I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, but sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I mean when I say that. I think I decided on the idea because people said I was good at arguing when I was a kid, and I knew that some of my parents’ friends were successful lawyers. But I never really thought about what a lawyer does day-to-day, and I’m not totally sure I’m cut out for it. There’s so much paperwork, and most lawyers don’t even go to court very much, as I understand it. But part of me still feels like I should be a lawyer. I’m very conflicted. Experts, can you provide any insights?
There’s no getting around it: if you’re going to be a lawyer, you’re going to deal with a lot of paperwork. In fact, some experts feel that “being good at arguing” is a poor predictor of what will make someone a successful lawyer. But wait--don’t walk away from law just yet. The thing about law is that it is full of individual disciplines that can be very different from one another. Perhaps there’s one that will suit your personality and skills perfectly!
One of the first things to consider is whether you’d prefer to focus on civil or criminal law. When you think of your future as a lawyer, do you see yourself prosecuting crimes or helping the accused? Or are lawsuits and disputes between individuals and organizations more your thing?
Another way to examine the different areas of law is to imagine who you might want to look for. If you were to join a commercial litigation law firm or become an in-house counsel at a large company, you’d be working for a business. Does the idea of being a part of (or serving) a larger organization appeal to you?
Or perhaps you’d prefer to work with individuals. This is what personal injury attorneys do, fighting on behalf of injured clients--often against organizations, which means you’d have to understand how such organizations work, but would generally not be on their side.
You mentioned that most lawyers don’t go to court often. That’s a generalization, and the reality of your legal career (if you choose to pursue one) will reflect the discipline you choose. If you become a personal injury attorney, you probably won’t spend much time in the courtroom: the vast majority of lawsuits--more than 95%, but some counts--are settled out of court. If you’re a criminal prosecutor, you’ll also see a lot of settlements. But some types of criminal cases are more likely to go to trial than other, and you can specialize even within your legal area--perhaps you’ll be your law firm’s go-to attorney for courtroom cases, while your colleagues specialize in settlements.
To be clear, you’re going to need to be detail-oriented and have an organized mind no matter which area of law you choose. You’ll have to get through law school, of course, and even lawyers who frequently argue in court must prepare their cases meticulously ahead of time. If you really hate paperwork, then maybe law isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for the arguments and excitement you imagined, there are still things law can offer you. If you make your dream more specific, you may find that some of the things that turn you off about “being a lawyer” aren’t really applicable to the sort of law you’ll be practicing at all! Good luck.
“Your attitude will go a long way in determining your success, your recognition, your reputation, and your enjoyment in being a lawyer.” -- Joe Jamail