After you pass the bar exam, you may very well be tempted to hit an actual bar. Go ahead, you’ve earned it! But when you shake off the hangover the next day, you have some serious business to attend to, career-wise.
You’ve finished law school and you’re officially qualified to practice in your particular state, but this is only the beginning. There’s a whole world of things you don’t know and that your education didn’t prepare you for. You’ve got a lot to learn, but don’t worry — nothing prepares you for being a lawyer quite like being a lawyer; you’re about to get a crash course.
Here are just a few of the surprises that may be coming your way.
You Don’t Know As Much As You Think
Yes, you completed law school, a process that takes years and encompasses countless hours of study, research, and practice. You learned a great deal. You know so much more than you did going in. But you don’t know nearly as much as you may think, and you’ll soon find out about all kinds of gaps in your knowledge.
While law school teaches you many things, it doesn’t really teach you how to practice law. Right out of the gate, you will likely be asked to do a variety of things that you’ve never done before and you’ll have to learn the day-to-day ins-and-outs of being an attorney. There will be a steep learning curve, but don’t worry: you’re smart, you’ll catch on after a few years.
By now you have a strong base, but you’ll need to build on that moving forward. Most of your professional career will be spent adding to this foundation.
You Won’t Spend Much Time in Court
On TV and in movies, lawyers spend all of their time in court — getting the truth out of witnesses, convincing the jury that their client is innocent and generally saving the day. That’s the way it is on Law & Order, so reality can’t be that much different, can it?
That’s not likely how your career will develop, especially at first. Don’t worry, you will see the inside of a courtroom over the course of your career. Depending on what discipline you practice, you may even appear in front of a judge on a regular basis, though how much and how soon may depend on the size of your firm. Still, it won’t be nearly as often as you may think.
Instead of spending your days delivering passionate, eloquent speeches to a jury, most of your time will be spent in offices, meetings, and discussions; working on deals and agreements; and crafting documents.
You Will Write — A Lot
Law school will have prepared you for this, at least to a degree, but as a lawyer, you will write — so much more than you anticipated. This also varies a bit from one field to the next, but regardless of your practice area, you will spend more time putting words down on paper than most people realize.
There are briefs, contracts, proclamations, declarations, agreements, settlements, forms and documents of all varieties for you to master and draft on a regular basis. Then there’s all of the correspondence that comes with being an attorney. A good portion of your work life will be spent writing letters and responding to emails.
If you thought you were done with lengthy reports after graduation, you thought wrong. You’ll want to brush up on your spelling, grammar, and punctuation, because being able to write and communicate effectively is a huge part of being an attorney.
The law is a complex business. Many issues are open to interpretation and answers won’t always be obvious or black and white. You will continue to study and you will continue to learn and grow. Just because you graduated law school, passed the bar, and landed a job doesn’t mean you have all of the tools you need yet.
These are just a few of the shocks and surprises in store for you over the course of your career. Congratulations, you’re a lawyer! Being an attorney is nothing if not an adventure and a voyage of discovery.