Question: What characteristics could a teen identify that would make them likely to enjoy a legal career?
Lawyers need to be able to think like lawyers. This is a unique mindset that you develop if you go to law school. Not everyone can learn to think like a lawyer. This is something I saw both when I attended law school and when I taught first year law students.
Lawyers must have integrity and be willing and able to hold on to that integrity no matter what.
A lawyer has to have a fast mind, a willingness to look at everything dispassionately, and the ability to see both sides. A lawyer must remove her feelings from cases and be able to represent her clients zealously within the bounds of ethics and the law, regardless of whether she agrees with that client. Lawyers need to be intellectually curious, always looking for answers, finding ways to help their clients by seeking out solutions. In addition, lawyers must be quick to identify issues and able to apply the law to those issues.
Lawyers need to be able to handle stress and remain calm. They need to be able to handle a lot of work, efficiently. They need to be able to read and digest a lot of information, very quickly. They must be willing to look until they find an answer to the question, a solution to the problem. They need to be able to deal with the constant change of laws and at the moment, the change in the profession. Make no mistake, the law profession is undergoing substantial changes right now.
Lawyers must be extremely patient. For the most part, clients are upset when they have to meet with a lawyer. They are scared, and they need support. The term counselor at law is apt. Especially in family and personal injury law. Also, sometimes we have to deal with opposing counsel who aren’t particularly nice.
In some cases, most cases, lawyers have to deal with a lot of drudgery. Practicing law isn’t like it is on tv. You need to be willing to deal with both the positive and the negative aspects of being a lawyer.
It is a misnomer that we spend our time arguing, we don’t argue. We persuade, we move, we tell the stories of our clients and their situations. We convince juries to find for our clients. Litigation is very stressful. Before a trial most litigators disappear in preparation for their cases. Lawyers have to be able to handle it and it isn’t easy. That is assuming you are in litigation.
A small percentage of attorneys actually go to court. Most attorneys spend their time researching, writing, dissecting documents, drafting documents, negotiating with other lawyers and so on. There is a lot of detail, a lot of back and forth, a lot of drafting and redrafting and redrafting…and redrafting.
Law is a hard profession and it isn’t for everyone. All the same, if it is right for you, it can be extremely rewarding.
Becoming a Lawyer
The first step to becoming a lawyer is to do very well in high school and to get into the best college you can. The next step is to do very well in college and get into the best law school you can. When you get into law school you need to get the best grades you can get. It is as simple as that.
It doesn’t matter what you major in when you go to college unless you want to be a patent attorney. If you want to be a patent attorney you need a science degree.
Make sure you get a lot of writing experience, it will help you both in law school and when you are finished. That said, writing in law school is very different from writing elsewhere. All the same, if you have the basics down you will find law school easier.
Law is very competitive and the better school you get into the easier you will find it to get a job when you graduate. It is crucial that you do well in law school. The market is very tight right now. I have no idea if it will be as tight if and when you graduate from law school, but the reality is that being a lawyer is not a guarantee of financial success as it once was. There are plenty of lawyers who cannot make ends meet, who are struggling to support their families and pay off their student loans.
It is also very important that you network. Having a strong network will increase your chances of obtaining a good job during the summer after your second year of law school, which you will learn (if you go to law school) is important for having a job after law school is complete. Start your network now, it is never too soon.