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Career: Trial Lawyer

A Day in the life of a Trial Lawyer

Trial lawyers represent clients involved in litigation, both civil and criminal. Criminal lawyers may represent plaintiffs or defendants, the "people," or the accused. Civil litigators take the side of a party in a dispute where no crime is involved. The trial lawyer's job is to persuade a jury of the facts in a case, and to display them in a way that best supports their client's position. Each piece of evidence must be presented and disputed according to a complicated set of rules. On days out of court, trial lawyers review files and scheduling orders, contact witnesses, take depositions, and talk to clients. On court days, lawyers argue motions, meet with judges, prepare scheduling orders, select jurors, and argue cases. The preparation for a trial can take many months. Due to the tremendous cost of litigation, however, most cases settle before they ever reach trial. Trial law requires excellent analytical skills. Litigators use their knowledge of legal precedents to analyze the probable outcome of a case

Paying Your Dues

After finishing law school and passing the bar exam, new litigators put in long hours assisting senior lawyers. Typical jobs include fact gathering and legal research, "the nitty-gritty things," that are essential to a successful trial. The volume of records to sort and organize can be daunting, but well-sorted documents make it easier for the principal lawyer to present a coherent case before a jury. Eventually, beginning lawyers sit in on trials as second or third chair. They may at this point participate in conferences with judges or even prepare evidentiary arguments. This mentoring process eventually leads to responsibility for an entire case. The starting salary and experience of trial lawyers can vary greatly depending on where they work. Generally, private practice is much more lucrative than public interest law, clerking, or working in the D.A.'s office. These positions are prestigious, however. In smaller towns and smaller firms you get more responsibility and client contact early on, but the pay is much better is a large firm.

Associated Careers

People often obtain a law degree as a stepping stone to another profession; many lawyers enter business or finance. Trial lawyers sometimes become judges or seek public office-most senators and a number of presidents have had a legal background. Some people also teach law once they have an expertise. The competition is stiff and the money is not as good as in big-city private practice, but the hours are better.

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