Lawyers and Their Services

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Lawyers - also called attorneys or counselors - act as both advocates and advisors in our society.

  • As advocates, lawyers 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 concerning their legal rights and obligations and suggest particular courses of action in business and personal matters.

Formal requirements to become a lawyer usually include a four-year college degree, three years of law school, and passing a written bar examination.  To practice law in the courts, a person must be licensed by the association of members of the legal profession – “admitted to its bar” - under rules established by the jurisdiction’s highest court.

California has more than 150,000 practicing lawyers.  A significant number of them work for the government as prosecutors, public defenders, research attorneys in the courts, and so on.  Others are employed full time by a single client, such as a corporation.  Some lawyers work for legal aid societies—private, nonprofit organizations established to serve disadvantaged people.  Some work in law schools, or in other relevant fields.

Most lawyers, however, are in private practice, concentrating on criminal or civil law.

  • Attorneys dealing with civil law assist clients with litigation, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles, and leases.
  • In criminal law, lawyers represent individuals who have been charged with crimes and argue their cases in courts of law.

No matter for whom they work, all attorneys are trained to research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the law to the specific circumstances faced by their client.  In addition to skills in legal research, a lawyer will usually have:

  • familiarity with courtroom rules and procedures;
  • an understanding of when a witness is needed, and how he or she should be prepared for a trial;
  • an understanding of when an expert, consultant, or investigator is needed – where to find such a person, and how much is reasonable to pay; and
  • experience with different strategies for effective presentation of a case in court.

Generally, lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law.  They may specialize in trial law (civil or criminal), appellate law (helping clients who seek to reverse or to uphold lower court decisions), bankruptcy law, trusts and estates, tax law, corporate law, elder law, family law, employment and labor law, etc.  When working with a lawyer, it is important to know his or her specialty.

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