You want to be a what?

You want to be a what?

Read this if you’ve ever thought of becoming a lawyer

By A.J. Wagner

So you want to be a lawyer?

So you want to be a lawyer?

I love to have people tell me that they are thinking of becoming a lawyer. First, because I am flattered that people still want to join the ranks of this very privileged field. Second, because I get to ask them the question, “Why?”

Many will tell me of their favorite episode of Law and Order: SVU that inspired them. Television shows about lawyers are probably the single largest recruiting factor for law schools. When an attorney show becomes popular, law school applications jump.

Others make it clear that money is their interest. Although some attorneys make a lot of money, most don’t. The Dayton Bar Association actually has a fund set up to assist struggling lawyers.

My favorites are the ones who tell me in one form or another that they want to change the world. Perhaps they want to work to represent immigrants, or refugees, or poor neighborhoods. Perhaps politics is in their future or maybe a judgeship.

There are many reasons to become a lawyer, but how does one make the dream a reality?

It all starts with school. In order to become a lawyer in Ohio, a person needs a bachelor’s degree and a degree from an accredited law school. To get into law school, one needs good grades from their undergraduate studies and a good score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

After completing law school there is another hurdle — the background check. The Board of Bar Examiners will ask you to fill out an extensive application, asking about schooling and any discipline you may have ever received. Any blemish on a record will require explanation and proof of rehabilitation. A man convicted of murder became a lawyer after proving to the satisfaction of the Board that he was totally rehabilitated. Yet, another who failed to pay his bills, and had no adequate plan to do so, was denied the ability to become a lawyer.

Once a person passes the scrutiny of the Board of Bar Examiners, the bar exam must be passed. The pressure to pass the exam is immense when one realizes that three years of law school, three years of tuition, three years of not working for money and your entire future hinge on a few days of essay questions and multiple-choice questions. I added to the pressure by watching my oldest daughter come into the world the day before I left for the bar exam. That’s another story altogether, but suffice it to say that life has a way of adding to the tension of the day.

Get past the bar exam and more difficulties come your way in the form of, 1) debt, and 2) the need for a job to pay the debt. So where might a new lawyer get a job?

There are many different career options for lawyers:

  • Private practice: You might “hang out your own shingle” as a sole practitioner, form a partnership with another lawyer or lawyers, or join a larger law firm. The size of a private firm varies greatly — from a one-person practice to a firm that employs hundreds of lawyers. You may have a general practice, which means you would handle a wide variety of legal matters, such as divorce, real estate, criminal law and estate planning.
  • Government law: As a government lawyer on the local, state or federal level, you may represent a government agency in court, draft regulations or ordinances or advise a governing body about policy matters.
  • Corporate law: Many large businesses have their own lawyers (“in-house counsel”). These lawyers may handle a wide variety of legal issues such as labor and employment, contract, or intellectual property matters.
  • Public interest law: Lawyers who choose this field help to provide representation to those who are unrepresented or underrepresented in the legal process, such as the poor, who may not have access to courts or administrative agencies. Local legal aid societies are, perhaps, the most recognizable, but not the only organizations that serve the public interest.
  • Teaching: Lawyers may teach law and law-related courses (such as business law and law enforcement) at colleges and universities, or they may serve as law librarians, editors or administrators.
  • Military service: The armed services employ lawyers in their military legal offices. Military practices may provide a wide variety of legal experiences as well as travel opportunities.
  • Judiciary: Lawyers who have been in practice for a specified period of time (generally six years in Ohio) may wish to serve the public as a judge. Judges preside over criminal and civil court proceedings. Ohio judges are elected.

Other fields: Some lawyers are licensed to practice law, but choose, either initially or later in their work lives, to go into fields such as advertising, politics, accounting, business, journalism, education or banking.

© 4/1/2008
Ohio State Bar Association

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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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