What the Book Says

Laws are rules created by people or governing institutions including local and national government and regulatory agencies. Law governs our behavior and actions. Lawyers or attorneys act as advisors and advocates in our society.

Many lawyers work in the corporate world or for the government where they are employed by regulatory bodies or in the city attorneys’ offices. Advocacy groups, usually nonprofit, like the National Center for Reproductive Law, California Women’s Law Center, NARAL, MALDEF, ACLU or NAACP hire lawyers. Others open their own offices, teach or find employment in diverse arenas, many times after gaining experience elsewhere.

Most are either transactional attorneys or litigators. The former advises how to avoid problems; the latter deals with the aftermath, often in court. Most attorneys specialize in a particular field including real estate, family law, patents, intellectual property, taxes, international, aviation, juvenile or elder law.

Day to day work varies, but the bulk of the time is spent with paperwork. Good research skills are critical, and hours are spent on and off line finding the information required for trial, to advise clients or taking depositions. Analytical skills are critical.

A minimum of seven years of education, including, with rare exceptions, four years of undergraduate work and three years of law school. Wanna be attorneys are still told the first day, “Look to your right, then look to your left. That person will not be here when you graduate.” Competition is fierce, and it does not stop at graduation. To practice law in any state, a person must be licensed or admitted to the bar. A number of now practicing attorneys have taken the bar exam more than once.

In 1998, the median yearly income of all lawyers was $78,170. The median salary six-months after graduation that year was $45,000 with a range of $31,000 in public interest fields to $60,000 in private practice. Income potential climbs dramatically to six figures either in private practice or corporate employment.

Hours and workload vary, but it is rarely a 9 to 5 profession. Private practice attorneys bill clients by the hour, and in major metropolitan areas $250-$300 an hour is not uncommon. Advancement in many law firms, a slow process, is based on billable hours. Partnership status may take seven to nine years of long hours and hard work.

Technology and mergers and acquisitions influence the profession’s future. The Internet creates issues from intellectual property rights to security and privacy, keeping lawyers busy. The spate of corporate take-overs and mergers provide fertile material for income plus lawyers are participants as more law offices go international.

Finding jobs in the legal profession will be competitive until at least 2008. The more prestigious the law school, ABA accreditation a must, the better the odds for good employment.

Population growth and business activities fuel the need for lawyers. The demand for lawyers continues especially in the areas of general business, health care, intellectual property, international, elder and environmental law and sexual harassment. Lawyers find more employment in nontraditional areas where legal training is an asset, but not a requirement such as banking, law school administration, government lobbying, insurance, real estate and governmental agencies.

Women’s Reality

“I am so glad I became a lawyer, ” says Sarah Weddington. “It has given me a voice; it has given me a way to have an impact.” Not everyone argues a case before the Supreme Court at the age of 27 as Weddington did in 1973 with Roe v. Wade.

When Weddington entered law school there were five women in her class of 250. Today there are 40%-52% in any given law school class. Some like Lisa Berger and Joy Croce are practicing attorneys. Berger, a University of San Diego Law School graduate and a deputy City Attorney in Los Angeles, has been with that office for 16 years. She handles appeals in both the Liability and Police divisions and as a government employee has gotten regular raises and promotions.

“Women are becoming lawyers in as great a number as men, and public offices like mine hire them pretty evenly from what I can see,” says Berger. Large private firms have poorer records on ethnic and gender diversity, especially in terms of advancement. The movement is at a glacial pace.

Berger can increase her salary if she wants to go into supervision and is also in a good position to apply for a judgeship. “My particular skill, appellate work, is not hugely marketable.”

With a law degree from UCLA, Croce is assistant general counsel in the legal department of Nissan North American. Heading up the Finance and General Transactions group of the legal department, she and her staff of 23 provide legal support for all of the finance and transaction matters for the U.S. Nissan Affiliates. Her job requires legal and business decision making.

Meryl Marshall Daniels, Chair and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences began life as a criminal defense attorney, later becoming senior counsel for NBC. A somewhat circuitous path to her present position.

Monica Rascoe and Jean Gorman pursue careers in academic administration where their legal education provides valuable skills and expertise. Rascoe, vice president, student affairs at San Jose State University received her juris doctor from Georgetown University, holding a position there before going to New York’s state university system and then to California. Gorman graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School, holding academic administration posts in Indiana and Oregon before coming to California. She is currently vice president for Development and College Relations for Scripps College.

Even Weddington’s path diverged after Roe v. Wade, though a more traditional path many attorneys take-politics. She was the first woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives from her district; Ann Richards was one of her campaign volunteers. After several federal and state level agency posts, Weddington now teaches at the University of Texas School of Law. “Being a lawyer made me much more effective; the skills of argument, the skills of writing, the skills of analysis, the skills of looking at history and trying to look at what the law could do,” she says.

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