There are four principal subgroups in the legal profession: lawyers in private practice, lawyers in government service, lawyers who work for corporations or other private businesses, and the judiciary. In the United States, about three-quarters of lawyers are in private practice, while the remainder work in government, private industry, and many other settings: the judiciary, educational institutions, legal-aid programs, private associations such as unions, and other special-interest organizations. In career patterns, self-image, and sheer numbers, lawyers in private practice constitute the central group of the American legal profession from which other types of practice are branching out. These lawyers generally work as either individual practitioners or members of law firms. The next section will consider the private practice of law in the context of solo and firm practitioners.

Private Practice

Contrary to the popular image that is reinforced by television (Rapping, 2004), only a small proportion of lawyers engage in litigation. Instead, they perform many other tasks and roles. One role that private practice lawyers perform is counseling. Attorneys spend about one-third of their time advising their clients about the proper course of action in anticipation of the reactions of courts, agencies, or third parties. Another role is negotiating, both in criminal and in civil cases. Plea bargaining is an example of negotiation and is widely used in criminal cases; pretrial hearings and conferences in attempts to reach a settlement and avoid a costly trial illustrate the negotiating role of lawyers in civil cases. Drafting, the writing and revision of legal documents such as contracts, wills, deeds, and leases, is the “most legal” of a lawyer’s role, although the availability of standardized forms for many kinds of legal problems often limits the lawyer to filling in the blanks.

In additional roles, litigating is a specialty, and relatively few lawyers engage in actual trial work. Much litigation in the United States is generally uncontested in cases such as debt, divorce, civil commitment, and criminal charges. Some lawyers also engage in investigating. In a criminal case, for example, the defense attorney may search for the facts and gather background information in support of the client’s plea. Finally, lawyers take part in researching—searching, for example, for precedents, adapting legal doctrine to specific cases, and anticipating court or agency rulings in particular situations.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >