Over the years I have met many young adults, whether personally or local calls to my office, who ask about my profession and whether they should go to law school and become a personal injury lawyer. This post addresses that question.
First, a good rule of thumb for life is not to plan so much. It is great to set goals, and even to have a vision. Those are important and help you persevere through difficult times. However, life seldomly works the way you plan it to. If you do decide to go to law school, you should go because you are interested in learning about the law. You may think you want to be a personal injury lawyer, however, when you get to school, you might find that you also like another area of law. Or perhaps you meet the right professor who inspires you and gives you an opportunity elsewhere. Or maybe you discover that you hate torts law (the area of law that primarily governs personal injury).
Go to law school with open eyes and a thirst for learning. Say yes to new experiences. You will find areas of law that you like and areas of law that you do not like. It’s part of the process. You will also find like-minded students with who you want to learn from and grow. If approached with a healthy mindset, law school is invigorating and a wonderful life experience.
Plaintiff vs. Defense
With that said, if you are dead set on becoming a personal injury lawyer it is a diverse and rewarding field. There are plaintiff attorneys and defense attorneys.
Plaintiff attorneys practicing personal injury law defend individuals who have become injured due to the negligence of another person or company. Most people or companies who are sued have some form of insurance and thus do not pay out of their own pocket. Thus, plaintiff lawyers spend their days negotiating with insurance companies and filing lawsuits on their client’s behalf to try and obtain a just outcome for the injured client and compensate them for the losses they have suffered. A successful plaintiff attorney has many clients, and his work is directly proportional to how many clients that he can represent. If you are bringing in no clients, you are working a lot less and as a result, will have a tough time sustaining a successful business. High risk, high reward.
On the other side, defense attorneys represent the insurance companies fighting to dismiss claims and minimize payments to individuals. These jobs provide more financial security given that you are working in-house for one client, usually a giant corporation. A key difference here is that nearly 100% of your time working will be on legal issues, including litigation and preparing cases for trial. Many Plaintiffs personal injury attorneys begin their legal career on this site where they can focus on learning how to become an effective trial attorney.
There are many different avenues to explore as a lawyer in the personal injury field.
- Automobile Accidents
- Boating Accidents
- Slip and Falls
- Animal Attacks
- Medical Malpractice
- Products Liability
- Nursing Home Neglect
I often am asked what kind of work-life balance one should expect as a personal injury lawyer. The answer is it depends on the individual and the firm where you practice.
Many plaintiff attorneys who practice personal injury work for a boutique (small) firm or as solo practitioners. The number of hours you put into your practice is up to you. In the beginning, it is a tireless pursuit as you are no longer just practicing law but running a business. Much of your time will be spent networking and finding business. Additionally, you are now responsible for running a small business, which includes details like running payroll, paying bills, hiring employees, and every other day-to-day decision that all small business owners handle. This can be a tremendous amount of work. As you grow, you have full control over the structure of your firm and what kind of lifestyle you choose to live. I know personal injury attorneys who are home at dinner with their families every evening and I also know those who live to work and are never home with their families.
As a defense attorney, you are working for a big insurance company or a law firm that represents big insurance companies. These jobs vary but you will be expected to work significantly more than forty hours per week. Working on this site also requires that you maintain detailed billing records as the firm you work for is paid by billable hours. Civil defense attorneys typically must maintain a certain number of billable hours per month.
How to Prepare
Another question I get a lot is what classes should one take in college to prepare them for law school. My opinion is that it is very little you can do to prepare for law school. What I would recommend for someone applying to law school is intelligence, determination, the love to read, and the thirst for learning. That and money for tuition. Study for and take the LSATs, and go from there.
Before setting your heart on a specific type of law to practice, focus on the LSATs and extract as much knowledge and experience you can from law school. If during law school you find that you were made to practice personal injury law, there are many different areas to practice, all needing both plaintiff and defense attorneys. Work-life balance will depend squarely on the individual and the type of firm or company.
Scott Leaser, Esq. is a respected personal injury lawyer at Leaser Law Firm in Greenacres, Florida. If you have any further questions about becoming a personal injury lawyer, reach out to Scott Leaser, Esq. at Leaser Law Firm.