What does a lawyer do? (Including duties and qualifications)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A lawyer is a legal practitioner who offers legal advice and services to clients during legal proceedings. They may also guide and represent their client in court hearings. Learning what a lawyer does can improve your understanding of their roles and responsibilities and help you decide whether this career interests you. In this article, we define what a lawyer is, provide an answer to the question ‘What does a lawyer do?', discuss their qualifications and skills and outline their work environment.

What is a lawyer?

A lawyer is a licensed professional qualified to offer legal advice or represent someone in legal matters. They collect facts and evidence by collaborating with clients, reviewing documents and filing pleadings in court. These legal professionals include solicitors, barristers, conveyancers, arbitrators and chartered legal executives. Law is a system of rules that society recognises and uses to regulate the actions of its members. Laws govern every aspect of daily life, making a lawyer's profession diverse. Lawyers can specialise in various fields, which may include the following:

  • business law

  • constitutional law

  • criminal law

  • health care law

  • environmental law

  • property law

  • consumer law

  • construction law

Different types of lawyer vary according to their role. These include:

  • Solicitor: A solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner responsible for representing or defending a client's interests and preparing legal documentation. They mostly meet with clients personally and handle out-of-court matters.

  • Barrister: A barrister is a lawyer or legal counsel who handles courtroom advocacy and specialist legal advice and represents clients in court. They primarily work with court-related matters in court, while a solicitor mainly deals with the clients' out-of-court legal needs.

  • Chartered legal executive: A legal executive is a legal practitioner specialising in a single law area. Their primary duties include providing legal advice in their particular field and preparing legal documents for clients.

Related: 6 law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers

What does a lawyer do?

Answering 'What does a lawyer do?' helps you learn about their roles and duties. Lawyers may advise on legal matters concerning various aspects of daily life. The duties and responsibilities of lawyers may include:

Providing legal advice and expertise

Legal advice is a professional opinion regarding a substance or procedure of the law concerning a particular situation. You can give advice in areas such as buying or selling commercial and residential properties, company mergers, marriage or divorce. You may guide your client through the legal process by letting them know what choices are available, explaining the most appropriate options, and answering your questions to obtain a favourable outcome.

Related: How to become a lawyer (including potential career paths)

Interpreting the legal implications of an agreement

You may explain the law regarding a particular agreement to a client. Interpretation may involve defining the boundaries within which the client may act and the legal consequence if they fail to comply with the agreed terms. You can consider specialising in a specific field which allows you to understand the set laws in that field and all the legal implications to provide a comprehensive service to the client.

Providing client representation during the legal process

Lawyers may have a better understanding of the legal system than a typical citizen. Having such knowledge may allow you to speak on behalf of the clients during legal proceedings. Attending meetings with the client allows you to obtain relevant information about the subject, provide appropriate guidance and prepare the client for the court hearing.

Creating a legal representative team

Consider choosing legal representatives with more experience in handling court proceedings. A legal representative team may comprise a solicitor, barrister, chartered legal executives and paralegals. A collaborative effort between a solicitor and a barrister may be essential. A barrister may have a more in-depth understanding of the court law allowing him to better argue a case in court, while the solicitor may provide instruction on how to represent or speak on behalf of the client. Having an experienced team may enable efficiency in the evidence collection, which may provide a better outcome for the client.

Related: What does a solicitor do? (Legal specialisms explained)

Doing legal research on matters related to cases

Researching case-related matters allows you to understand the clients' situation and how the laws apply to it. This research may involve studying the laws related to the case and analysing verdicts handed down in similar circumstances. Exhaustively researching the topic may allow you to develop a solid strategy to win the case.

Discussing and negotiating settlements

Instead of letting a case go to trial in court, you can discuss and negotiate settlements outside the court. It may involve listening to both parties and coming up with a compromise they both agree to as a solution. Negotiating settlements may help prevent lengthy trials allowing both parties to reach an agreement without involving courts which may save time. In situations where negotiation does not work, you may consider litigation.

Related: What is an arbitrator? (Including skills and responsibilities)

Preparing legal documents

You can help your clients draft legal documents such as wills, title deeds and partnership agreements. These legal documents may highlight the terms of an agreement between the involved parties and the legal consequences of going against the agreement. You can identify the relevant facts and laws and apply them in preparing documents to meet the client's goals.

How to become a lawyer

You may consider obtaining the following qualifications to become a lawyer:

  1. Complete secondary school: To enter law school at a competitive university, you require at least three A-levels with grades A* or A. The entry requirements for each university may vary.

  2. Earn a bachelor's degree: You can choose to study a Bachelor of Law, Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in law, which may take three or four years, depending on your location.

  3. Pass a Solicitor's Qualifying Exam: You can take this exam after completing a law degree, which intends to establish a relationship between theory and practice.

  4. Secure a two-year training contract at a law firm: This can help you gain practical experience in the field.

  5. Complete a two-year professional skill course: This involves a series of specialised training modules that a law firm may provide during your two-year training contract.

Related: The best degrees for lawyers and how to choose your degree

Essential lawyer skills

You may require various skills to perform your work as a lawyer professionally:

Organisation

Clients may store and maintain large volumes of unrelated documents during various legal processes. Adequate organisational skills can enable you to store, retrieve and update different client records with ease. Being organised helps you save time and provide professional client services that may help maintain client loyalty and build a good reputation.

Related: Essential lawyer skills for CVs (plus how to develop them)

Communication

Both written and verbal communication skills are crucial for becoming a lawyer. Representing your client in court proceedings usually requires presenting your argument in front of the court to convince it to rule in your client's favour. You can practise being audible, direct, concise and professional in your speech to improve your presentation and give you a better chance of winning your case. Sufficient writing skills can help you when drafting legal documents.

Related: What are communication skills?

Research

Research may involve scrutinising different legal documents, such as a constitution, wills, title deeds or statutes. As you build an argument supporting your client's case, citing laws that apply to the situation may be necessary. Citing applicable laws may add substance to your argument, improving your chances of swaying the court in your client's favour.

Related: Research skills: definition and examples

Problem-solving

Many legal proceedings may require you to devise a suitable solution to your client's challenges. Good problem-solving skills may enable you to outmanoeuvre your adversaries. Adequate experience allows you to develop these skills. Consider taking problem-solving courses online or at an institution that can help you improve these abilities.

Related: Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

Time management

Legal proceedings may be time-sensitive and require adherence to deadlines such as hearing dates given by the court. Good time management skills can help you effectively utilise the available time to collect facts, research and build a firm argument in favour of your client. This skill may also improve service delivery, ensuring client satisfaction.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Work environment of a lawyer

A lawyer's work environment is usually a fast-paced office where they meet clients, get approvals for legal documents, attend court hearings and do relevant research. You may spend most of your time in courtrooms, law firms and legal offices. You may also spend a lot of time in law libraries, updating yourself on new laws and recent judicial decisions. The work environment may differ for self-employed lawyers who work as consultants and may set their working hours to their convenience.

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