What Lawyers Do
Lawyers represent clients in criminal or civil proceedings, including trials.
Lawyers advise and represent clients on legal proceedings or transactions.
Lawyers typically do the following:
- Advise and represent clients in criminal or civil proceedings and in other legal matters
- Communicate with clients, colleagues, judges, and others involved in a case
- Conduct research and analysis of legal issues
- Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses
- Present facts and findings relevant to a case on behalf of their clients
- Prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, contracts, and wills
Lawyers, also called attorneys, research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and determine whether they apply to the specific circumstances of their client’s case. They act as both advocates and advisors for one party in a criminal (offense against the state or the nation) or civil (matters between individuals or organizations) proceeding.
As advocates, they may present evidence and argue in support of their client for settlements outside of court, such as through plea bargaining or arbitration, or during court appearances, such as in hearings and trials. As advisors, they counsel clients about their legal rights, obligations, and options and suggest courses of action.
Lawyers may have different titles and duties, depending on where they work.
For example, in law firms, lawyers perform legal work for individuals or businesses. Those who represent clients accused of wrongdoing or carelessness may be called criminal law attorneys or defense attorneys. Those whose expertise includes representing clients in trials are sometimes called litigators or trial lawyers.
Corporate counsels, also called in-house counsels, are lawyers who work for a single organization. They advise the organization’s executives about legal issues related to its business activities, such as patents, contracts with other companies, taxes, and collective-bargaining agreements with unions.
Attorneys in federal, state, and local governments may have a variety of titles, including prosecutor, public defender, or general counsel. Prosecutors typically pursue the government’s charges against an individual or organization accused of violating the law. Public defense attorneys represent criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Government counsels help write regulations, interpret laws, and set up enforcement procedures, and they may argue cases on behalf of the government.
Public-interest lawyers work for organizations that provide legal services to disadvantaged people or to others who otherwise might not be able to afford legal representation. They often handle cases involving issues related to social justice or individual liberty, such as housing discrimination or consumer rights.
Lawyers may oversee the work of support staff, such as paralegals and legal assistants and legal secretaries.
In addition to working in different industries, lawyers may specialize in particular legal fields, including the following:
Environmental lawyers deal with issues and regulations that are related to the natural world. They may work for advocacy groups, waste disposal companies, or corporations. In government agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they help to ensure compliance with relevant laws.
Family lawyers handle a variety of legal issues that pertain to spousal, parent-child, and other familial relationships. They may advise and advocate for clients in proceedings on topics such as divorce, child custody, and adoption. Family lawyers also may work for local, state, or federal agencies to ensure compliance with relevant government regulations.
Intellectual property lawyers deal with the laws related to inventions, patents, trademarks, and creative works, such as music, books, and movies. For example, an intellectual property lawyer may advise clients about whether they may use published material in a forthcoming book. Some intellectual property lawyers work for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Personal injury lawyers represent clients in civil proceedings who have been harmed by the actions or lack of action by another party.
Securities lawyers work on legal issues arising from the buying and selling of financial instruments. They may advise corporations that are interested in listing on a stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO) or in buying shares in another corporation. In government, they may work for their state’s securities regulator or for a federal regulatory agency, such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Tax lawyers handle a variety of tax-related issues for individuals and organizations. They may help clients navigate complex tax regulations, handle tax disputes, and represent clients in court on tax-related matters. Tax lawyers also may work for government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Those who handle a range of legal issues without specializing in a particular area of law are known as general practice lawyers. These lawyers may handle criminal and civil matters related to common legal matters, such as traffic violations, wills and estate planning, and real estate negotiations.