Chapter 4: Lawyers

What do lawyers do?

Lawyers can practice almost any type of law they prefer. Some lawyers practice criminal law, either by defending people accused of committing crimes, or by trying to convict people they have reason to think committed a crime.

If a lawyer does not practice criminal law, he or she can practice “civil law,” which is any type of law that is not criminal law. For example, a lawyer can represent a person getting a divorce, or a person who was injured in an accident. Other lawyers, like civil rights lawyers, environmental lawyers, and constitutional lawyers, choose specialized topics to study and litigate.

Depending on the type of law they practice, some lawyers may never need to enter a courtroom. For instance, a lawyer can make contracts between two people or between two businesses, or even create wills and trusts to make sure that his or her client’s property is divided the way the client wants upon death. In those situations, a lawyer never goes to court.

Lawyers can also practice in unconventional ways. For example, lawyers can use their degrees to become agents who represent professional athletes and actors entering into contracts. Lawyers can also help make laws and policies. Finally, lawyers can also be law school professors, teaching future lawyers.

What is the average day like for a lawyer?

The average day for a lawyer depends on what kind of law that lawyer practices.  What is true for all lawyers, however, is that they must always put their client first, whether their client is a person, a company, or an organization.

For trial lawyers, their responsibilities would include appearing in a courtroom in front of a judge, investigating their case, and arguing motions. For other lawyers, their responsibilities may include research or drafting legal documents like contracts. Other lawyers may have non-traditional jobs, so their days may consist of running businesses or negotiating salaries for professional athletes.

Whatever their practice is, all lawyers that wish to practice law in Missouri have a continuing obligation to stay up-to-date on the laws they use. To do this, the lawyer has to attend a certain amount of classes and presentations each year, called Continuing Legal Education.

How do you become a lawyer?

In Missouri, there are several requirements for becoming a lawyer. First, the future lawyer must have at least a college degree.

In addition to receiving a college degree, the future lawyer has to take the Law School Admissions Test, or the “LSAT.”  The LSAT is a test that measures writing skills, reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning—all skills that will be needed for law school.

Once accepted into law school, the future lawyer will start to learn about different types of laws. Some classes, like contracts and evidence, prepare students for the “bar exam,” which is the test you need to pass to be a lawyer in Missouri. Other classes, like entertainment law and animal law, are more to help law students decide what kind of law they want practice when they become lawyers.

After three years, most students have completed law school. The next step is to take the bar exam. The Missouri Bar Exam is a two-day test held in February and July of each year. The first day of the test is all essay questions designed to test the future lawyer’s knowledge on a variety of legal subjects.

The second day tests fewer subjects, and it is comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions. The future lawyer will then wait approximately two months to get their results. If the future lawyer passes, he or she is officially able to practice as lawyers anywhere in Missouri!

by Sarah Bernard

Paid for by the Missouri Bar, Mischa Buford Epps, Executive Director PO Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102