The United States is rich in resources when it comes to lawyers. There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the US. If you are ready to join the ranks you may be wondering do you have what it takes to be a good lawyer?
The legal field is competitive. A good lawyer can make a great salary, and help people. If you are interested in this field, you will need to know what it takes to be a good lawyer.
What Type of Lawyer Do You Want to Be?
There are many different fields of law. For example, a criminal law lawyer helps people that have been accused of a crime defend themselves. This field is focused on protecting people’s rights and ensuring that proper procedures are followed.
Of course, that is not the only type of lawyer. There are lawyers that help people after they have been injured in a car accident or are dealing with medical malpractice. Personal injury lawyers also have subsets of specialists in the field.
For example, a personal injury lawyer that specializes in helping people manage workplace injuries is a work injury lawyer. They are personal injury lawyers, that have focused on compensation laws and workplace injuries.
There are about 25 different types of lawyers. When you are considering becoming a lawyer choosing which field you will specialize in is a good place to start. Part of learning what it takes to be a good lawyer is understanding what your chosen specialty field requires you need to know.
For example, let’s say you are interested in becoming a criminal defense lawyer, there are components to this type of lawyer that you would not have to worry about if you planned on becoming a corporate lawyer. As a criminal defense attorney you would:
- Defend people against crimes that you found abhorrent. Sex crimes, assault, and other crimes can be enough to make you feel nauseous, but if a client hired you, no matter what your personal feelings were it is your duty to defend them.
- Have to be able to speak publicly well. Defense attorneys have to get up in court and speak before an audience. It can be nerve-wracking at first and take some time to perfect.
- Need to have a strong understanding of the law for the area you practice in. What you learn in law school is general legal information. When you graduate and pass the bar you will need to be committed to learning all the local rules and law in the area that you practice.
Of course, each area of law has its own set of requirements. What it takes to be a good lawyer largely depends on what area of law you choose. If you choose criminal defense what it takes to be a good lawyer will be far different than if you choose to focus on corporate law or tax law.
Law school is graduate school. That means you have to have a Bachelor’s degree. You do not need to have a BA in criminal justice to get into law school, although many students do take that route. Your undergraduate degree can be in any subject when you apply to law school.
As a matter of fact, sometimes having an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field can help to move you to the top of the list to get into law school. For example, let’s say your goal is to become a family law attorney, if you had an undergraduate degree in social work or psychology that may help to make you stand out candidate.
Law school is competitive, and it is a process to get in. You will need to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and receive a score of at least 160 to get the attention of the top-ranking law schools. Regardless of what type of law you plan on practicing, you will have to take the LSAT, go to law school, then pass the BAR.
There are only four states that allow you to become a lawyer without having gone to law school. California, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia will allow you to take the BAR exam without going to law school. However, you do have to do a lengthy apprenticeship in order to qualify to take the BAR in these states.
If you are wondering if I have what it takes to be a good lawyer you really have to start by evaluating your ability to take and pass the LSAT, and then spend the time that you need to spend in law school. It is a big commitment and you will need to evaluate if you are ready to put in the work.
All lawyers start on the same path. Whether you want to be a workers compensation lawyer or a criminal defense attorney, you will need to take the same basic steps as everyone else that is on track to becoming a lawyer.
The Right Character
While you are in law school you will hear a lot about developing the right character to be a lawyer. When you are ready to take the BAR exam you will need to provide character references. You will need to supply a criminal background check, and your credit report will be considered.
Why do you need to provide so much information to take a test? The answer is simple. It all falls under what it takes to be a good lawyer. If you are going to become an officer of the court, you must have a good reputation, and be a person of good character.
Lawyers are entrusted with a lot of information about individuals, they are also entrusted by the court to move in an ethical manner. They are expected to be honest and trustworthy. There are times when an attorney’s word is enough for a court to make a decision.
For example, you are a criminal defense attorney, and your client that was supposed to be in court was injured in an accident. On your word regarding the situation, the court continues the case. The bail bond agent continues the bond, and your client can recuperate. Typically, if a defendant does not show up on their court date, and they do not have a lawyer stand up for them, their bond will be revoked, and a warrant will be issued for their arrest.
In the above scenario, it is assumed that the lawyer is of good moral character and would not lie to the court. One of the key components of what it takes to be a good lawyer is building a reputation for honesty.
Your character plays a big role in whether you have what it takes to be a good lawyer. You can be banned from taking the BAR, and therefore be banned from becoming a lawyer if:
- You have relatively new convictions on your record. Let’s say you have a DUI conviction that you got in law school. This may not completely ban you from taking the exam but it can require a lot of explaining and a lot more paperwork.
- You have a felony conviction. Some felony convictions will prevent you from taking the BAR or being admitted to the BAR if you do take the test.
- You are in a state that is strict about credit problems. Typically, credit problems are not enough to keep you banned, but credit problems combined with other issues can.
Becoming a lawyer has a lot of moving parts to it. You have to go to law school and get your JD (except in California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington). You have to prove that you have good moral character, and you have to pass the BAR exam.
You Made It
You were able to get accepted to law school, you earned your JD, you took the BAR, and now you are a lawyer, there is still more work to do. If you do not have what it takes to be a good lawyer and attract clients to your services, success will remain out of reach.
Now is where the real work starts. You thought getting through graduate school and taking the BAR was tough, in many cases, it pales in comparison to developing what it takes to be a good lawyer in the real world.
A love of the law helps in developing what it takes to be a good lawyer. Staying on top of the ever-changing laws, developing people skills, and winning cases are what it takes to be a good lawyer. Whether you are an accident attorney or a corporate lawyer, you will need to polish your skillset to make it to the top of the heap.
One of the best ways to develop what it takes to be a good lawyer is to work with good lawyers that are experienced. When you first become a lawyer, there is still a lot to learn. What you learned in law school is a theory, what you learn after you pass the BAR is application.
Finding an experienced lawyer that is willing to take you under their wing can help to show you the ropes, and hone your skills. Working with experienced lawyers can give you a tremendous advantage in developing your law career.
Before you hang out your own shingle, spend some time working for an established firm that is willing to help you gain the experience you need to build what it takes to be a good lawyer. It the big scope of things it is time well spent. The legal field is like any other industry, you have to start on the bottom of the wrung to work your way up the ladder.
Above and Beyond
As mentioned earlier in this article, there are a lot of lawyers in the US. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd and attract clients? Sometimes what it takes to be a good lawyer is not your legal IQ but your emotional quotient.
Going above and beyond for clients like connecting them with bail bonding services that they can trust, or making that phone call to assure your client even after hours, can make a world of difference in how clients view you and more importantly how they review you. Word of mouth is one of the quickest advertising tools. When you exceed clients expectations by taking the time to provide personalized services, they will recommend you to friends and family members.
Remember we talked excessively about moral character? Displaying good moral character traits when you are working with your clients will go a long way in helping you to build a client base. Always be honest, upfront, and never inflate or promise potential outcomes.
Clients will appreciate and refer you more if:
- You are committed to 100% transparency. Your client makes the choices you just give them the options. It is important that you are 100% transparent with them about the good and the bad things that affect their case.
- You are communicative. One of the most registered complaints about lawyers is that they are very hard to reach. Set your calendar up so that you have the time to return phone calls and reach out to clients.
- You are empathetic and move with compassion. If someone has to hire a lawyer they have a problem. While it may not seem like a big problem to you, to them it can be a tremendous weight. Being empathetic to their situation can go a long way in endearing your services to them.
Many times what it takes to be a good lawyer has little to do with your legal abilities and more to do with your ability to connect on a human level. As a lawyer, you are viewed by your clients as an authority figure. Delivering personalized services can help you to find the success that you are after.
After reading through this article, you can ask yourself do I have what it takes to be a good lawyer, and have an honest answer. Good luck on your journey. With a little effort, you can have what it takes to be a good lawyer, and reach your goals.