An attorney, also called an attorney at law or a lawyer, is a professional who is licensed to practice law in a certain jurisdiction, typically a certain state. A lawyer can be licensed in one state or multiple states.
Practicing law means representing clients in court or giving clients legal advice. Attorneys perform many different tasks and provide their clients with many services during their everyday work.
Some lawyers practice in many different areas of law, and others only practice in a few areas or one area. A lawyer can work in a group, such as in a law firm, with a partner, or alone in a solo practice.
In order to become an attorney, an individual has to complete law school, which typically takes three years, and pass a bar exam. Each state in the United States has its own bar association.
Attorneys are required to be licensed in every state where they intend to practice. There are, however, some states that have cross-licensing programs.
In the United States, a lawyer also must pass various background checks and a professional responsibility test before being allowed to practice law.
What Is Required to Become an Attorney at Law?
Although the requirements to become a lawyer may differ by state, an attorney generally must have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. In addition, the individual has to graduate from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree.
A lawyer who has gone to law school in another country typically must obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M) before they are permitted to take a state bar examination. Choosing the right law school can be overwhelming for an individual who wants to be a lawyer.
When a lawyer graduates from law school, they are not automatically permitted to practice law. Every state requires that a law school graduate take a state bar examination before being admitted to practice in the state.
A bar examination is a lengthy, rigorous exam that tests the graduate’s knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge to specific situations. In addition, as noted above, the state bar has to review the applicant’s background and determine if the graduate has a good moral character before they can be admitted to the state bar.
Once the individual is admitted to the state bar, the graduate will be formally considered a licensed attorney and be permitted to practice law in that state. If the individual wants to practice law in a different state, they will typically be required to pass the bar exam in the additional state or states where they want to practice.
What Are Attorneys Allowed to Do?
Attorneys are the only professionals who are allowed to practice law. Practicing law may include performing many services, ranging from giving legal advice to representing clients in court.
There are only certain limited situations where non-lawyers would be permitted to practice law. A non-lawyer may be allowed to provide legal information in specific situations.
In many states, government agencies may allow a non-lawyer to act as a representative during agency hearings.
What Is the Difference Between an Attorney, a Paralegal, and a Notary Public?
Paralegals are professionals who work in the legal field but are different from lawyers. Paralegals have some specialized legal training that allows them to provide assistance to attorneys in their daily tasks.
Usually, paralegals perform very specific tasks, for example, research and writing. A notary public is another professional in the legal field who is not a lawyer.
A notary public can help authenticate a document by notarizing it. Typically, documents that require notarization include:
- Deeds; and
- Other items requiring certification.
If either a notary public or a paralegal attempts to offer an individual their services as an attorney, the individual should decline immediately and report them to the state bar for the unauthorized practice of law.
What Areas of Law Do Attorneys Practice In?
In general, there are laws that govern nearly every aspect of an individual’s life. Laws are divided into areas or categories.
Lawyers often practice in a certain practice area or areas, although many practice in multiple areas. Although not an exhaustive list, the general legal practice areas include:
- Family law: This area includes various family-related conflicts and issues, including:
- Child custody and visitation;
- Spousal support;
- Child support;
- Paternity; and
- Other topics;
- Employment law: This area covers various work-related disputes such as:
- Hour and wage claims;
- Wrongful termination;
- Hostile work environments;
- Harassment; and
- Criminal law: This area of law covers many types of violations, including:
- Theft crimes;
- Assault and battery;
- Homicide crimes such as manslaughter and murder; and
- Other crimes;
- Real estate law: Real estate laws cover:
- Transactions and disputes related to property sales and transfers;
- Landlord and tenant issues;
- Property improvements; and
- Other aspects related to property;
- Business law: Business lawyers may handle a wide range of subjects, such as:
- Contracts between businesses;
- Business disputes;
- Buying and selling a business; and
- Other business activities;
- Immigration law: This body of laws covers aspects such as:
- Removal or deportation from the country; and
- Green cards;
- Personal injury law: This is a broad practice area that covers various claims such as:
- Negligence claims;
- Slip and fall cases;
- Car accidents;
- Malpractice; and
- Other instances where a person suffers harm;
- Wills, trusts, and estates: An attorney who practices in this area handles various financial matters, including:
- Distribution of property through an individual’s will;
- Creation and management of trusts; and
- Estate planning;
- Bankruptcy law: This area of law deals largely with individual’s debts and covers aspects such as:
- Consumer and business bankruptcy;
- Debt collections;
- Consumer credit; and
- Certain tax issues;
- Government law: Government law covers many public concerns, including:
- Schools and education;
- Social security;
- Governmental discrimination;
- Various civil rights issues; and
- Veterans benefits;
- Defective products law: These laws cover instances where a consumer is harmed, injured, or killed by a defective product. It can also cover other areas like warranties and defective services; and
- Intellectual property law: This involves legal concepts such as:
- Trade secrets; and
- Other protections for non-tangible assets.
What Tasks Do Attorneys Perform?
Lawyers perform many different tasks, including, but not limited to:
- Representing clients in a court of law;
- Counseling clients on their legal inquiries and concerns;
- Examining laws and pleading in court;
- Analyzing the evidence for trial;
- Engaging in discovery or obtaining documents for trial;
- Requesting appeals, if possible;
- Requesting damages for injuries; and
- Engaging in criminal defense or prosecution.
Some lawyers practice as specialists in certain fields, such as patent law, copyright law, and other areas. Most states require specialist lawyers in certain areas of law to pass another exam or meet other provisions before presenting themselves as a specialist.
Should I Hire an Attorney at Law for Legal Assistance?
Although there are some legal actions that you can take on your own, in most cases, you will not have the legal knowledge required to handle your issue properly. It is always in your best interests to hire a lawyer if you are involved in any legal conflict or dispute.
A lawyer in your area can give you legal advice and representation and help you obtain the best outcome possible for your issue.