Many young people aspire to be an attorney and are considering their practice options. This article is written to give aspiring attorneys a practical perspective on personal injury law.
To become a personal injury lawyer, you must graduate from law school and obtain a law degree. Also, you will need to take the bar exam for your state.
Getting a Bachelor’s Degree
Law schools generally accept any undergraduate degree from an accredited university and do not necessarily give preference to any one specific undergraduate study area or degree. Some of the more common undergraduate degrees for law school are in areas such as political science, English, and communications, and some colleges offer degrees in pre-law. If your university offers a pre-law degree, that would be a preferable undergraduate degree to obtain.
Subjects such as writing, English, and speech are all very helpful to give you a basic foundation for your legal studies and also help you on the law school entrance testing – the LSAT.
Getting a Law Degree
Law school is a three-year program after your bachelor’s degree. Like college, the first year generally consists of core legal subjects such as torts, property law, criminal law, and constitutional law. For those seriously considering the personal injury arena, the core course in torts will give a pretty good overview of the basis for legal personal injury claims.
After the first year of law school, students are given choices of which classes they can take. If you are interested in personal injury, subjects like trial skills and negotiation are a good choice.
Students should endeavor to enroll in law schools accredited by the American Bar Association.
While in law school, participation in trial coursework is advisable. Personal injury attorneys need to be skilled trial lawyers. The more practice you have in moot court and trial practice in law school, the better you will be for real-world practice.
It is very helpful for law students to clerk for law firms while attending law school. This allows students to experience the legal profession outside of the classroom. For students who are unsure of which area of law they want to practice, it may be a good idea to clerk at different law firms and practice areas and experience several areas of practice.
Taking the Bar Exam
After graduation from law school, the bar exam is required by individual states to practice within that state. The exam will cover state-specific issues and general legal areas in addition to a multi-state bar exam multiple-choice test. Taking a bar exam preparation course is also recommended.
Practicing as a Personal Injury Attorney
After graduating from law school and passing the bar examination, obtaining hands-on practice with a reputable law firm is always advisable.
Many personal injury attorneys are former defense attorneys who cut their teeth on trying cases for insurance companies. Insurance defense attorneys and DAs, particularly those starting in law practice, can obtain trial experience relatively quickly. Look at the training offered by law firms you’re considering as your initial employment.
Training is probably the most important component of securing a successful future as a personal injury attorney and should be a primary consideration for your first job.
Some firms offer very detailed training, and others are more on-the-job training. Always inquire about initial training and opportunities later on to learn.
A personal injury attorney must also strive to improve in every category daily. Representing catastrophically injured people whose lives have often been shattered requires compassion, understanding, listening, and people skills.
Additionally, personal injury attorneys must also learn to be selective in the cases they accept because most of their work is based on a contingency fee arrangement. In other words, they do not get paid for their time and effort if they do not win the case.
Changing Legal Environment
Trial lawyers, particularly personal injury lawyers, have been under attack in many states recently. Calls for “tort reform” are a mechanism to change the personal injury practice in individual states and on a federal level.
Some organizations funded by insurance interests seek to limit damages to victims and access to the courthouse. Do not underestimate the impact of pro-insurance politics in your state. Unlike hourly-paid attorneys, most personal injury law firms must fund case expenses and only get paid if money changes hands.
Tort reform reduces the access to attorneys in areas where the attorney can not be paid fairly for the risk and time.
In some states, personal injury practice is more financially attractive than in others. The latest trend has been to limit the rights of innocent victims by capping damages and reducing attorney’s fees.
By making personal injury litigation less financially attractive, lawyers move to other areas of practice, and often victims find that they cannot find an attorney to help them in some practice areas in some states.
In Texas, tort reform includes capping damages in medical malpractice cases and placing expensive legal hurdles on those types of cases. The net effect has been that victims of medical malpractice in Texas largely cannot find representation for their cases.
Aspiring attorneys looking at personal injury should research the legal environment within the state they plan to practice to analyze the feasibility of a legal career in personal injury law.
Rewards of a Personal Injury Practice
Being a personal injury lawyer can be very rewarding. The personal relationships you form with the seriously injured can last decades.
You can greatly impact someone in a time of great need and vulnerability. Representing the catastrophically injured can also include great pressure, as often you are their only hope. Overall, I highly recommend the personal injury practice of law.