Guide to the Practice of Law




What is the Practice of Law?

The practice of law involves counseling clients on legal matters, and advocating on their behalf in transactions and disputes with other individuals, businesses, and the government. These services are provided by attorneys licensed by the bar association within their home state. General practitioners are available to help clients with a variety of common issues, such as personal injuries, divorce, and criminal charges. Other attorneys restrict their practices to certain types of specialty cases, such as copyright infringements or social security disability appeals.

Hiring an attorney creates a fiduciary relationship. This means the attorney must put the client’s interests above his or her own. Attorneys are also under a duty to keep communications and other information from a client confidential, and to avoid representing anyone else whose interests conflict with the client’s interests. Such a relationship is meant to protect clients. It allows them to share information they might otherwise hold back, helping the lawyer to provide more effective representation.

Law offices range in size from a single attorney with little or no support staff, to large international firms with thousands of attorneys. Like other businesses, law offices with more than one practitioner can be established as partnerships, limited liability companies, professional corporations, and other entities as permitted by state law. Clients are either charged on a flat rate basis, or by the hour. Hourly fees are typically deducted from a source of funds known as a “retainer,” paid by the client at the outset of the representation.

Expert Legal Advice

As anyone who has been unexpectedly served with notice of a lawsuit can attest, dealing with a legal matter can be confusing, frustrating, and perhaps a bit scary. The practice of law requires attorneys to listen to the problems their clients are experiencing. Problems must be analyzed in light of the applicable legal principles, so the attorney can explain the client’s options going forward. A significant portion of the practice of law is dedicated to this exercise of providing legal advice, or “client counseling” as it is often called.

To give advice and help clients make strategic decisions, attorneys must have a solid understanding of the law, and this requires a legal education. Law schools admit only a fraction of the college graduates who apply. The curriculum takes three years to complete, followed by a multi-day bar examination consisting of 200 multiple choice questions and an extensive writing assessment. After passing the exam and obtaining a license, practicing attorneys are still required to participate in continuing education on an annual basis.

Ethical rules prohibit an attorney from taking a case involving a subject matter in which the attorney is not competent. In order to grow professionally and develop new skills, attorneys network with each other through electronic mailing lists, online discussion groups, social media, and traditional meetings and conventions. Law firms also maintain collections of research materials and subscriptions to online services such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. The goal is to keep abreast of legislation and court decisions, and to use this information to the client’s advantage.

Transactional Services

Another basic aspect of the practice of law involves drafting documents and helping clients execute personal and commercial transactions. Lawyers who engage in these activities may go their entire careers never seeing the inside of a courtroom. Common services performed by a transactional attorney include reviewing written contracts, drafting wills and other estate planning documents, applying for government benefits on behalf of a client, and forming business entities by submitting the necessary filings to the secretary of state.

Representation in Court

Contract disputes, automobile accidents, medical malpractice, and other such cases often result in litigation, meaning the parties file a lawsuit and use the court system to settle their differences. These matters are handled by attorneys who specialize in adversarial legal proceedings. Professional litigators are skilled at putting pressure on the opposing party as a means of achieving their client’s goals. They also know how to deliver persuasive arguments to trial judges, and how to win over juries by using the evidence to create empathy for their client and disdain for the other party.

A large majority of the attorneys who appear in court on a regular basis are involved in the practice of criminal law. Prosecutors work on behalf of the government, pursuing justice against people who break the law. On the other side, criminal defense attorneys represent the accused. They work to protect the constitutional rights of their clients, and to make sure the police do not overstep their bounds as they investigate wrongdoing. Much like civil litigators, criminal defense attorneys identify and attack weaknesses in the opposing side’s case, using the law to obtain the best result possible for their clients.

Deciding to Hire an Attorney

If you are unsure if the services you need fall within the practice of law, the best course is to contact an attorney to find out. Most attorneys offer free consultations in order for you to learn if you need their help. Whatever your situation may be, you are likely to discover that hiring a lawyer will make your life easier.

Copyright HG.org

Know Your Rights!

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Legal Ethics Law - US

  • ABA - Center for Professional Responsibility

    Since 1978, the Center has provided national leadership and vision in developing and interpreting standards and scholarly resources in legal ethics, professional regulation, professionalism and client protection mechanisms.

  • ABA - Ethics 2000 Commission

    The Ethics 2000 Commission was formed in 1997 to review the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It submitted a report to the House of Delegates at the August 2001 Annual Meeting. The report was debated at the August 2001 Annual and February 2002 Midyear Meetings. The changes to the Model Rules as amended during the debate were final at the end of the February 2002 Midyear Meeting.

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    This Code applies to United States Circuit Judges, District Judges, Court of International Trade Judges, Court of Federal Claims Judges, Bankruptcy Judges, and Magistrate Judges.

  • ethicalEsq - Archives

    This weblog is focused on news and developments relating to lawyer ethics, stressing the interests of the average consumer-client.

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    The email newsletter Ethics and Lawyering Today, published roughly once a month, is where practicing lawyers stay current on the many ethics rules and other law that govern how they practice.

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    LegalEthics.com is a web site focused on the ethical issues associated with the use of technology by legal professionals. It is is updated by Professor David Hricik of Mercer University School of Law and Peter Krakaur.

  • National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

    The National Client Protection Organization, Inc. (NCPO) is a not-for-profit membership corporation which was organized in May 1998. NCPO is foremost an educational resource for the exchange of information among law client protection funds throughout the United States and Canada.

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    The Boundaries of Legal Marketing is all about the rules and policies that govern client development for legal services, in short lawyer advertising, marketing, and sales. It has been an area of controversy within the organzied bar for over a century and it deserves a forum for the views to be aired.

Advertising and Solicitation

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