Practice of Law

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Practice of Law

The professional tasks performed by lawyers in their offices or in court on a day-to-day basis. With the growth of specialization, it has become difficult to generalize about the practice of law. Nevertheless, common elements can be identified in the disparate typical workday of, for example, a criminal defense attorney and a probate attorney.

The practice of law depends on lawyers having clients. Therefore, lawyers must spend time with clients or potential clients. In these meetings lawyers are expected to do more than just listen to their clients' concerns and desires. Lawyers must ask questions that help identity the legal issues at stake and use the answers to make an initial assessment of the case. If the legal and factual issues are simple a lawyer may be able to offer the client legal advice. If the issues are more complex or the facts are unclear the lawyer will defer offering advice. At the end of the meeting the client or the lawyer may decide they do not want to pursue the matter any further. If they agree to proceed, however, the client will often sign a retainer agreement that specifies what the lawyer will charge and how payments will be made.

Once a legal problem or issue has been identified the lawyer must act on the client's behalf and research the law of the state or jurisdiction. If the client wants a will or contract prepared, the lawyer will draft the document. If the client has a dispute with a party, the lawyer may contact that party or the party's attorney, to discuss the situation. If the problem cannot be resolved informally the lawyer may file a civil lawsuit with a local court and begin the litigation process. These types of actions are mirrored in the Criminal Law, where prosecutors represent the state and defense lawyers represent those persons charged with crimes. If a criminal matter cannot be resolved through a plea bargain, the case must be tried in court.

The practice of law is most public when a matter is tried before a court. In both civil and criminal hearings and trials, lawyers must understand rules of procedure and evidence. Lawyers select jurors, challenge the introduction of evidence, make arguments to the judge and jury, propose jury instructions and do whatever is necessary to represent their clients. Lawyers also may file appeals on behalf of their clients if they lose in the trial court. Appeals require the preparation of a brief and oral argument in front of appellate judges.

An overlooked part of the practice of law is the collection of money on behalf of the client. Once a court issues a final judgment awarding damages, court costs, and attorneys' fees, an attorney must secure payment from the other party. If the party fails to pay the judgment the attorney can garnish the wages of the party and attach the party's Personal Property in order to obtain the money to which the client is legally entitled.

Further readings

Bogus, Carl T. 2001. Why Lawsuits are Good for America: Disciplined Democracy, Big Business, and the Common Law. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Foonberg, Jay G. 1999. How to Start and Build a Law Practice. 4th ed. Chicago: American Bar Association.

Hobson, Wayne K. 1986. The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930. New York: Garland.

Walton, Kimm Alayane. 2000. What Law School Doesn't Teach You … But You Really Need to Know. New York: Harcourt Brace Legal and Professional Publications.

Cross-references

Attorney-Client Privilege; Attorney Misconduct; Canons of Ethics; Ethics, Legal; Lawyer; Legal Malpractice; Professional Responsibility.

References in periodicals archive ?
CODE [section] 6126 (West 2003) (defining unauthorized practice of law as a misdemeanor); CAL.
Although the consumer protection issues are important, and lurking underneath questions about the unauthorized practice of law are always concerns about consumer protection, we will now turn specifically to the unauthorized practice of law issue; that is, do the services these sites provide constitute the unlawful unauthorized practice of law?
however, interesting to note with respect to the leading New York cases that in Alfani no reference was made to any form being used for generating the bill of sale the preparation of which was found to be the unauthorized practice of law.
One effective solution to preventing the unauthorized practice of law is to give specific guidance to the paralegals.
application of Missouri's unauthorized practice of law principles
5 argue the broad definition is not based on evidence, does not protect legal consumers as predicted, and that a simpler definition--like, "the unauthorized practice of law is saying one is a lawyer when one is not"--should be sufficient.
and foreign laws and regulations regarding the unauthorized practice of law, legal document processing and preparation, legal plans, privacy and other matters.
Did the court rule correctly (or consistently) in Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee v.
If any of these post-filing tasks are completed by the CPA, this could be deemed to be the unauthorized practice of law, even under the advertisement's definition.
The issue recently made headlines when the Ohio Supreme Court fined a Piqua tax services company $20,000 in December 2005 for the unauthorized practice of law.
We talked about how the adjusting business can be the practice of law, and not the unauthorized practice of law, wherein the adjuster will be held to the standard of a practicing attorney in the event that his negligence causes harm to an insured.
Acceptable behavior in one state may constitute the unauthorized practice of law in another state if the attorney is not licensed there.