What do American lawyers do?
An attorney at law (or attorney-at-law) in the United States is a practitioner in a court of law who is legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions in court on the retainer of clients. Alternative terms include counselor (or counsellor-at-law) and lawyer. As of April 2011, there were 1,225,452 licensed attorneys in the United States. A 2012 survey conducted by Hubblle determined 58 million consumers in the U.S. sought an attorney in the last year and that 76 percent of consumers used the Internet to search for an attorney.
The United state legal system does not draw a distinction between lawyers who plead in court and those who do not, unlike many other common law For example, jurisdictions in the United Kingdom distinguish between soliciotrs who do not plead in court, and the of the English system and the system and the advocates of the system who do plead in court. Likewise ,civil law jurisdictions distinguish between advocates and civil laws. An additional factor that differentiates the American legal system from other countries is that there is no delegation of routine work to public.
Attorneys may be addressed by the post nominal letters Esq., the abbreviated form of the word Esquire.
Many American attorneys limit their practices to specialized fields of law. Often distinctions are drawn between different types of attorneys, but, with the exception of patent law practice, these are neither fixed nor formal lines. Examples include:
- Outside counsel (law firms) v. in-house counsel (corporate legal department)
- Plaintiff v. defense attorneys (some attorneys do both plaintiff and defense work, others only handle certain types of cases like personal injury, business etc.)
- Transactional (or “office practice”) attorneys (who negotiate and draft documents and advise clients, rarely going to court) v. litigators (who advise clients in the context of legal disputes both in and out of court, including lawsuits, arbitrations and negotiated settlements)
- Trial attorneys (who argue the facts, such as the late Johnne) v. appellate attorneys (who argue the law, such as David)
Despite these descriptions, some states forbid or discourage claims of specialization in particular areas of law unless the attorney has been certified by their state bar or state board of legal specialization.
Some states grant formal certifications recognizing specialties. In California, for example, bar certification is offered in family law, appellate practice, criminal law, bankruptcy, estate planning, immigration, taxation and workers’ compensation. Any attorney meeting the bar requirements in one of these fields may represent themselves as a specialist. The state bar, for example, formally grants certification of specialization in 21 select areas of law.
The majority of lawyers practicing in a particular field may typically not be certified as specialists in that field (and state board certification is not generally required to practice law in any field). For example, the State Bar of Texas (as of mid-2006) reported 77,056 persons licensed as attorneys in that state (excluding inactive members of the Bar), while the legal specialization reported, at about the same time, only 8,303 Texas attorneys who were board certified in any specialty. Indeed, of the 8,303 certified specialists in Texas, the highest number of attorneys certified in one specific field at that time was 1,775 (in personal injury trial law).
Specialization in patent law is administered by the Office of Enrollment and Discipline of the US Patent and Trademark Office, which imposes requirements for applicants to become registered as patent attorneys or patent agents. The State of Washington has a separate Law Clerk program under Rule Six of the Washington Court Admission to Practice Rules. A college graduate of good moral character may be accepted into the four-year Rule Six Law Clerk Program, obtain employment in a law firm or with a judge for at least 30 hours a week and study a prescribed Course of Study under a tutor. After successful completion of the program, a law clerk may take the Washington State Bar Exam and, upon passing, will be admitted as an attorney into the Washington State Bar Association.