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What Is An Attorney and What Does An Attorney Do?

Updated on January 29, 2013

The modern attorney.

The role of an attorney has recently experienced an increase in interest and a general popularity boost. The media have overhauled its image from a bit boring, stuffy, shady and corrupt to a glamorous, gritty, desired and highly respected profession. Court room dramas are big business and at the moment audiences around the world can't get enough of them.

The justice sector is known for it's good rates of pay and it has a capacity to maintain a good regular work flow and a dependable income, with a good salary. The career of an attorney can be very rewarding and a valid career choice, however not everyone is able to deal with the cut and thrust of the law industry or indeed the politics of the courtroom. If you are considering training to become an attorney or just want to find out what being an attorney involves, then I hope you find the information below useful.

Oaths are still sworn over a Bible today.
Oaths are still sworn over a Bible today. | Source

The role of an attorney.

An attorney is essentially an agent of the law, they are given the express authority to bind their principles. Their job enables them to act in another persons stead (or on their behalf), in certain legal matters. Generally this is instigated and upheld by power of attorney, which is a legal written document (or legally binding contract), which is proof of the attorney's authority to argue, debate or plead a case for another, who is unable to fight their own cause due to absence or inability.

There are variations on the powers that can be conferred. When an attorney is given a mandate (specific task, aim or duty) to manage, by his or her client (the person they are representing). The types of case (or suits) that an attorney undertakes depends on their qualifications, fields of expertise and experience.

Each mandate will be unique in their own right, requiring special legal regard, a thorough understanding of whats required and a full knowledge of all the extensive facts that are available. The power of an attorney very rarely gives the attorney rights over all a persons affairs, but is usually in charge of just one or two areas of someones legal affairs. Sometimes it just involves a particular business, or taxes, or property or the debate over the distribution a will and testament.

Attorneys don't always solely work for individuals either, they can be responsible for a case or suit involving a whole co-operation, or even the representative of the people of a state.

In some states an attorney is known as a counselor or more increasingly as an additional designation, they are still called upon to donate as a legal advisor and to handle cases in the capacity of a legal advisor and to act as a representative in all manor of business.

An attorney at law.

Is primarily an officer of the court, they are required to take an oath of office, in the US, which binds them to the constitution of the state of which they reside in (state constitutions vary and are dictated by different policies then the nation as a whole) and to the federal constitution.

Before embarking on the career of an attorney at law, you would have to establish the recommended training and qualifications, that are required by the particular state or states that you wish to work in. In most cases there is usually a preliminary examination that needs to be passed, this ensures that applicants have the necessary aptitude to pursue this line of career.

It helps if you are able to obtain a scholarship as this is generally needed to become an attorney. However there are a few exceptions where a firm will accept the experience of a clerkship or now more often then not what is known as an apprenticeship. The minimum time required to complete these can vary greatly depending on the extent or branch of law you want to work within, it can take years.

There is then a final examination that needs to be passed before any law applicant maybe admitted to the bar.

By act of congress any individual with an untarnished professional career and of respectable character, that has practiced within the justice and law enforcement sector, within one of the superior state courts is eligible for admission to the bar of the supreme courts.


Men and women are admitted as attorneys on equal conditions, however even though women freely practice at this job, there are still significant differences in pay between the genders. Women still get paid in general, less of a salary then their male counterparts in the same profession and there are ongoing campaigns for equal pay rights for people regardless of gender. There is also a huge disproportion in numbers of women working for the larger law firms, these still seems to be a greater favor for hiring men.

Rights and responsibilities.

Diligence and fidelity are essential attributes, to being an attorney and to show average prudence to their clients and to the court. When special authority has been granted to the attorney it is part of their job to have sufficient skill in the field of business management and all necessary legal matters.

The court prohibits attorneys having to share confidential information that has been revealed to them about their client or their case, and are not compelled to do so. The role of the attorney is to serve his or her client to the best of their ability, regardless of weather it is in terms of the defense or of the prosecution.

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