Lawyers? We picture them in court defending clients. But they do other things too: most spend a lot of time negotiating or writing.
Smooth talkers in robes who spend their days arguing in court? No, not really! Lawyers do many things. Most spend more time writing or negotiating than arguing in court.
Lawyers represent their clients. They help solve clients’ legal problems, such as a divorce, being fired for no reason or being accused of a crime.
Lawyers also give advice. They answer their clients’ questions and help them understand their rights and responsibilities. For example, employers might ask a lawyer whether their human resources policies are legal.
Some lawyers act as mediators. For example, they might help parents decide custody issues after a divorce. When acting as mediators, lawyers don’t take sides. Instead, they try to help both sides reach an agreement.
Lawyers are officers of the court. This means they must have respect for the law and act with honour, dignity and integrity.
Lawyers must be able to do the following things:
- be careful, accurate and thorough, especially when giving advice
- persuade others and think on their feet, especially in court
- understand others’ concerns, especially when looking for common ground during negotiations or mediation
Lawyers can specialize in different areas of law (for example, criminal law, intellectual property, labour law, etc.). But no matter what type of law they practise, they all do similar things.
- Listen: Lawyers must listen to their clients and ask the right questions, no matter how difficult. Lawyers earn their clients’ trust by understanding their problems.
- Advise: Lawyers must know the law, explain it to their clients and recommend what they should do.
- Negotiate: Lawyers spend a lot of time trying to settle disagreements.
- Analyse: They must analyze complex documents and situations and know how to apply the law.
- Represent: Lawyers act on behalf of their clients in court and in other situations.
- Write: Lawyers write many legal documents.
Lawyers work in companies, for the government, in law firms and in non-profit organizations. Some of them work on their own.
A typical day depends on the type of law the lawyer practises. For example, some lawyers spend long hours alone at their desks, analyzing documents or doing research. Others spend a lot of time with people in court or in negotiations.
To become a lawyer in Quebec you must have a bachelor’s degree from a law school.
You then have to pass the exams given by the École du Barreau du Québec (Quebec bar school). The purpose of these bar exams is to ensure you have the skills and knowledge to practise law in Quebec. Finally, you have to do six months of practical training (“articling”) before you are admitted to the Bar (sworn in). Once you are sworn in, you are allowed to practise law.
Lawyers must keep their knowledge up-to-date throughout their career by attending continuing education classes.
Lawyers’ salaries depend on where they work. Those who work in big companies or law firms might make a lot of money. Others earn much less. It depends on their experience and the type of practice and clients they have. Many lawyers work very long hours.
Almost 80% of lawyers earn between $30,000 and $200,000 a year.
Some lawyers charge their clients an hourly rate. The rate varies a lot. Some lawyers charge less than $50 an hour while others can charge more than $500 an hour. Lawyers don’t usually charge their clients for all the time they spend.
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Teaching Guide: Legal Careers
Created for high school teachers, this ready-to-use activity helps students discover different legal careers.Guide: Legal Careers