Carnegie Mellon University

Exploring Careers in Law

Trying to decide whether to pursue a career in law is complicated by the difficulty of understanding exactly what a lawyer does on a day-to-day basis and how much this can vary from one lawyer to the next. Depending upon lawyers' specializations, there are differences in workload, client contact, work environment, compensation and overall quality of life. 

However, there are many options to help a potential candidate decide if this is an appropriate path:

  • Talking with or shadowing practicing lawyers, as well as lawyers who have used their law degrees in innovative and unconventional ways 
  • Attending criminal and civil trials
  • Working at law firms or in other legal contexts, such as law-related internships
  • Attending events in which attorneys discuss their specialties either directly or indirectly through the lens of current cases

These activities can provide insight into what law school is like and what lawyers do, with occasional glimpses into the complexities, difficulties and demands of the job.

Questions to Consider

If you are considering a career in law, consider the questions and responses presented below to help determine if this would be a good choice.

The practice of law is a people business. Lawyers do not only work on cases or research legal issues. A lawyer makes a living by helping people who have come for help or advice regarding personal, criminal, social or business-related problems. These clients have concluded that they cannot solve these problems on their own. Clients know that they can divulge personal or private facts to a lawyer, and that these will be held in confidence because of the principle of “lawyer-client privilege.” Usually, clients will not perceive their problems as merely ordinary but as a personal or business crises. Lawyers must enjoy working with people and must derive satisfaction from helping people work through difficult and perhaps even threatening events.

Each lawyer’s main task is to solve clients’ problems. Lawyers must be empathetic in order to fully understand the needs and concerns of their clients, but lawyers must also develop analytical skills to identify the potential legal issues that must be addressed. It is also important that lawyers formulate plans to reach results that are consistent with the desires of the clients as well as the requirements of the law.

Two vital skills of lawyers are the ability to speak and write in a clear, articulate manner. Lawyers must be able to persuade others to agree with their analysis of the facts, the requirements of the law and the best results that can be reached for all concerned parties. Lawyers must be able to educate their clients and persuade other lawyers, juries, judges or mediators. The art of communication is key to becoming a successful, competent lawyer.

To allow clients to make informed decisions, lawyers must provide them with sufficient information concerning all possible alternatives. Ultimately, clients must decide what is best. Attorneys must stay within the ethical parameters of the Code of Professional Responsibility and must be able to accept and advance the clients' decisions, even if those decisions are not the courses of action the lawyer recommends. Whether writing a will, negotiating a contract, litigating a lawsuit or settling a divorce, lawyers advocate for the personal needs, desires and goals of their clients.