It usually comes as a shock when people realize how many hours a week lawyers commit to their practices. A day in the life of a lawyer is anything but a nine-to-five routine with an hour or more for a leisurely lunch. Bloomberg View reported that an attorney at a large law firm works anywhere from 50 to 60 hours a week on average. The long hours are the result of the obligations the practice of law imposes on an attorney.
The image people have of an attorney heading to court in the morning and spending the remainder of the day engaged in a trial before a panel of jurors or arguing a motion or an appeal in front of a judge has probably been shaped by what they see on television or in the movies. The reality of a lawyer’s daily routine can be quite different from those dramatized portrayals. Here is a look into a day in the life of the average attorney in private practice.
Starting the day
The activities in a typical day in the life of a lawyer are largely shaped by the area of law in which the individual focuses their practice. Attorneys practicing personal injury law or workers’ compensation will spend more of their time in courtrooms or at administrative hearings than lawyers who concentrate in business law or real property.
One common trait among attorneys, regardless of their area of practice, is the habit of being the first, or one of the first, to arrive in the office each morning. Ask a group of lawyers in private practice to describe their most productive time of the day, and most of them will probably say it’s the early morning, before their offices officially open for business.
Early morning in a law office is when the phones are not ringing, clients are not scheduled for appointments, and the other distractions that arise throughout the day are absent. This is when lawyers can catch up on reading and responding to emails and other forms of correspondence or, particularly for attorneys practicing in multi-attorney law firms, they can use the early morning hours to catch up on messages and memos from paralegals and other attorneys giving or seeking updates on pending cases.
For attorneys whose practices take them to court or to administrative hearings, the hours before the rest of the office staff arrives and the lawyer heads out the door is an excellent time to conduct a last-minute review of the cases on the court docket or hearing calendar for the day. It is also an opportunity to review the status of some of the pending cases in the office to make certain whatever needs to be accomplished to move them along is being done by the attorney, paralegals, or others working in the office.
Some attorneys use the early morning hours to focus on doing the legal research of the laws and case decisions that goes into the preparation of each case. This might also be the time the lawyer prepares motions, memorandums of law, pleadings, and other legal documents required for the cases on which they are working.
Even though emails and text messaging seem to have replaced telephone conversations as the preferred method of communication for most of the population, phone calls continue to play a key role in a day in the life of a lawyer. For example, the typical personal injury attorney and workers’ compensation lawyer must set aside time each day to make or return calls, particularly to the following:
- Clients: The use of letters or emails to update clients about the status of their cases will not replace a telephone call from the attorney to answer client questions or to respond to concerns a client might have about a case.
- Claims adjusters: Insurance claims adjusters are busy people, so getting them on the phone to discuss a case may not come about without leaving messages and returning their calls. Speaking to adjusters is the only way personal injury or workers’ compensation attorneys can settle cases on behalf of clients.
- Attorneys: It is important for a lawyer, regardless of the area of law in which they practice, to discuss cases with co-counsel or opposing counsel. Attorneys might see each other in court or at administrative agencies, but it is easier to have a meaningful conversation about a case when it is conducted away from distractions and at a time when both attorneys have access to their case files.
On those days when an attorney is not heading out to court or to an appointment, the time in the office is spent seeing clients, preparing pleadings, reviewing correspondence that comes in, and attending to other matters that need to be completed as part of representing the firm’s clients. There are also other tasks that solo practitioners or partners in law firms must attend to that are related to the running of the practice. These tasks might include:
- Marketing: Attracting new clients to a practice is essential to its existence. The internet has opened the door to a new array of marketing tools that attorneys must become familiar with in order to make the best use of them.
- Personnel and staffing: Hiring and training attorneys and support staff take up a considerable amount of an attorney’s time when it is necessary to add or replace someone.
- Continuing education: Lawyers must take courses to stay current in their knowledge of the laws and thus remain in good standing with their state bar association. For instance, members of the Oregon State Bar must complete 45 hours of continuing legal education every three years to retain the right to practice in the state.
Committed to making a difference
Regardless of the number of hours worked each week or the area of law in they practice, a day in the life of a lawyer is aimed at achieving a favorable result for a client. For personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers, what an attorney does each day can change a person’s life through a settlement or verdict that provides the money needed to allow the person to recover from an accident and injury.