Do You Have What It Takes To Become a Lawyer?

As you start to explore careers in law for your future, you may find yourself asking some questions like these:

  • What’s the job description of a lawyer?
  • How do you become a lawyer?
  • What type of person typically becomes a lawyer, and do you fit the bill?
  • What are some of the different types of law you could pursue?

…and, perhaps most importantly…

  • Do you have what it takes to succeed in—and enjoy as your life’s ambition—a career in law?

If you’re seriously interested in becoming a lawyer, you probably know that careers in law are not like they’re portrayed in TV shows and movies, which usually offer a distorted—albeit dramatic and sometimes even inspiring—picture of the lawyer’s job and personality type, usually focused on high-profile trials and grandiloquent litigation, followed by heartwarming—yet narrow!—wins for the good guys.
In the real world, here are some traits you will need to both succeed at being a lawyer, and make sure your personality is suited to the task!

  • You work well with others

    That’s right—being a lawyer means working with people! Fellow attorneys, judges, court clerks, clients, etc., are all crucial to a lawyer’s job. You have to be a “people person” to succeed.
    Sure, lawyers must always have their clients’ interests at heart, but those interests are often best served by exercising effective strategy (read: compromise) with opposing counsel. Usually we see lawyers “win” or “lose” their cases in majestic, mahogany courtrooms on TV. However, the vast majority of cases are settled long before they reach a courtroom, with less than 1% of all civil cases actually proceeding to trial. Ironically, even as a trial attorney, you’ll spend a lot less time in court than you might expect, especially when you’re fresh out of law school.
    For example, a family law attorney handling a client’s divorce will ultimately need to do his or her best to work amicably with the other side to reach a fair settlement for both parties. Especially if you’re a sole practitioner, all that seemingly unrelated socializing that comes before you get to the tough negotiations can be more important than the negotiations themselves in helping things go smoothly.

  • You can persuade others

    The ability to persuade=the practice of law. Think that loving to argue means you’ll be a great lawyer? Beware of the myth that merely battling it out with an opponent somehow defines the job description of a lawyer. A key trait of a good attorney is the ability to convince others of their point of view through persuasion—both oral and written. Yes, that means that excellent writing skills can’t be underemphasized. More on this in a bit.
    We’ve all seen TV lawyers give impassioned—sometimes tearful—oral arguments in front of judges and juries, and that is what you might envision as the job of a litigator. However, you may find yourself frequently using your skills of persuasion as a criminal defense attorney, for example, with the judge and DA in chambers, outside of open court. You may need to advocate for a client who was arrested for a DUI or drug possession to be allowed to enter treatment for addiction instead of serving jail time. If so, you will ultimately need to convince those involved that this is the best course of action, both for your client and the community.
    Additionally, you need to be able to persuade in writing. For example, you will write motions to persuade a judge as to how a particular rule of law should be applied to your client’s case. You’ll need to write—and write a LOT—as an attorney. It might not be as glamorous as an awe-inspiring courtroom speech straight out of a John Grisham novel, but persuasive and effective writing is an essential skill of lawyers. And moving speeches have to be written too.

  • You are independent and self-disciplined

    This is important no matter what type of law you practice or whether you choose to be a sole practitioner or work for a law firm. Successful lawyers are independent self-starters who know how to manage deadlines effectively.
    You won’t be able to rely on a lot of hand-holding as a new attorney. You’ll have to schedule court appearances, client meetings, and filing deadlines. You’ll need to track your billable hours in 6- to 15-minute increments. You’re likely to find yourself writing your very first motion at a large firm, for example, have no idea what you’re doing, and be told by your supervisor to just “figure it out.”
    And figure it out you will—through research, research, and more research. Which brings us to….

  • You can endure the grind

    There are a lot of tedious but important tasks that go into being a lawyer. You’ll review discovery, research statutes, and spend a lot of time with your nose in dry, dull books (which would have made Elle Woods’ story in Legally Blonde a little less entertaining).
    In addition to doing heaps of research, you’ll have to answer the same client questions over and over and over again. You’ll fill out the same forms over and over and over again. If you work at a big law firm, you’ll have to do lots of grunt work for the managing partners—over and over again.
    Sometimes, to become a lawyer, you just have to put your head down, do the work, and endure until you get to those few moments that make it all worth it. You’ll get a glimpse into this aspect of the lawyer’s job when persevering through law school and preparing for the bar exam, of course. But it’s also good to know you can handle—and want to commit to—this way of life before investing thousands upon thousands of dollars in your legal education.

  • You don’t take things at face value

    This is an essential LSAT skill, too, and at least part of the reason your LSAT score is a predictor of first-year law school success, since it is relevant to the actual practice of law. Being able to recognize the key components of an argument and spot its flaws and inherent assumptions will prove critical in your future as a lawyer—both in composing your own compelling, airtight arguments and in effectively advocating for your clients by breaking down opponents’ arguments.

  • You must be able to network

    Building your network as a lawyer, both throughout law school and beyond, is immensely important, especially if you decide to go the sole practitioner route. Lawyers will build relationships with other attorneys they know and trust and refer clients to one another.
    Even if you work for a firm, you may eventually be responsible for bringing in new clients and for essentially marketing the firm, and the more comfortable you are with networking and connecting with various people (as a way of life on a day-to-day basis, not at so-called and often useless “networking events”), the more success you will find as a lawyer.

So, should you become a lawyer?

Find out more you need to know about the job description of a lawyer, different types of law, and other aspects of careers in law. Start doing your research now—you can’t get enough practice. Consider interning or working at a law office before applying to law school. Check out our list of top legal internships and get some experience—not just to check a box on your law school application, but to really figure out if being a lawyer is right for you!