The Right to an Attorney

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 What is an Attorney at Law?

Attorneys at law are professionals who are licensed to practice in certain areas or jurisdictions. They may also be referred to as simply attorneys or lawyers.

Attorneys practice law, which means they represent clients in courts of law or provide legal advice to clients. An attorney performs numerous different types of tasks and provides numerous types of services in the course of their everyday work.

Attorneys may practice in broad areas of law. They may also specialize in a number of areas of law or even one specific area of law.

Attorneys may also work in law firms, which are businesses that employ multiple attorneys. They may also work alone in a solo practice.

What is Required to Become an Attorney at Law?

Although the requirements an individual must fulfill to become an attorney may vary by state, there are some general requirements. First, an individual must obtain a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent degree from an institution.

The individual must then attend an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school and obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. It is important to note that an individual who has attended law school in a foreign country must typically obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M) prior to being permitted to take a state bar examination.

Choosing the right law school may be a daunting process for individuals who aspire to be attorneys. When an individual graduates from law school, they are not automatically permitted to practice law.

Each state within the United States requires that an individual who graduates law school take a state bar examination. A state bar examination is a lengthy, rigorous exam which tests the individual’s legal knowledge as well as their ability to apply that knowledge in specific situations.

In addition, the state bar is required to review the background of the applicant and determine whether or not the individual is of good moral character prior to being admitted to the state bar. Once an individual is admitted to the state bar, they are formally considered a license attorney and are permitted to practice law in the state.

If the attorney wants to practice law in a different state as well, they will usually be required to pass the bar exam for the state in which they wish to practice.

What are Attorneys Allowed to Do?

Only attorneys are permitted to practice law. Practicing law involves performing many services, which may range from providing legal advice to representing a client in court.

There are few limited situations where individuals who are not attorneys would be permitted to practice law. In numerous states, a government agency may allow a non-attorney to act as a representative during an agency hearing.

What Areas of Law Do Attorneys Practice in?

There are numerous areas of law which attorneys may practice in. General practice areas may include, but are not limited to:

  • Family law, including:
    • divorce;
    • child custody and visitation;
    • spousal support;
    • child support;
    • paternity; and
    • other topics;
  • Employment law, including:
    • hour and wage claims;
    • wrongful termination;
    • hostile work environments;
    • harassment; and
    • discrimination;
  • Criminal law, including:
    • theft crimes;
    • assault and battery;
    • various homicide crimes, such as manslaughter and murder; and
    • other crimes;
  • Real estate law, including:
    • transactions and disputes over property sales and transfers;
    • landlord/tenant issues;
    • construction;
    • property improvements; and
    • other aspects related to property;
  • Business law, including:
    • contracts between businesses;
    • business disputes;
    • buying and selling a business; and
    • other business activities;
  • Immigration law, including:
    • visas;
    • citizenship;
    • removal or deportation from the country; and
    • green cards;
  • Personal injury law, including:
    • negligence claims;
    • slip and fall cases;
    • car accidents;
    • malpractice; and
    • other instances where an individual suffers harm;
  • Wills, trusts, and estates, including:
    • distribution of property after an individual’s death through their will;
    • creation and management of trusts; and
    • estate planning;
  • Bankruptcy law, including:
    • debts;
    • consumer and business bankruptcy;
    • debt collections;
    • consumer credit; and
    • certain tax issues;
  • Government law, including:
    • schools and education;
    • social security;
    • governmental discrimination;
    • various civil rights issues; and
    • veterans benefits;
  • Defective products law, including:
    • instances where consumers are harmed, injured, or killed by defective products;
    • Warranties; and
    • defective services;
  • Intellectual property law, including:
    • trademarks;
    • copyrights;
    • patents;
    • trade secrets; and
    • other protections for non-tangible assets.

Because there are so many areas of law, when an individual is selecting an attorney, they will want to consider what area of law their issue falls into. An individual can then locate an attorney who practices in that area.

Do I Have the Right to an Attorney?

Yes, The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees, among other things, the right to an attorney if an individual has been arrested. This right to an attorney helps ensure that the individual receives a fair trial.

If law enforcement wishes to interrogate an individual, they are required to read the suspect their Miranda Rights. The Miranda warning requires that law enforcement notify the individual that they have the right to have an attorney present.

What Does the Right to an Attorney Mean?

The Sixth Amendment right to an attorney has been interpreted by courts to mean that attorneys must be present at any adversarial, critical stages or criminal prosecutions. Critical stages include:

In addition, every individual has the right to be represented by an attorney at trial, regardless of their ability to pay for an attorney. Law enforcement is required to inform suspects that they have the right to an attorney and that an attorney will be provided for them if they are unable to afford one.

If an individual is unable to afford the services of a private defense attorney, the court will appoint a public defender.

What Services Can an Attorney Provide Me?

Although every case is unique, an individual’s attorney will serve as their representative and legal translator. Attorneys may provide many services and perform many duties, including:

  • Advise an individual of their rights;
  • Help formulate a defense strategy;
  • Ensure that an individual does not incriminate themselves; and
  • Speak with witnesses.

What if I Am Appointed a Public Defender?

If an individual is appointed a public defender, they generally will not have a choice which attorney represents them. Although each individual has the right to be represented by an attorney of their choosing, scheduling conflicts and the availability of public defenders may practically limit this right.

If an individual determines that they truly cannot work with the attorney who is appointed to them, they may petition the court for a new one.

What if I Want to Represent Myself?

Just as all individuals have the right to have an attorney, they also have the right to self-representation. It is important to note that, due to the nature and seriousness of criminal convictions and records, it is always advised that an individual who is facing prosecution should retain an attorney.

In certain cases, the court may deny an individual the right to represent themselves if the court determines that they are unable to do so because of mental incompetence or a number of other factors.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

It is important to have the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer if you have been arrested or charged with any crime. You also have the right to remain silent and it is in your best interest to exercise that right.

If you are able to afford your own private attorney, it is important to begin the search process as soon as possible. Your attorney will ensure that your rights are protected during the entire arrest and trial process.

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