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What does the practice of law look like?

The practice of law looks very different depending on the field you choose, but all lawyers conduct significant amounts of legal research and draft court or client documents. The fields of law are often divided into two broad categories – litigation (lawyers who present cases in court) and transactional practice (lawyers who represent clients in various transactions such as real estate, business law, or estate planning.)

It is important to research the culture of legal practice, work hours, and benefits and when possible, observe or even experience this world for yourself before deciding to attend law school. Lawyers in private practices (those working for law firms, small to large) must bill clients to make money, and these are called “billable hours.” If you are not familiar with the term, you should search it in your web browser and review the articles on legal billable hours. May firms have billable hour requirements for their associates (attorneys who are not partners of the firm) of 1800-2200 billable hours per year. These hours dictate how many hours per day/week attorneys must spend in the office working on client-related matters. In general, the larger the firm, the more billable hours required. 

Here are some ways to learn more about the legal practice:

  • Conduct informational interviews with practicing attorneys (and always ask who the attorney recommends you speak with next).
  • Secure a legal internship (they are not required for law school but can help you understand practice).
  • Shadow an attorney for a day/week (you can learn so much from merely observing).
  • Participate in a mentoring program that pairs you with a practicing attorney.
  • Visit court for a day (most court proceedings are open to the public).
  • Attend events on campus that bring in attorneys to speak about practice.  

Katherine E. Garren, J.D.
Pre-Law Adviser
Division of Undergraduate Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
101 Grange Building
University Park, PA 16802
Email: keg146@psu.edu

Phone: 814-865-7576
Fax: 814-863-8913
Hours: 8am - 5pm (Mon-Fri, Eastern Time)

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