What Is A Lawyer?
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What Is A Lawyer
A lawyer (also referred to as an attorney) is a legal professional licensed to practice law, represent individuals and companies in court and provide legal advice.
Lawyers are trained in the field of law, have a good understanding of various legal concepts, and are proficient at interpreting the terms of statutes, regulations, ordinances, rulings, or other legal documents.
In many jurisdictions, a person cannot be referred to as a “lawyer”, “counsel”, “attorney-at-law”, or any other similar terms without having a license to practice law issued by the state authorities.
Although there’s a historical nuance between the term “lawyer” and “attorney”, for the purpose of this post, we will assume that they both mean the same thing.
You can read our post Attorney vs Lawyer to learn more on the nuances.
Lawyers, in general, have two main duties:
- Represent clients in court
- Provide legal advice to clients
The attorneys that represent clients in court are involved in the area of litigation and dispute resolution.
The legal professionals dedicated to providing legal advice may be lawyers in law firms in the areas of commercial transactions, M&A, labor, or other areas of law that will not require them to step into a courtroom.
What is the meaning of lawyer?
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of lawyer is:
A person whose profession is to represent clients in a court of law or to advise or act for clients in other legal matters.
In other words, a lawyer is:
- A legal trained in law
- Representing clients in court
- Legally advising individuals or companies
Said differently, a lawyer is a person who is formally trained in law and licensed by the state to prepare, manage, and prosecute legal actions, to act on another’s behalf, or to provide legal advice and counselling to others in different areas of the law.
Lawyers can have a wide range of responsibilities.
In most cases, when people think of lawyers, they think of how lawyers are portrayed in television shows and movies where they are generally depicted pleading in a courtroom.
Although this can be the case, the real responsibilities of a lawyer are much broader.
A lawyer in court has the responsibility to represent his or her client in the best possible way to either defend against a legal action or to enforce a legal right.
Attorneys are also responsible for researching the law, reading statutes, regulations, decrees and other legal documents to find the legal basis to advise their clients.
In addition to court representation and research, lawyers need to have excellent writing and document drafting skills.
Whether a lawyer is drafting a pleading document, a contract, or legal notice, a lawyer must have excellent written skills to clearly convey the right “legal” message.
Most of the time, lawyers spend their time in an office setting either researching the law, investigating facts, writing legal papers, meeting with their clients, speaking with the opposing parties, or preparing a case.
To sum up the lawyer responsibilities, here is a short list of what a lawyer may be required to do on the job:
- Present oral arguments to the court, judge, or jury
- Research the law
- Draft legal documents
- Provide legal advice
- Negotiate settlements
Legal Areas of Practice
Lawyers can practice law in many “areas” or “fields” of law.
In today’s world, every aspect of our lives in society is regulated by laws and regulations.
It is not possible for one single attorney to have a solid grasp of many areas of law and remain up-to-date in all such areas.
As a result, lawyers tend to “specialize” or focus on specific areas of the law to better serve their clients.
Here are some areas that a lawyer may specialize in:
- Administrative law
- Advertising law
- Antitrust law
- Business law
- Constitutional law
- Construction law
- Consumer law
- Contract law
- Copyright law
- Criminal law
- Defamation law
- Employment law
- Estate law
- Health care law
- Insurance law
- Intellectual property law
- Maritime law
- Medical malpractice law
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Oil and gas law
- Patent law
- Personal injury law
- Procedural law
- Real estate law
- Securities law
- Sports law
- Tax law
- Tort law
- Transportation law
This list is certainly not exhaustive but gives you a good idea of the different areas of law an attorney may choose to focus his or her practice on.
Lawyers that focus on one specific area of law or a very specific type of law are considered “specialized lawyers” whereas those who do not have a specific focus and tend to have a more general practice are considered “general practice lawyers”.
How To Become A Lawyer
Every jurisdiction may have its unique requirements for an individual to become a lawyer and pursue a legal career.
In the United States, to become a lawyer, a student must go to law school to understand how the laws and the legal system works.
Every state has adopted its standards with respect to the admission of a law student as a lawyer.
Typically, a person looking to practice law or become a legal professional must complete the following steps:
- Obtain a bachelor degree in the field of law from an American Bar Association accredited law school
- Successfully pass the bar exam
- Successfully pass a character and fitness review
- Take an oath to support the laws and the constitution
Once these steps are completed, the individuals will receive a license to practice law from the highest court in the state.
Where A Lawyer Can Practice Law
When a person is admitted to the Bar Association in his or her jurisdiction, the attorney becomes legally authorized to provide legal advice to the residents of that jurisdiction.
For example, an attorney licensed to practice law in New York can advise New York clients or represent clients before the courts in New York.
In other words, a New York licensed attorney cannot automatically represent a client in Florida or in any other state.
In some states, there are some exceptions to this rule.
Sometimes, an out-of-state lawyer is authorized to perform specific legal tasks in another state provided that he or she is a lawyer in good standing and the highest court of the state approves them.
When out-of-state lawyers are admitted by another state, we refer to this as the lawyer appearing “pro hac vice” meaning “for this one particular occasion”.
Every jurisdiction has its requirements with respect to the territory in which lawyers may lawfully advise and represent clients.
The rule of thumb is that the attorney can advise or represent clients in the same jurisdiction as where he or she is licensed.
Other Terms For “Lawyer”
Legal professionals can be referred to using different terms.
The most common terms used to refer to a professional trained in law in the United States are “lawyer” or “attorney”.
However, there are other terms that may be used more commonly in other jurisdictions.
Here is a short list of other terms that may be used to refer to a lawyer:
- Attorney at law
- Bar at law
- Barrister at law
- Canon lawyer
Who Is An Attorney Takeaways
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