What’s the difference between a trial lawyer and a vulture? The trial lawyer gets frequent flyer miles. What do you call five thousand dead trial lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. What do trial lawyers and sperm have in common? One in three million has a chance of becoming a human being.
It’s true, trial lawyers get a pretty bad rap. And with the cost of legal fees alone in this struggling economy, it really is no surprise that trial lawyers are accused of highway robbery… by the actual highway robbers they are defending.
But bad reputation and extraordinary expenses aside, trial lawyers are pretty important peeps within our judicial system. They take the facts of a case, be they good, bad, or ugly, and display them in a way that best supports your position to a judge and/or a jury. “But why can’t I just tell the judge my side of the story?” you ask. Because in order to level the playing field in the courtroom, everyone must play by a certain set of complicated rules. Lawyers and judges spend years studying, learning, and applying those complicated rules. And representing yourself in court without knowledge of those rules would be akin to hopping on the next jet plane to London and deciding to bogart a game of Cricket without any protective gear. In other words, it would be stupid. Very, very stupid. Even Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting couldn’t pull off representing himself in court. And that guy was smaht. He was wicked smaht.
Now suppose you have decided that there is nothing more you want on this green earth than to learn the complicated set of rules and become a trial attorney. Let us be the first to simultaneously congratulate you and hide our wallets. We sincerely hope that you have an excellent sense of humor because you will be the target of many brutal lawyer jokes. And if you happen to be a female, blonde lawyer, you should probably consider a career as a part time comedian as well to help fend off all your enemies.
Aside from being willing to subject yourself to the hatred and ire of the general population, what exactly does it take to be a trial lawyer?
First of all, you have to be wicked smaht, wicked good at school, and wicked good at standardized tests. You also have to be wicked good at communicating and wicked good at listening to people. And perhaps most importantly, you have to be wicked willing to work long hours, put your personal life aside at a moment’s notice, and represent clients who you may not think deserve your representation. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to charge a lot of money to do it.
You also have to pay a lot of money to do it. In order to become a trial lawyer, you must earn a bachelor’s degree, score well on the Law School Admissions Test, apply to and get accepted to law school, and then complete your law degree. And after all of that, you get to pat yourself on the back, take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and…drum roll please…take the Bar Exam in the state in which you choose to practice law. And guess what? Should you desire to practice law in another state, most of the time you get to take yet another…drum roll please…Bar Exam. Based on current averages, you are looking at $280,788 worth of education alone, not including exam fees and the fees associated with any preparation courses you might take to prepare for said exams. Being a trial lawyer is expensive. It’s so expensive it should be criminal. Luckily it has a lot of lawyers on its side.
Once you are admitted to the Bar in your state, you can practice law. Hooray! As a trial lawyer, you have lots of options. You can represent clients in both civil and criminal litigation (by the way, litigation is just a fancy pants word for law suits). Civil cases = no crime. Civil trial lawyers will represent either the plaintiff (the person who filed the law suit) or the defendant (the person being sued). Civil trial lawyers typically work in the private sector, either for themselves or for an established law firm. Criminal trials, on the other hand = crime has taken place! Call the police! Oh wait, someone already called the police! That’s why there’s a trial! Criminal trial lawyers either prosecute or defend the accused criminal. The prosecution represents the “people” (the government) and is generally employed by the government. Criminal defense lawyers, on the other hand, represent the accused criminal and can either work for the government, for example as a Public Defender, or in private practice.
Sometimes being a trail lawyer can suck. You’re subjecting yourself to long hours and a lot of bad jokes. But then there are the upshots of fighting for justice, prosecuting bad guys, and protecting the innocent. As a trial attorney, you get to help people who are in the middle of some sort of crisis. And though they may be angry at having to pay your bills, they frequently look at you as a beacon of light in what would be an otherwise very dark night. And then there’s the super added bonus of getting to annoy your friends by condescendingly saying things like, “That would NEVER happen in a real court of law,” as you all sit around and watch Law and Order together.