Law is present in almost every facet of everyday life. Lawyers, therefore, perform essential functions in our society, and their expertise is highly valued. Lawyers (or advocates) advocate and advise. As advocates, they support one client (side) of a criminal or civil argument in a trial. As advisors, lawyers provide counsel to clients concerning their rights and obligations in a legal matter, and may help the client choose a good course of action. In either capacity, lawyers research laws, the intent of laws, and judicial decisions relevant to the client's circumstances in order to make an informed decision.
Trial lawyers are perhaps the most visible of all lawyers; they argue a clients case before the courts. However, most of their time is still spent outside the courtroom. They must research the case and compile arguments; meet with clients and stakeholders; interview witnesses; and more.
Other lawyers specialize in a specific area, such as tax law, intellectual property law, or probate law. These lawyers may also argue cases before the courts, but they are more likely to work behind the scenes, often in the advisory capacity.
Most (3 out of 4) lawyers work in private practice, either for a law firm or in their own solo practice. Other lawyers work for a single client, such as a celebrity, or for a corporation, group, or agency. These counselors often have broad duties, in both civil and (if needed) criminal law. Attorneys in civil law work with things like wills, trusts, mortgages, and other legally-binding documents. Criminal law deals with individuals who have committed a crime and must appear before a court. Other lawyers work for non-profit legal aid societies, set up for the disadvantaged. Lawyers can also work at all levels of government (including State attorneys general), for courts, in teaching, or, increasingly, in related practices such as business or public administration.
Most lawyers are salaried. These lawyers work more regular hours and generally get paid more than solo practitioners - but those who own their own practices are free to conduct their office however they want. Full-time lawyers often work long hours, under intense pressure, and must be willing to keep abreast of the latest judicial decisions and laws passed. In fact, continuing education is required in some states, and is a very good idea in any case.
Opportunities for advancement in firms (eventually to partnerships) and when working for a private client, such as a corporation, are generally good. Some attorneys go on to become judges.