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So You Want To Be A Lawyer

Aug 17, 2007
Television and movies often depict the career of an attorney as one of a hero that goes into the court room and saves the day. Often you see the attorney arguing with the judge and the witness on the witness stand. Sometimes they bring surprise witnesses and evidence, and on occasion the witness breaks down on the stand and confesses. Many a time the attorney also gives a speech in closing and opening argument that persuades the jury to hold for the attorneys' client. As glamorous and appealing as a career as attorney may appear to be, the reality is different.

For the most part attorneys spend their time persuading their own clients, opposing attorneys, and insurance adjusters. The real work is done in writing and it is the writing that accounts for many if not all victories.

It all starts with the complaint, the document that starts the lawsuit. These documents can be complex and require a careful analyses of the facts and the law. For some attorneys this is no longer true because there are now forms. In California these forms are called judicial council forms and are used extensively by personal injury attorneys and family law attorneys. Instead of writing complex documents these attorneys check boxes and are no longer required to do a lot of writing at the initial stage of the lawsuit.

After the filing of the lawsuit it has to be served, meaning someone has to present the lawsuit to the defendant and it has to be done right. If mistakes are made, the defendant's attorney can use the error to delay the case or dismiss the case. Delays and dismissals means the defendant has to refile the lawsuit and in most matters there is a statute of limitations which means the difference between having a viable lawsuit and having no lawsuit at all.

There is then more paperwork through discovery, motions, and pretrial motions. Then there are negotiations, mediations, arbitrations, settlement conferences, and other dispute resolution procedures. About 95% of these cases settled during one of these stages. If the case does not settle the case goes to trial, but even so some settle the day of trial. After trial a few cases are appealed to the court of appeal and a tiny few are appealed to the Supreme Court, but it is the supreme court that chooses cases to review.

Discovery is a process where information is obtained from each of the parties. This stage also requires a fair amount of writing, because written questions are asked and written responses are provided. During discovery oral questions are also asked of the plaintiff and defendant. This takes place with a court reporter. The procedure can be long and boring.

Many defense attorneys take very long depositions, because they bill their clients by the hour and it is an opportunity to increase the charges to their clients. Plaintiffs' attorneys are often working on a contingency basis and their compensation is based on the outcome of the case, so they generally do not take extraordinarily long depositions.

Motions are requests made to the court. The motions are written documents submitted to the court asking the court to order something. During discovery it could be a request to order a party to answer a question, it could be a request to issue a protective order so a party does not have to answer something, or perhaps a request to order a plaintiff to submit to a medical exam. At later stages there are different motions, before trial motions in limine are submitted which are requests to permit or prohibit certain statements or questions to be asked during trial or to keep evidence out.

Good attorneys are constantly analyzing the case and moving the case accordingly. It is a game of strategy that is worked up according to the goal. As discovery progresses and the attorneys get to know the parties involved they reevaluate the case, it is a game of strategy, but often the law is clearly on one side or the other and the process can be frustrating.

Sometimes the case seems like a lost cause, but you are not certain. Another aggravating point is that even when everything seems to be going wrong or right, things can change overnight. The personalities of the attorneys, the clients, and third parties can have a substantial impact on the outcome of a case. Seemingly excellent cases have turn into weak cases often characterized as dogs, and dogs sometimes turn into stars.

An aggressive attorney can increase the chances of success, but can also ruin a case. In describing an aggressive attorney, the legal community generally means an attorney that is not afraid to push for things and use all tools at his or her disposal. An aggressive attorney is not one what people normally consider to be aggressive, it is not an attorney that yells, screams, and pounds on tables.

These attorneys are generally regarded as obnoxious attorneys and are disliked by their peers and judges. Obnoxious attorneys usually do not do well in the practice of law. An aggressive attorney can be a very soft spoken attorney, but one that does a lot of legal research, makes many motions, takes advantage of all the tools available to advance the interests of his client, and takes the case to trial when need be.

The vast majority of cases, civil and criminal are settled, meaning there is some sort of an
agreement between the clients through their attorneys. A civil attorney may not see more than one to four trials a year, and four trials would be a very heavy load. It takes a great deal of paper work to get the case to trial and to prepare it for trial. All the paperwork that is done before trial will give an advantage to one party or the other. Poorly prepared attorneys do not do well at trial no matter how likable and well spoken they are.

Trial itself can take a couple of weeks and creates a tremendous backlog of work for the returning attorney. It would be similar to someone getting sick and then coming back to work that had been piling for two weeks and then repeating the cycle four times a year.
About the Author
Overtime and car accident attorney Tells What the Practice of Law is all about at San Diego Overtime Attorney Arnold Hernandez
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