Careers in Law

Rules by which society governs itself are called laws. Such rules originated with the dawn of civilization. They began as simple tribal laws, passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Eventually they developed into formal written rules known as laws.

As the population increased, society became more complex and the laws needed to govern it also became more complex. As a result, a need arose for persons to interpret the laws. We call these persons lawyers or attorneys.

A lawyer's work deals with all aspects of social, economic, political and personal life. Therefore, the variety of practice in the field of law is practically unlimited.

How to Become a Lawyer

To become a lawyer in Missouri requires a great deal of dedication and education. A prospective lawyer must first obtain a college undergraduate degree, then score highly on a Law School Admission Test to be accepted into a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. If accepted to an accredited law school, the person wishing to become an attorney must successfully complete 88 hours of graduate study leading to a Juris Doctor degree. During this time, applicants also undergo a character investigation.

After graduation from a law school, the prospective lawyer must pass a bar examination administered by the Missouri Supreme Court's Board of Law Examiners. The person desiring to become a lawyer then takes the oath of office and is issued a license to practice law by the Missouri Supreme Court. With the oath, the new lawyer becomes subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct, which are rules of ethics vigorously enforced by the Missouri Supreme Court. A violation of these rules can cause the lawyer to be suspended or disbarred from the practice of law.

Educational Background

There is no required course of study for pre-law students. However, there are courses which will be helpful to anyone desiring to enter law school. Courses such as logic and philosophy, which help to develop organized thinking patterns, are helpful. So are courses such as English, composition and speech, which develop a good facility with the language. Business courses can also prove helpful by providing one with insight into problems faced by future clients.

Other courses which might prove helpful are political science, government, accounting and psychology. Also, courses that require analytical thinking, reading and writing would be valuable. The most important things an undergraduate can develop, though, are good study habits and discipline necessary to the demands of law school.

The Practice of Law

Since law is involved in almost every aspect of our lives, the practice of law offers a wide choice of legal careers. These include the general practice of law, corporate counsel, public or governmental law, and specialized areas of legal practice.

General Practice

Many lawyers are general practitioners. This means they serve the needs of the general public in such areas as real estate transactions, contracts, family law (divorce, adoption, etc.), suits for personal injuries and other civil wrongs, criminal defense, taxes, wills and probate matters, and general business problems. While one most often pictures a lawyer in a courtroom scene, many lawyers never appear in court. Most of their time is spent counseling clients, doing research, drafting contracts and other legal documents, planning estates, drafting wills, and similar activities.

Contrary to most popular belief, lawyers prefer to solve their client's problem by negotiating a settlement out of court or, preferably, through good advice to prevent the problem. Trial is a lawyer's last resort!

Corporate Counsel

Most large corporations employ their own legal staffs. Lawyers on such staffs are referred to as corporate counsel. Corporate counsels work on the day-to-day legal problems of their company affecting its relationship with the various levels of government, other companies, customers and employees.

In addition to corporations, lawyers serve in similar positions for labor unions, trade organizations, universities and many national and international organizations.

Government Attorneys

Federal, state and local governments employ many attorneys. Most administrative agencies have full-time legal staffs. Other government attorneys serve as prosecutors, public defenders and legal aid attorneys.

Judges are also a part of the government although they constitute a separate and equal branch. Judges serve at the municipal, state and federal level.

Public Interest

Public interest law is an emerging area of legal practice. Lawyers in this field of practice work for civil rights organizations, consumer and environmental advocates, legal services offices and other organizations concerned with individual and community rights.

Specialized Areas of Practice

While lawyers in Missouri are not permitted to hold themselves out as "specialists" in any particular area of law, many attorneys limit their practice to a certain type of legal problem. Some lawyers do nothing but tax law while others concentrate on probate law, labor law, criminal defense work, personal injury cases or commercial law, to name a few.

Law Graduates in Nonlegal Fields

A law school education is a valuable education for many areas of employment. Lawyers can be found in all areas of the business and corporate sector, in not-for-profit organizations, and in educational institutions. Many people in government service have a legal education, and many consider law a useful background for those who wish to enter politics.

Because of the variety of practice, the incomes of lawyers vary greatly. Most compare favorably with the incomes of other college graduates. The extremely high incomes which are often the subject of news stories are rare exceptions and are generally found only among a few members of very large law firms. One should not choose a career as a lawyer expecting to get rich.

Legal Support Careers

The law offers other opportunities for careers besides that of a lawyer. Many of these opportunities involve interesting, well-paying and challenging positions for persons interested in the law but not wanting to devote the time or effort necessary to become a lawyer.

Legal Administrators are also sometimes referred to as law office managers. Their duties include general supervision of all law office procedures such as accounting, data management, personnel, purchasing and budget control. These positions are available in private firms, corporate legal staffs and government agencies. A high school diploma is a requisite for this position, with advanced education and experience in office management desired. Many employers are now looking for legal administrators with college degrees in legal or business administration. Job opportunities in the field are increasing and salaries are comparable to those of corporate office managers.

Legal Assistants/Paralegals serve as assistants to lawyers and are sometimes called paralegals. Their duties, formerly performed only by lawyers, include assisting lawyers in case preparation, interviewing clients and witnesses, conducting investigations, doing legal research, drafting documents and correspondence, and performing many other tasks under the supervision of an attorney.

Legal assistants work in the same varied areas of law as do attorneys, and the work can be interesting and challenging. The use of legal assistants is rapidly increasing and, therefore, the job opportunities are good. Salaries are substantially higher than those of other skilled office personnel. The career of a legal assistant is the fastest growing area of legal support careers.

There are several colleges, universities and junior colleges which offer programs for legal assistants. A high school diploma is a prerequisite for admission. Most programs last two years and offer associate degrees. Nearly three-quarters of all legal assistants in Missouri are graduates of such programs.

Legal Secretaries are often called the "good right hand" of an attorney. Their position is often comparable to that of an executive secretary in the corporate world. Their duties may vary widely, depending on the size and type of law office. These may include general clerical and reception duties as well as more sophisticated legal work somewhat comparable to that of the legal assistants. Qualifications for the position of legal secretary are higher than those for ordinary secretarial work, but the rewards, both monetary and in job satisfaction, are also higher. The demand for legal secretaries is very high and salaries are above average.

The revolution of electronics and data processing which has occurred in recent years is making it increasingly clear that legal secretaries with education or experience using word processors and computers will have a substantial advantage in the job market in years to come.

Legal Recruitment Coordinator. As law firms have grown in size, some have added legal recruitment coordinators to address the hiring needs of law firms for summer associates, new attorneys, and lateral hiring. Recruitment coordinators may handle screening of applications, scheduling of interviews, and coordinate summer employment for law firms. Recruitment coordinators may also be involved in the hiring of other personnel at a law firm. Excellent organizational skills and communication skills are important qualifications for this position.

Law Firm Marketing Director. With increased competition for clients, some law firms have hired marketing directors to assist them in becoming better known to potential clients, and to assist them in retaining current clients. A background in marketing, excellent writing skills, and a knowledge of the legal profession are important for such a position.

Advanced Legal Support Education

Persons working in the legal support field may advance their careers by taking courses, similar to those given in law schools, which are directly applicable to their jobs. A number of colleges, universities and junior colleges are now offering advanced courses for legal administrators, legal assistants, and legal secretaries. Some offer baccalaureate degrees. Information concerning these programs can be obtained from the schools listed in this brochure or from The Missouri Bar.

A Career In Law?

A career in law, whether as an attorney or as a legal support person, offers an opportunity for challenge, excitement, job satisfaction and good income. However, the competition for these jobs is keen and much hard work, effort and dedication is needed to succeed.

For instance, those wishing to become lawyers will find that there are many more students attempting to enter law schools than there are seats available for them. For this reason, the standards for entrance to law school are extremely high. Those who are successful in completing law school and passing the bar examination will also find that competition for positions as attorneys is also great. Therefore, a decision to become an attorney should not be made lightly.

While those wishing to become legal support persons will find the competition only somewhat less intense and the educational requirements easier, there are still more graduates than there are jobs. Those with demonstrated ability, motivation and a sound academic record will get the best jobs.

Before reaching a decision on a career in law, it is advisable to talk to your career counselor, or to a friend or neighbor who is an attorney or who has knowledge of or experience in the legal support field. Most attorneys and legal support persons are anxious to advise and counsel students interested in a career in law. For further information on a career in law, write to:

The Missouri Bar,
P. O. Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102

St. Louis University School of Law,
3700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108

University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law,
Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law,
5100 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110-2499

Washington University School of Law,
Lindell & Skinker Blvds., St. Louis, MO 63130