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.


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

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(159) If lawyers begin outsourcing work to robots and artificially intelligent programs, will this lead to ethical issues of the unauthorized practice of law? (160) Normally, non-lawyers cannot perform legal tasks.
Denckla, Nonlawyers and the Unauthorized Practice of Law: An Overvieiv of the Legal and Ethical Parameters, 67 FORDHAM L.
(210) Even the Federal Trade Commission believes that the competition that these websites provide is better for consumers and has therefore hesitated to describe the services offered by these sites as the unauthorized practice of law. (211) And there is the "access to justice" conundrum: the provision of these services, whether they are legal services per se, or not, are arguably better than no services at all.
1973) (holding the publication of "divorce yourself kits" not to be an unauthorized practice of law, but finding that lay author had committed unauthorized practice by giving personal legal advice to purchasers of his kits).
The prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law provides a clear benefit to the legal system.
As an initial matter, this Comment heavily revolves around the legal doctrine of the unauthorized practice of law. The practice of law is established by state law and often varies from state to state.
USLegal protects itself against charges of unauthorized practice of law
If these actions are the unauthorized practice of law, is the client denied the benefit of receiving advice from accountants, actuaries, and plan specialists who are experts in their fields?
It appears that filing services have considered this question and claim that this is not the unauthorized practice of law. In June 2004, an advertisement on the AICPA's indicated that a CPA can avoid the unauthorized practice of law by following four simple steps:
The Supreme Court of Ohio is also stepping up enforcement, and has issued a substantial number of new opinions imposing sanctions for the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).
Returning to the topic of the unauthorized practice of law, the central issue must be: What is it?

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