Choosing a career path is one of the most important decisions a young person makes. The field of law offers a wide variety of career opportunities. The degree received for those hoping to practice laws is the Juris Doctor (J.D.), and this degree can be put to use traditionally or in fields outside of the legal profession. Someone holding a law degree and a license to practice law may secure employment as an attorney at a law firm or they may open their own firm. They may also find work with the government, such as in the Department of Justice or as a legal consultant for an elected official. Skills that provide a competitive advantage include the ability to analyze and synthesize facts, and a talent for written and oral advocacy. This knowledge and these skills make lawyers attractive in many other fields as well.
Education Required to Become an Attorney
Becoming an attorney requires extensive education. The first step after completing high school is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Unlike other professional degrees, law school does not require a specific field of study at the undergraduate level; the degree could be in criminal justice, political science, English, or a host of other majors. The key is to gain skills in writing, argumentation, and critical thinking. As a student nears the end of their undergraduate studies, they must focus on gaining admission to law school. This involves taking a test called the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Once admitted to law school, a student will typically study for three years to complete a program leading to the Juris Doctor degree. The school usually standardizes the first half of the program. During the second half of the program, students can usually study the type of law that interests them most, such as environmental law or bankruptcy law. Internships that allow for observation of daily legal procedures are also a part of law school training. Once an individual earns a J.D. he or she must take and pass the bar exam for the state in which they plan to practice.
The Daily Life of an Attorney
Television depictions of lawyers may give a distorted view of what a day in the life of an attorney is like. Days are not typically filled with passionate speeches to juries or “ride-alongs” with police officers tracking down murderers. Lawyers typically work long days researching, writing, studying, and making phone calls. The details of each case must be understood thoroughly, and even with the help of an assistant or a paralegal, lawyers still have to do a lot of research on their own. The documents involved in law work, such as briefs, letters, and emails, require a great deal of daily writing. For lawyers, studying continues well beyond graduation from law school. Hours will be spent reviewing case files so that clients are represented well. Some case details can only be gained from making phone calls and interviewing people related to the case. A small percentage of cases actually make it to court, and for those cases, lawyers spend time in the courtroom presenting arguments and working with other legal professionals.
Similarities and Differences Between Prosecution and Defense Attorneys
Not every attorney does the same work, and different types of law require different knowledge, skills, and approaches. The work done also depends on what side of the argument the attorney is advocating. All cases involve parties that are for and against the issue. Attorneys can be either defense attorneys or prosecuting attorneys. In criminal cases, prosecutors charge the suspect with the crime and seek to convict them in court. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, work to prevent the conviction. The roles of each during the course of the trial are quite different. In the United States, the accused are considered innocent until proven guilty; therefore, the prosecutor has the burden of proof. The prosecuting attorney must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt through the presentation of evidence and the questioning of witnesses. The defense attorney does not have the same burden and does not have to share evidence with the other side.
Prosecuting and defense attorneys do have a few things in common as well. The educational requirement to become either type of attorney is the same, and both must pass the bar exam. Both use their knowledge of the law and their skills with evidence and analysis to argue their side to the best of their ability.
- The Function of a Prosecutor
- The Role of the Prosecutor
- What’s Changing in Prosecution
- The Status and Role of Prosecutors
- The Prosecuting Attorney: Powers and Duties in Criminal Prosecution
- The Role and Function of the Defense Attorney
- Dynamics of the Criminal Justice System
- From Prosecutor to Defense Lawyer: A Career Switch
- Why Defense Lawyers Defend Killers and Rapists
- Introduction to the American Criminal Justice System
- Steps in the Federal Criminal Justice Process
- Civil Cases
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