Blog Post

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Have you ever wondered, what does a lawyer do? If so, you are not alone. Did you know that the U.S. holds a whopping 70% of the world’s lawyers? Given how popular the legal profession is in this country, it’s only natural that one is curious about what the job description entails. 

The truth is, the job of a lawyer is hard to summarize succinctly. Lawyers do all sorts of legal work and provide a wide array of legal services to a variety of clients. As great as “Suits” is, the show doesn’t paint a holistic picture of a lawyer’s work by any means. There are plenty of lawyers that hardly ever find themselves on trial or in court. 

If you’re asking yourself what does a lawyer do you’ve come to the right place. This article will explain the ins and outs of the legal profession to help you understand exactly what lawyers do. 

Becoming a Lawyer  

The process of becoming a lawyer can be long and arduous. Lawyers are highly-educated and endure years of legal training. After they earn a  bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctorate (J.D.), a lawyer must pass a state bar examination to begin to practice law.  

Necessary Skills 

The extensive education lawyers undergo arms them with the skills required to succeed in their work. Some of the most critical skills in high-quality legal representation include:

  • Research 
  • Strong written communication
  • Verbal communication and public speaking
  • Negotiation 
  • Client service
  • Critical reasoning and analysis
  • Time management
  • Ability to work under high pressure
  • Ability to multitask 

Key Duties 

Whether on behalf of an individual, a company, or a government agency, a lawyer is an advocate. Their job is to provide counsel and representation to their clients. Although legal professionals’  duties may differ depending on the nature of a client or a case, many lawyers engage in either some or all of the following general activities: 

  • Conferencing with clients 
  • Reviewing casework 
  • Conducting legal research and collecting evidence
  • Interpreting laws and regulatory systems
  • Meeting with other relevant parties in a given case
  • Drafting legal documents
  • Processing and filing paperwork
  • Providing counsel on legal rights or obligations
  • Negotiating on behalf of clients
  • Developing arguments 
  • Litigating and going to trial

Though the job of a lawyer is an important one, it is not always glamorous. Much of a lawyer’s work is done outside of a courtroom and involves substantial research, routine paperwork, lots of writing, and constant emails or phone calls. 

Different Laws, Different Lawyers 

While the foundational skill-sets and the ability to navigate complex legal procedures apply to all categories of lawyers, a universal job description doesn’t really exist. A lawyer’s work can be drastically different across areas of legal practice. For example, a day in the life of a defense lawyer is worlds away from that of a corporate lawyer.

There are so many different areas of law to practice that it would be exhausting to detail all the categories and subcategories of attorneys. However, the following will outline some of the most critical distinctions between different practice environments and legal fields. 

Criminal Law vs. Civil Law 

Criminal law deals with cases involving litigation against individuals, groups, or businesses being charged with crimes by the government. The two main types of criminal lawyers are prosecutors, who represent the government, and criminal defense lawyers, who represent the criminal defendants. Due to the nature of their casework, criminal defense lawyers tend to spend more time on trial and in state, federal, or appeals courts than attorneys working in other practice areas with other intellectual property. 

Civil law deals with legal disputes between non-governmental entities. Civil lawyers may work in transactional practice or litigation. Transactional lawyers are seldom in courtrooms. Instead, they file legal paperwork in cases like mergers and acquisitions, contracts, private equity, and real estate transactions. 

On the other hand, litigation lawyers deal with civil lawsuits and adversary proceedings. They are either a plaintiff, who initiates the filing of a lawsuit, or a civil defense attorney. Examples of civil law cases include contract violations, property damage, personal injuries, divorce proceedings, and more.

There is an overwhelming amount of civil laws, and, correspondingly, civil lawyers specialize in several different fields and industries. Some of the different types of civil lawyers include: 

  • Employment lawyer
  • Bankruptcy lawyer
  • Intellectual property lawyer
  • Business lawyer
  • Personal injury lawyer
  • Family lawyer
  • Immigration lawyer 
  • Civil rights lawyer
  • Entertainment lawyer

Public Interest vs. Private Practice

Public-interest lawyers concern themselves with the interests of the general public. They provide legal services to underrepresented, vulnerable, or disadvantaged populations. They may be employed by a government agency, nonprofit, or other organization providing legal aid. 

Generally, they work in civil law as advocates in cases revolving around social policy, civil liberties, public health, corporate or government abuse, job discrimination, and a number of other legal matters involving the protection of public welfare. However, public-defender attorneys are a type of criminal lawyer who provides counsel to those otherwise unable to afford legal help. Learn more about how much do lawyers cost to see if you can afford top-quality representation.

Private-practice lawyers represent individuals or businesses in the private sector. Their casework is often concerned with corporate law and commercial profit. Under this umbrella, there are two main subcategories, in-house counsel and outside counsel. In-house counselors work within the legal departments of corporations and organizations, advising companies on business matters, regulations, and obligations, etc. Outside counselors work at law firms that take on a range of private clients.  Now that you know what a lawyer does, you can learn how to choose a lawyer that’s right for you.


“This blog article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for client- and fact-specific legal advice from a qualified attorney.”



Balance Careers. The Ins and Outs of Working in a Corporate Legal Department.

Upcounsel. Different Types of Lawyers: Everything You Need to Know.

Balance Careers. Public Interest Law.

Law Careers. What Lawyers Do.

UMass Amherst. Legal fields and practice areas.

College Grad. Lawyers.

Have Questions?