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When You Need a Lawyer

What exactly is a lawyer?

A lawyer (also called attorney, counsel, counselor, barrister, or solicitor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters. Today's lawyer can be young or old, male or female. Nearly one-third of all lawyers are under thirty-five. Almost half the law students and new lawyers today are women.

What are the professional requirements to be a lawyer?

Lawyers must go through special schooling. Before being allowed to practice law in most states, a person usually must:

  • have a bachelor's degree or its equivalent;

  • complete three years at an accredited law school;

  • pass a state bar examination, which usually lasts for two or three days; it tests knowledge in selected areas of law and in professional ethics and responsibility;

  • pass a character and fitness review; each applicant for a law license must be approved by a committee that investigates his or her character and background;

  • take an oath swearing to uphold the laws and the state and federal constitutions;

  • receive a license from the state supreme court; some states have additional requirements, such as internship in a law office, before a license will be granted.

How can a lawyer help you?

Almost everything we do—from making a purchase, to driving a car, to interacting with others—is affected by the law in some way. But clearly we don’t need a lawyer for all of these everyday interactions. When do you need a lawyer? When can (or should) you handle a matter on your own?

There are matters best handled by a lawyer. Nearly everyone agrees that you should talk with a lawyer about major life events or changes, which might include:

  • being arrested for a crime or served with legal papers in a civil lawsuit; being involved in a serious accident causing personal injury or property damage;

  • a change in family status such as divorce, adoption, or death; and

  • a change in financial status such as getting or losing valuable personal property or real estate, or filing for bankruptcy.

At what point should I retain a lawyer's services?

As early in the process as possible. An ounce of prevention is worth many dollars and anxious hours of cure. Once you have determined that you need professional legal help, get it promptly. You can get the most help if you are in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible

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