Careers in Law – Life as a Litigator
March 29, 2013
When we’re not talking specifically about the LSAT, one of the most common questions my students ask is “what did you do when you were a lawyer?” Thinking back on my own experience applying to law school (and I was one of those “wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was a little kid” applicants), I realize that my ideas of legal practice and the truth of the matter were very different – even though my own mother is a lawyer and I had visited her firm on numerous occasions (and even did a bit of work there).
So, today’s post is devoted to sharing my experiences as a commercial litigator, to give you a taste of what (at least some) lawyers actually do.
First, let’s clear up a very common misconception about litigators: we actually spend very little time in the courtroom. If you’re a court junkie, then criminal law is definitely the way to go – other than elite level partners who get called in to spearhead civil trials, only criminal lawyers spend most of their day in court. Most litigators, on the other hand, spend the vast majority of their time in the office. What exactly you do depends a lot on whether you’re a sole practitioner/at a small firm or at a big firm.
Big firm litigators have different duties based on seniority. When you start out, you’re doing a lot of research and writing memos. Your first exposure to court is likely either sitting in the gallery observing or arguing a motion. If you’re lucky, as I was, you may also get to argue in Small Claims Court (in my case it was a ground-breaking trial for a major client, whose prized leather coat was ruined by the dry cleaner – OK, it may not have been precedent-setting, but it was exciting for me!).
You’ll also have contact with your client and opposing counsel; however, you’ll spend most of your (very long) days either behind your desk or in the library.
Every litigator remembers his first real trial – either as first or, more likely, second chair. Even though it may be months between trials (the vast majority of cases settle before they get to court), trial time is crazy! During the trial you’re operating on adrenaline, caffeine and probably 3-5 hours of sleep a night. For me, anyway, it was certainly the most exciting part of practice.
Lawyers in other practice areas have vastly different experiences. As you’re prepping for the LSAT, reach out to lawyers you know or adjunct profs at the local law school to see what you’ll actually be doing with the rest of your life. Law school is a huge investment (of both time and money), so the more information you get about law as a career the more informed a decision you’ll make (and, as an added bonus, the more “real” your personal statements can be).
Here’s some good news for your investigations: I’ve never met a lawyer who didn’t like to talk about what she does!