What Is a Lawyer?
Lawyers are people trained in the field of law. They have a bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and most have passed the bar exam in at least one state.
A lawyer’s role varies greatly depending on their area of expertise. However, general duties include advising and representing clients in legal matters and preparing and filing paperwork on their behalf.
What Does a Lawyer Do?
While duties may vary based on different firms and fields of interest, lawyers generally:
- Advise clients with regard to legal matters
- Conduct legal research
- Draft, edit, and file legal documents like contracts, deeds, pleadings, and wills
- Interpret laws, regulations, and rulings for businesses and individuals
- Oversee the work of support staff, including legal secretaries, paralegals, and legal assistants
- Represent clients in court and in other situations
Types of Lawyers
There are many types of lawyers, and each performs different tasks. While lawyers study the same course material during law school, most lawyers go on to focus on one or a few different areas of law.
Specializing allows a lawyer to have a strong understanding of relevant laws, case types, and more.
As their name suggests, bankruptcy lawyers specialize in bankruptcy law. Specifically, they counsel individuals and companies on the different bankruptcy processes. They look at clients’ assets and debts and determine if bankruptcy is the best choice.
Corporate lawyers or corporate counsel are lawyers who specialize in corporate law. Corporate lawyers who work for corporations are called in-house counsel.
Corporate lawyers are responsible for advising businesses on their legal duties and rights and ensuring the legality of commercial transactions. They have deep knowledge of contract law, securities law, tax law, bankruptcy, zoning laws, licensing, and intellectual property rights.
Constitutional lawyers specialize in the rules and laws outlined in state and federal constitutions. These lawyers handle a wide range of issues, including the right to due process, civil rights, and freedom of speech. They may also seek clarification on state and federal laws as new social and political issues emerge, sometimes going as far as to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Criminal Defense Lawyers
Criminal defense lawyers are experts in criminal law. Their specialty is defending companies and people accused of crimes. Some criminal defense lawyers have their own private practices, while others work for non-profit organizations or the government.
Criminal defense lawyers who work for the government are called court-appointed attorneys or public defenders.
Employment lawyers assist employers and employees with workplace disputes in non-unionized workplaces. They can advise, interpret, and litigate workplace issues. Employment lawyers may work for employees, employers, or both.
When working with employees, employment lawyers usually handle issues around human rights concerns, termination, severance entitlement, and contract interpretation. When working with employers, employment lawyers will usually represent the employer in litigation or negotiations with employees.
Estate or probate lawyers help estate beneficiaries advance their interests and ensure the estate is administered correctly. An estate is the total sum of money and property owned by a person before their passing, which is then distributed through a trust or will.
Family lawyers handle issues involving family relationships, such as marriage, divorce, adoption, and child custody. They may also deal with domestic violence restraining orders, paternity, and modifications of family law court orders.
Immigration lawyers specialize in helping people with their immigration status. They can interpret immigration law, advise about the client’s rights, and guide people through the immigration process. These lawyers can also minimize and deal with difficulties and delays associated with the immigration process.
Personal Injury Lawyers
Personal injury lawyers provide legal services to people who have been physically or psychologically injured due to the negligence of another person, government agency, or company.
Personal injury lawyers may help with:
- Car accidents
- Dangerous drug cases
- Medical malpractice cases
- Product liability cases
- Wrongful death cases
- And more
Real Estate Lawyers
Real estate lawyers assist in buying, renting, or leasing a property.
Some of the tasks they are responsible for include:
- Filing and sending all necessary closing paperwork
- Investigating a property’s title by conducting searches
- Explaining any legal problems affecting the title of a property
- Ensuring the previous owner’s debts are dealt with before closing
- Reviewing zoning laws to ensure the property’s intended use complies with approved zoning restrictions
Tax lawyers represent people and businesses in tax disputes. They also offer advisory services. For example, if the IRS decides to conduct an audit, a tax lawyer can offer advice and represent your rights in court as needed. A lawyer can also challenge audits, help with tax debt resolution, and ensure that you or your business are complying with state and federal tax laws.
What Education Is Needed to Become a Lawyer?
Generally speaking, lawyers in the United States have achieved the following educational requirements:
- A bachelor’s degree: Lawyers must obtain a bachelor’s degree before applying to law school. The bachelor’s degree can be in any subject, but most lawyers have undergraduate degrees in criminology, English, political science, business, or philosophy.
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT): The LSAT is an exam for people who are applying to law school. It measures applicants’ critical thinking abilities and capacity to handle different legal duties. Applicants must earn high LSAT scores to be accepted into law school. However, not all law schools require this test.
- A Juris Doctor degree (JD): Attorneys must obtain their Juris Doctor law degree from an accredited law school. Juris Doctor students take courses in civil procedure, property law, torts, legal writing, and more.
- Bar exam: After finishing their legal education, lawyers must pass the state bar examination in order to represent clients in a court of law. Every state has its own bar exam, which tests knowledge in various areas of law. Lawyers can be admitted to the bar in multiple states. Not all lawyers pass the bar.
Lawyer Costs & Fees
Lawyer costs and fees vary depending on the lawyer’s services and practice area.
There are 3 main ways lawyers charge fees:
- Contingency fees: This fee structure is tied to the failure or success of the client’s lawsuit. If the lawsuit succeeds, the lawyer will take a percentage of the client’s verdict or settlement. If the lawyer does not recover compensation for the client, then the client does not have to pay anything to the lawyer.
- Flat fees: Flat fees are set costs for specific services. For example, a lawyer may charge a flat fee of $200 to create a will.
- Hourly rates: Many lawyers charge clients for the amount of time spent working on their case. Hourly rates depend on the lawyer’s experience, office overhead, and services offered. Lawyers may combine hourly rates with retainer fees, which are upfront fees paid by clients to secure services ahead of time.
Tip: To prevent unexpected legal fees, make sure to establish a transparent fee agreement with your lawyer before hiring them.
Benefits of Working With a Lawyer on Legal Cases
There are many benefits of working with a lawyer on your case, though benefits may vary depending on the type of case.
Some advantages of hiring a lawyer include:
- A better understanding of the legal system: If you don’t have a background in law, it can be difficult to navigate the legal system. A lawyer can guide you through the legal process and help you fill out paperwork. They are also familiar with dealing with other lawyers, arbitrators, and judges, which may give you an advantage if you go to court.
- Save time: A lawyer will conduct research, complete paperwork, and perform other time-consuming tasks for you. This will give you more time and energy to focus on getting your life back together. A lawyer can also use their experience and knowledge to resolve your case as quickly as possible.
- Help you avoid costly mistakes: A lawyer can identify all of the potential pitfalls in your case and help you avoid them.
- Maximize your compensation: Finally, lawyers can maximize your financial compensation by skillfully negotiating with the other side and fighting fort the best possible outcome for you.
How Do I Find a Skilled Lawyer Near Me?
Finding the right lawyer can be challenging. Ask trusted friends, family members, and colleagues for a recommendation. Local bar associations also refer lawyers based on their area of practice.
Make sure that the lawyer’s area of expertise and experience match up with your needs. For example, it probably wouldn’t be wise to hire a real estate lawyer to help with a divorce. Ask any lawyers you interview about the type of cases that they typically handle and the results that they have achieved for past clients.
You should also ask about the lawyer’s fees and how long they think it will take to resolve your case.
FAQs About Lawyer Definition
What is a lawyer?
A lawyer is a legal representative who helps clients of all kinds (businesses, government entities, individuals, and more) get justice for the injuries — whether physical, emotional, or financial — they suffered. There are many kinds of lawyers.
Lawyers are qualified to advise on legal matters, draft legal documents, and represent their clients in court. They are also responsible for ensuring that their clients’ legal rights and interests are protected under the law.
What is the definition of a personal injury lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer is a lawyer who provides legal representation to people who have been injured — either physically or psychologically — through no fault of their own. Their injuries may stem from the negligence or wrongdoing of another person, company, or government agency.
Personal injury lawyers primarily practice in an area of the law known as tort law, which covers civil lawsuits.
Do I have to hire a lawyer for a legal case?
While it is not necessary to hire a lawyer for a legal case, working with a lawyer can give you a better understanding of the legal system, help you avoid costly mistakes, maximize your potential compensation, and save you time.
What's the difference between a lawyer and an attorney?
The terms attorney versus lawyer are often used interchangeably. However, an attorney refers to a legal professional who has passed the bar exam and can represent clients in court, while a lawyer is a legal professional who may or may not have passed the bar.
So, while all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers can be referred to as attorneys.
Will hiring a lawyer help me win my case?
Potentially. Working with an experienced lawyer may improve your chances of successfully presenting your claim in court.
Does hiring a lawyer guarantee a settlement?
Not necessarily. However, hiring a lawyer can improve your chances of receiving a settlement — and lawyers can use their knowledge and negotiation skills to maximize the compensation available in your case.
While there is never a guarantee of compensation in any case, lawyers can also make sure that you know the value of your case to prevent you from accepting an insufficient settlement offer.
Can lawyers practice in different states?
Yes, lawyers who have passed the bar exam in different states can practice in those states. For example, a lawyer called to the California and New York bars can practice in those states.
What are different names for lawyers?
Other names for lawyers include legal advisor, legal representative, counselor, and advocate.