The Nature of Work for Lawyers

23 Jan The Nature of Work for Lawyers

The law profession is often seen in terms of the popular conception, with TV and film prosecutors and defense attorneys at the front of the mind when people think about what it is that lawyers do. The truth of the matter is that lawyers do work in nearly every sector of business, non-profit work, and government. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nature of work for lawyers can be as varied as nearly any other profession; a Juris Doctor degree and bar exam passage brings many options.

As one of the pioneering online distance learning law schools, Abraham Lincoln University would like to present the nature of legal work for aspiring students.

What Lawyers Do

At its most basic, what lawyers (often also referred to as attorneys) do is to link the legal system to society, acting as both advocates and advisors. As advocates, attorneys represent parties in criminal and civil trials, presenting evidence and arguing in court. As advisors, lawyers counsel clients of legal rights and obligations.

More detailed aspects of a lawyer’s duties depend upon the field of specialization. Although all lawyers may represent parties in court, many never do appear in court, and even trial lawyers, whose specialization is in the courtroom, spend the majority of time outside of it, conducting research.

The majority of lawyers are in private practice, concentrating on either criminal or civil law:

  • Criminal Law: Lawyers represent individuals who have been charged with crimes and argue their cases in front of a court of law.
  • Civil Law: Assisting clients with litigation, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles and leases.

Within civil and criminal law, attorneys may specialize in a number of areas, including bankruptcy, probate, international, elder, and environmental law. One of the largest growing fields is that of intellectual property law.

Occasionally, lawyers are employed full-time by a single client, which can be an individual or a corporation. These attorneys are often referred to as “house counsel.”

In the non-profit sector, there are lawyers who focus primarily on public interest cases in both the civil and criminal realms. Legal aid societies primarily handle civil cases, but will occasionally move into the criminal realm (such as pro bono work in legal defense).

State, federal, and local governments are among the largest employers of attorneys. State attorneys general, prosecutors, and public defenders in criminal courts, as well as investigators at the federal level for the Department of Justice, make up one segment of the legal profession within government. Another segment is more focused on developing programs, interpreting and drafting laws, and establishing law enforcement procedures.

The Work Environment for Lawyers

Just as the legal profession varies, so do the work environments for different types of lawyers. Law libraries are still a common staple for lawyers, but online databases are increasingly allowing lawyers to work from just about anywhere. Law offices and courtrooms also make up the work environment for the majority of lawyers, with salaried lawyers having structured schedules and those in private practice less so, generally putting in more hours and at irregular times.

Becoming a lawyer, one must love his or her work: among those lawyers who work full time, about 33% work more than 50 hours a week.


What lawyers do and how much they work should be something taken into consideration by anyone considering a career in the law. Learn more about the online legal education available from Abraham Lincoln University or call Admissions at (866) 558-0999.