A Day in the Life-Part 1
Once in a while I’ll talk to someone who says they want to be a lawyer. They ask me about trials and law school, but very few ask about the day to day work of being in business as an attorney. Unlike what the TV shows will tell you, lawyers don’t talk to juries every day.
I can’t speak for every attorney, but this office’s activities are broken down into three categories: court time, trial, and non-court time. Trial is its own post, many posts actually. I’ll cover general court activities (arraignments and hearings and sentencing and so on) in Part 2. Today I’m going to give a sampling of what I do when I’m not in a courthouse at all.
Phone Calls and Emails
A lot of my time is spent on the phone or talking to people via email. Who are these people? Anybody and everybody.
First, of course, my clients. I have a rule that any client who calls asking a question or needs a status update gets called or emailed back by the end of the day. Anyone who trusts me with their legal needs deserves timely updates and answers to their questions. It’s not always good news, but I don’t want anyone left wondering on my watch.
I also get a lot of contact from potential clients. Some people need a lawyer, and know they need a lawyer, and we set up a time to formalize the process. Some people aren’t sure they need an attorney, and so we talk about their case a bit. It turns out some of those people realize they don’t really need or want an attorney. Not everyone does. For those I wish them good luck and send them on their way. While these calls don’t turn into clients now, most of the calls are from people who appreciate an honest appraisal of their case and their options. I put the time into those calls now so when the person does need an attorney, they give some thought to my office.
I get the occasional contact from marketers. Generally unsolicited calls don’t get much respect from me, but it’s just part of the deal of owning a business.
I have lots of contact with other attorneys. I’m a member of some listserves, to stay on top of developments in my field (more on this in a bit). I spend some time each day reading and replying in these email chains. Being collegial with the local bar is important, and frankly they are a great resource on a tricky issue. I’m happy to contribute to the discussion when I can because that goes with being a part of the community.
I’ll call or email the occasional clerk in a court. Sometimes I have a question about a particular court’s procedure. And sometimes I just need to know the status of a motion I submitted.
Added up, a good portion day is spent on emails and phone calls. The numbers may change depending on practice area, but these days I don’t know any attorney who doesn’t devote a big chunk of their time to these communications.
This is similar to the above, except sometimes you need a face-to-face meeting. For example, sometimes I’ll receive photographs or an audio CD, and I’ll want to review those exhibits with a client in-person. Sometimes we need to go over testimony, which by its nature really requires personal interaction.
You know those lawyer shows where the attorney is looking through a dusty tome for some key scrap of information? Unfortunately those scenes don’t exist for a couple reasons. For one, these days lawyers do their research on the internet. But more importantly for TV writers, scenes of people doing research are really boring.
Nonetheless attorneys spend a lot of time looking at documents. Police reports, old cases, business documents, etc. Since most of my work is criminal, most of my research is done with the first two. It’s not glamorous and it’s not dramatic, but research and writing (below) are the true bread-and-butter aspects of legal practice.
My practice involves a lot of motions work, explained briefly along with other legal terms here. Again, motions are not always thrilling, but you can easily win a case on successful ones. In a recent DUI case, I successfully won motions suppressing roadside field sobriety tests and video, utterly gutting the prosecution’s case. Preparing that motion wasn’t high drama, but the client was certainly pleased with the outcome.
Other things I write include trial preparation documents, like opening and closing arguments, or jury selection questions. I also prepares “practice guides” for myself to more efficiently deal with future legal issues, i.e. not re-inventing the wheel.
A lawyer needs to understand the underpinnings of legal theories and alleged facts. This is not a place to cut corners, hence why most attorneys don’t.
Writing is the other half of the equation, and just as important as the research. Once the lawyer has done all that case scouring, the data needs to be put into digestible form.
I cannot overemphasize how important the act of communication is for the attorney. The practice of law is literally the practice of advocacy and persuasion. And the average lawyer communicates far more with the written word than the spoken one. I maintain this blog, in part, because writing is so important that even though I do some every day, I still appreciate the practice. For those prospective attorneys out there, if the idea of putting pen to paper terrifies you, a career in law is not a good fit.
Sometimes I blog.
CLE stands for Continuing Legal Education. These are mandatory training hours that every attorney in the state must do to stay licensed (every state has their own CLE requirements, but every state has them). CLEs go from quick lunchtime events to all-day deals. They come in every topic imaginable, and frankly they are an industry unto themselves.
The CLE requirements aren’t particularly prohibitive. Every lawyer gets notice of upcoming ones in their practice areas, so long as they go to them once in a while there’s no issue with maintaining the requirements. They do interfere with a day, but at the same time they provide a lot of concentrated value. For example, I might spend 2-4 hours reviewing Search and Seizure law for a case. But I could attend an all day Search and Seizure CLE and not only learn about developments in the law for future cases, I’ll also get a bunch of pre-written forms and motions to save time on my current ones.
CLEs are often taught by people who are doing a lot of cutting-edge stuff in a field of law, so it’s fun to hear them speak. It’s also fun to hang out with people who share similar practice areas. CLEs can be time-consuming and expensive, but since they are required and they are helpful, I have no problem setting aside some time each month to attend.
Administration (Taxes, Website Maintenance, Accounts)
An even less glamorous aspect to lawyering than research, as a business owner I am required to spend time each week reconciling my accounts, maintaining the website, etc. I’ll probably be paying someone to take care of the administrative stuff in the future, but right now the practice is still in a place where I can handle it. I do feel it’s important to know how the nuts and bolts of a business works, if only because it’s my business with my name on the front door.
The above is the majority of non-courtroom activities I do. But one of the benefits of being CEO is a little flexibility on where to spend my time. Sometimes I get to pick up a friend at the airport in the middle of a day, or join my wife for lunch at her office. Rank hath its privileges.
And that’s the gist of your attorney’s time away from court. Although it’s not always visible to the layperson, a lawyer’s day can be quite varied. I enjoy the variety of tasks that I’m involved with because they all lead to my goal, fighting for my clients.