If you’ve been watching Law & Order reruns, you might have a slightly distorted idea of what it’s like to be a lawyer. Typical lawyers don’t spend every day making impassioned speeches in front of juries and they don’t often track down killers and accompany police on stakeouts. If you’re interested in working as a lawyer, it a good idea to see what their days usually include.
As a brand-new lawyer, you’re going to work more hours than those who’ve been with a firm for 20 years. Depending on the type of law you’re practicing, and the policies of your firm, you may work as many as 70 hours per week. Large law firms have locker rooms where employees can shower and dress and some even have small rooms with cots for new associates to catch a few hours of sleep.
However, if you’re working for a smaller firm, you may be working a much more normal schedule of 40-50 hours. Keep in mind, though, that the first few years of any lawyer’s career are crucial. You’ll want to make a great impression and will be on a very steep learning curve, so putting in extra hours—whether they’re billable hours or just hours doing extra research at home—should be expected.
Daily Tasks at Work
Your daily tasks will vary depending on your area of law. A typical day for most lawyers includes:
Research. Lots of research. Lawyers carefully study the details of each case, look for precedents and take detailed notes. You may have a paralegal to assist you, but you’ll still be doing plenty of reading.
Writing. You’ll be writing documents, responses, briefs, letters and plenty of emails.
Studying. Just because you’ve finished law school doesn’t mean you won’t be studying. When preparing for a hearing, you’ll spend hours reviewing the case file and the research you completed, which may include dozens of pages of notes that you’ll have to be familiar with in order to represent your client.
Phone calls. You’ll spend time on the phone with clients, court clerks, other lawyers in your firm, opposing lawyers in other firms and your boss.
Court appearances. Though just 1% of civil cases go to court, depending on your field you may be in court fairly often. Unlike Law & Order, where the attorneys show up just moments before the judge enters, you may find yourself waiting around for an hour before the judge arrives, only to find that the opposing side asks for a continuance, which means that you’ve just spent two hours at court without getting anything done on the case. Once a trial is underway, you’ll spend up to 8 hours inside the courtroom.
Meeting with Clients. Some lawyers meet clients more than others. For instance, an associate in a small family law practice may have several client meetings every week; whereas a jr. associate in a huge corporate firm may not meet with a client for months.
Before you apply to law school, you’ll need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This standardized test is only offered four times per year, and you must travel to a testing center in order to take it. In order to take the test, you must first register for a test date. Here’s how:
Choose a Test Date
The LSAT is offered in October, December, February and June every year. Most law schools suggest taking the test in June or October to apply during the following spring; it takes awhile to receive your LSAT score. Students taking the test in June have the opportunity to retake it in October and still meet spring application deadlines.
Register in Advance
You must register for the LSAT; there are no walk-ins allowed. The registration deadline occurs about one month prior to the test. Late registrations are allowed up to two weeks prior to the test, but if the test is full your registration won’t be accepted.
Where to Find Registration Dates and Locations
The Law School Admission Council oversees the LSAT. Their website lists testing locations, dates and times.
Create an Account with LSAC
Before you can register to take the LSAT, you’ll need to create an online account with the Law School Admission Council. You’ll provide basic information and create a username and password to access your account. Once you have an account set up with LSAC, you’ll be able to register for the LSAT, register for law school forums, use LSAC’s credential assembly service, get your LSAT score via e-mail, and apply online to law schools.
Three Ways to Register
You may register for the LSAT by one of three methods:
Once you’ve registered for a test, you cannot withdraw your registration and then reregister for the same test date later.
Every state offers multiple testing locations. The test is administered at a university or college. When you register, you’ll choose a testing location. Not all locations are available for all dates and some locations fill up faster than other. You’ll want to register as early as possible in order to obtain a seat at your preferred location.
Your Admission Ticket
Once you register, you’ll receive an admission ticket. If you register online, you may print your admission ticket at home; otherwise you’ll receive it in the mail. You must present an admission ticket when arriving at your testing location.
You can’t take the LSAT more than 3 times in a 2 year time period. The Law School Admission Council notes that they may make exceptions under, “significant extenuating circumstances.”
If you’re already attending college as an undergraduate, you’re aware that higher education isn’t cheap. Costs continue to rise as public universities struggle with more students and less federal and state money. If you’re considering law school, you should be aware of the costs.
Tuition between law schools varies widely. Tuition at top tier schools, which include some Ivy League universities, can be more than double than that of state universities. U.S. News and World Report issues a Best Law Schools report annually, which includes ranking and current tuition.
Here’s a sampling from the 2013 report of tuition costs for several full-time programs at schools ranking at the top, in the middle and at the bottom:
Ranking Doesn’t Always Dictate Cost
Though the top three law schools certainly have some of the highest tuitions, ranking doesn’t always dictate tuition. One of the lowest ranking schools, the University of San Francisco, has tuition rates much higher than many schools with better rankings.
The ranking of the law school you choose can make a big difference when it comes time to find your first job—those who have attended top tier schools will often be first in line for the highest paying positions. However, that’s not to say that attending other schools keeps you from getting a great job. Talk to the admissions offices at the schools you’re interested in about where they’ve placed their graduates.
Other Cost Factors of Law School
In addition to tuition, you’ll need to pay for living expenses while attending law school. Many schools insist that students do not work, at least during their first year. Law school is rigorous and requires many hours of study outside the classroom, so earning money by working during school may not be feasible.
The cost of living varies widely from state to state. Living in Boston is much more expensive than living in Boise. Make sure to check out housing when considering the costs of law school—both on-campus and off.
If you’ll be traveling home very often, the cost of travel may factor into your costs. Attending school in your hometown, or in a nearby state allows you to see family and friends more often—living across the country requires airfare.
Keep in mind that some state schools charge more tuition for out-of-state students—up to 1/3 more. Students typically achieve in-state status after 12 months of living in the state. If you plan on attending a school that calculates tuition by residency, it’s wise to move to that state as soon as possible.