The typical day in a trial lawyer’s life generally starts when you wake up looking flawless and already dressed in a Burberry suit. Then you head directly to court to deliver an impassioned opening statement to a jury. You enjoy a martini over lunch and then rush back to court to deliver an equally impassioned closing statement to the same jury. Then you head out for celebratory drinks with your incredibly good looking associates. And your day FINALLY day closes out when you’re promoted to equity partner while out for said celebratory drinks. Yes, this is the typical day in a trial lawyer’s life. Provided you’re a lawyer/character on L.A. Law, of course. A day in the life of an actual trial lawyer isn’t quite as glamorous. In fact, it’s not glamorous at all. The vast majority of lawsuits are settled out of court or through alternative methods of dispute resolution. In fact, less than one percent of all civil cases actually proceed to trial.
So, if you’re a civil trial lawyer, you can expect to arrive at the office, not the courtroom, bright and early. And if you’re just starting out, you can expect to arrive even brighter and even earlier. And depending on your caseload, it’s possible that you may not have even left the office the night before. So you just may be crawling out from under your desk, rubbing the dust out of your eyes, swapping shirts, and bracing for the day. If you work at a large law firm, you might be lucky enough to have a legal secretary who will graciously grab a cup of coffee for you. If not, vaya con Dios, Homie.
Civil trial lawyers spend most of their time in the “discovery” stage of litigation. “Discovery” is a fancy legal term that is used to describe the methods used by each party in obtaining information from the other party that is relevant to their case. Snore. And discovery is, of course, governed by the aforementioned complicated set of rules. Snore some more. So instead of going to court, Boston Legal style, a civil trial lawyer actually spends the bulk of his or her time reviewing pleadings, drafting and answering discovery requests, drafting legal memorandum, drafting briefs, and taking depositions. Civil trial lawyers also spend many long hours engaged in tedious document review, gathering hundreds (or even thousands) of documents and then reviewing each and every document to determine if it must be turned over to the other party. We personally think this sounds pretty awful, but we have the attention span of a….hey look, a shiny thing! Wait, where were we? Oh yeah. If you are the type that loves writing and research, a career as a trial attorney might be just the career for you. Sure it can be mind-numbing at times, but it can also be interesting and intellectually challenging.
As a criminal trial lawyer, your cases will move much faster and you will definitely see a lot more hot courtroom action. Or at least courtroom action. As a prosecutor, you’ll have a very heavy caseload and will often be working hundreds of cases at the same time. You’ll also spend the majority of your time in court. Not all of that time will be spent in the courtroom, however. You will often find yourself frantically running around the courthouse trying to locate witnesses, police officers, and opposing attorneys for your cases.
Your day will frequently consist of drafting a few pleas, arguing a few sentencing hearings, and attending a few pretrial conferences. And then of course there will be trial days. Lots and lots of trial days. Exciting, right? Yes. And also very emotional. As a prosecutor, you will be privy to the details of some very heinous crimes. And it will be up to you to work diligently to secure justice for the victims of those crimes. You will have to decide whether to try and send someone to jail or whether to let them remain free. You will face pressure from the government, victims, and families of victims. And you will be deemed a failure if you don’t win your case. And you will be deemed the enemy if you do win your case. So the payoffs are big. But so are the pitfalls. A career as a public defender looks much the same way, except that your goal is to make sure no one is being unjustly prosecuted. No pressure, right? As for the private criminal defense attorney, your day also looks much the same way. But you also have to find time to come up with catchy phrases like, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” proclaiming your clients’ innocence.
For all attorneys, the days are long. And depending on the case, sometime the nights can be longer. Cue the violins.