. Typical lawyers don’t spend every day making impassioned speeches in front of juries and they don’t often track down killers and accompany police on stakeouts. If you’re interested in working as a lawyer, it a good idea to see what their days usually include.
As a brand-new lawyer, you’re going to work more hours than those who’ve been with a firm for 20 years. Depending on the type of law you’re practicing, and the policies of your firm, you may work as many as 70 hours per week. Large law firms have locker rooms where employees can shower and dress and some even have small rooms with cots for new associates to catch a few hours of sleep.
However, if you’re working for a smaller firm, you may be working a much more normal schedule of 40-50 hours. Keep in mind, though, that the first few years of any lawyer’s career are crucial. You’ll want to make a great impression and will be on a very steep learning curve, so putting in extra hours—whether they’re billable hours or just hours doing extra research at home—should be expected.
Your daily tasks will vary depending on your area of law. A typical day for most lawyers includes:
Research. Lots of research. Lawyers carefully study the details of each case, look for precedents and take detailed notes. You may have a paralegal to assist you, but you’ll still be doing plenty of reading.
Writing. You’ll be writing documents, responses, briefs, letters and plenty of emails.
Studying. Just because you’ve finished law school doesn’t mean you won’t be studying. When preparing for a hearing, you’ll spend hours reviewing the case file and the research you completed, which may include dozens of pages of notes that you’ll have to be familiar with in order to represent your client.
Phone calls. You’ll spend time on the phone with clients, court clerks, other lawyers in your firm, opposing lawyers in other firms and your boss.
Court appearances. Though just 1% of civil cases go to court, depending on your field you may be in court fairly often. Unlike Law & Order, where the attorneys show up just moments before the judge enters, you may find yourself waiting around for an hour before the judge arrives, only to find that the opposing side asks for a continuance, which means that you’ve just spent two hours at court without getting anything done on the case. Once a trial is underway, you’ll spend up to 8 hours inside the courtroom.
Meeting with Clients. Some lawyers meet clients more than others. For instance, an associate in a small family law practice may have several client meetings every week; whereas a jr. associate in a huge corporate firm may not meet with a client for months.