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What is it like being an estate planning lawyer/constituional lawyer/civil litigation lawyer?

I am currently trying to figure out what course to take for University in the near future. However, I am still indecisive about it, but I have been leaning towards Law (particularly, in civil litigation, constitutional and estate planning law) for some time now but, I am still hesitant about it.
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Subject: Career question for you


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Caroline’s Answer

I don’t think you have to focus on what type of lawyer you want to be while you’re in college. You can figure that out in law school or even after law school. If you go to a large firm you may be able to do work in a few different departments in your first year so you can figure out what you want to do. I am a corporate lawyer and have not practiced in the areas you mention but I know trust and estate lawyers. It’s a great area if you like learning and mastering the complex tax laws and also if you like working with people and helping them solve difficult problems or get through difficult times. I know people who find it very rewarding because you are personally helping people with important matters in their lives. It’s so very different from litigation- People who like litigation generally like to research and to craft arguments and enjoy the competitive aspect of litigation.

As for college…take one class in law if there is one, and if there is a law school at your university see if you can sit in on a class or even take a class. I didn’t do any of that in college though- many people go to law school without taking any legal classes in college. If you may be interested in constitutional law, take an early American history class to learn about the writing of the constitution and the basic principles.
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Sam’s Answer

Hi Auni. Desiree gave a great answer already, so I just wanted to address your question about University classes more directly.
If you have the opportunity to do so, I would suggest looking for available university classes that are focused on legal topics that you are interested in. For example, most universities in the U.S. will offer at least one course in U.S. Constitutional law (i.e. "Intro to U.S. Constitutional law," etc.). Taking the opportunity to study introductory courses in topics you think you're interested now can also help you decide if you'd like to continue pursuing that area of study later in law school and further down the road in practice.
Not every university will offer the same "intro to law" or "pre-law" type courses, as it is dependent on the professors they have teaching there at the time. But a university academic advisor will be able to highlight for you any courses that university offers that are related to the field you are wanting to study.
Hope this helps, and good luck in your endeavors!
Thank you Sam for taking the time to give me some advice regarding my situation! I'll try that out and see how it goes. Thanks! Auni M.
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Desiree’s Answer

Hi Auni - To be honest, I've not practice estate planning or constitutional law, but I am a lawyer and have experience in civil litigation in the U.S. I'll share what's it has been like in my experience.

I started my legal career at a large law firm with lots of companies - and government entities - as clients. I had lots of different types of clients and did transactional work (emails, contract drafting/review/negotiation, due diligence/investigation, meeting with other professional experts in tax, engineering, accounting, etc); litigation (preparing to go to court); and mediation (presenting a commercial disagreement to a mediator to be settled based on contracts and evidence - sort of like a mini trial with no jury). The litigation & mediation work involved drafting and filing motions, preparing discovery/reviewing the other side's discovery (all the evidence and documents), preparing for and take depositions, etc. Those parts are really intense in each phase, which is rather formulaic based on the trail calendar (you cannot put the cart before the horse!). The fun part about a law firm is that you have a variety of clients and you are juggling lots of different matters. Some clients were terrific to work with and gave you fun, challenging legal problems to sort out - that made the time fly by! On occasion, I'd have a very grouchy and prickly client which made the demanding work of practicing law feel even harder. At a large law firm there is an expectation that you will put in a lot of hours. You need to meet the "billable" hours (i.e., the time that gets charged to clients), but you also have to take Continuing Legal Education, write articles for your firm's blogs/white papers and maybe even a local bar association, work on landing new clients (or keeping old clients happy) - aka "client development". So in addition to the the billable hour commitment, there is a significant non-billable hour requirement, too. There are no two ways about it: working at a large law firm is competitive, hard work that requires a huge time commitment with limited flexibility (although firms are always trying to improve the so-called work/life balance).

After the law firm, I took an in-house position, working for a large international company. This was much more flexible, but also required a lot of flexibility from me-- to take phone calls at all hours to accommodate matters in other countries, travel (before COVID put the brakes on that), and I even moved to (I worked for the company in Asia for a few years). Once you are working for one company, you have one client. You have to keep that one company (and everyone who works there, each of whom is arguably your client!) happy with your work - even if you have to advise them that their newest, greatest idea is not possible under the law; that there is a new law that will require additional expense for compliance; or that a law suit didn't end the way they'd hoped. You need to be strong and diplomatic when you have to bear "bad" news, so that can be hard. But you also get to know the company so well - you get to help shape policies, address issues before they become problems, and protect the company. Rather than just be retroactive and putting out fires (like most attorneys in law firms), you get to be pro-active. It's exciting to stay abreast of the business strategy and direction, to try to anticipate legal hurdles, and then to find the ways to accomplish the business objective while staying compliant under the law. Frankly, I think all the lawyers at my company work hard and put in a lot of time. However, we have much more flexibility -- and are required to be flexible -- as to when we work.

Based on my experience and observations, to be a successful attorney, you need to put in long hours (especially at the start of your career). The more senior you are, the more flexibility you have, but the need to work hard never seems to lessen.

Note that in the U.S., you don't have to decide the precise area of the law you which to practice until after you're admitted to the bar. Law school trains you to be any sort of lawyer - be it estate planning, constitutional or litigation. So don't focus too hard on exactly what you will practice - that can evolve with time, exposure and experience.

Desiree recommends the following next steps:

Research local law school admission requirements to see how best to prepare yourself as an applicant
Research local law school curriculum to see if the subjects interest you
Ask your parents, aunt/uncles, grandparents, teachers, coaches to introduce you to a lawyer they know and talk to them about their career path
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question, Desiree. I am very grateful, i'll take your advice and try some of the steps you mentioned. Thank you again! Auni M.