Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes.
Lawyers typically do the following:
- Advise and represent clients in courts, before government agencies, or in private legal matters
- Communicate with their clients and others
- Conduct research and analysis of legal problems
- Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses
- Present facts in writing or verbally to their clients or others and argue on their behalf
- Prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds
Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors.
As advocates, they represent one of the parties in criminal and civil trials by presenting evidence and arguing in court to support their client.
As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest courses of action in business and personal matters. All attorneys research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the laws to the specific circumstances that their clients face.
To prepare for cases more efficiently, lawyers increasingly use the Internet, online legal databases, and virtual law libraries. Lawyers also often oversee the work of support staff, such as paralegals and legal assistants. For more information about legal support staff, see the profile on paralegals and legal assistants.
Lawyers may have different titles and different duties, depending on where they work.
Criminal law attorneys are also known as prosecutors or defense attorneys. Prosecutors work for the government to file a lawsuit, or charge, against an individual or corporation accused of violating the law.
Defense attorneys work for either individuals or the government (as public defenders) to represent, or defend, the accused.
Government counsels commonly work in government agencies. They write and interpret laws and regulations and set up procedures to enforce them. Government counsels also write legal reviews on agencies' decisions. They argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government.
Corporate counsels, also called in-house counsels, are lawyers who work for corporations. They advise a corporation's executives about legal issues related to the corporation's business activities. These issues might involve patents, government regulations, contracts with other companies, property interests, taxes, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions.
Legal aid lawyers work for private, nonprofit organizations for disadvantaged people. They generally handle civil cases, such as those about leases, job discrimination, and wage disputes, rather than criminal cases.
Lawyers often specialize in a particular area. The following are some examples of types of lawyers:
Environmental lawyers deal with issues and regulations that are related to the environment. They might represent advocacy groups, waste disposal companies, or government agencies to make sure they comply with the relevant laws.
Tax lawyers handle a variety of tax-related issues for individuals and corporations. Tax lawyers may help clients navigate complex tax regulations so that they pay the appropriate tax on income, profits, property, and so on. For example, they might advise a corporation on how much tax it needs to pay from profits made in different states to comply with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) rules.
Intellectual property lawyers deal with the laws related to inventions, patents, trademarks, and creative works such as music, books, and movies. An intellectual property lawyer might advise a client about whether it is okay to use published material in the client’s forthcoming book.
Family lawyers handle a variety of legal issues that pertain to the family. They may advise clients regarding divorce, child custody, and adoption proceedings.
Securities lawyers work on legal issues arising from the buying and sell of stocks, ensuring that all disclosure requirements are met. They may advise corporations that are interested in listing in the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO) or buying shares in another corporation.
Litigation lawyers handle all lawsuits and disputes between parties. These could be contract disputes, personal injury disputes, or real estate and property disputes. Litigation lawyers may specialize in a certain area, such as personal injury law, or may be a general lawyer for all types of disputes and lawsuits.
Some attorneys become teachers in law schools. For more information on law school professors, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.