If you’re in law school wondering what to do with your career, you might consider being a personal injury lawyer. It can be a very rewarding area of law to practice, but there are some drawbacks.
For example, the hours can be long and hectic, with a lot of clients and cases to juggle and tight deadlines to meet — those are the basics your law professors would probably tell you.
But while your professors will help prepare you for working as a real life lawyer, there are some things you won’t find out until you get into the workforce and experience them yourself.
1. How Much Planning it Takes to Develop a Practice
You might consider being a personal injury lawyer itself to be a focused area of law, but that barely scratches the surface. There is an almost absurd degree of concentration within specific areas of personal injury law that you can build a career on.
There are always a lot of cases involving the injured because there are many, many ways to get injured.
Take motor vehicle accidents as an example. According to an international study done by the Association for Safe International Road Travel, over 3 million people in America are injured as a result of a car accident a year and more than 37,000 are killed.
Car accidents are a major area of practice within that area of personal injury law, there are specific types of accidents:
- Accidents involving two or more motor vehicles
- Accidents involving motor vehicles and pedestrians (crosswalks, bicyclists, etc)
- Accidents involving people driving under the influence (alcohol, marijuana, etc)
- Accidents involving debris crashing into a vehicle.
- Accidents involving insurance scams
There are also specific types of vehicles, such as passenger cars, motorcycles, commercial trucks, snowmobiles, seadoos, boats, airplanes, ATVs, and so on.
It is not uncommon for personal injury lawyers to combine the type of accident and the type of vehicle and practice law within that subcategory—ATV rollovers, construction vehicle accidents caused by mechanical defects, and so on.
It’s is a good idea to start thinking about this because is there is a lot of competition. Even though there are always a lot of cases, there are also a lot of lawyers.
One way to get ahead of the competition to get hired at a firm or get jobs for your own business is to become an expert in a narrow area of injury law. You might start out more general as a new hire on a firm, and narrow your focus of legal practice as you get more experience.
2. How Different Technology Is in Real Life
Technology in today’s world is constantly changing and advances in ways that few can foresee. As a result, what they teach in school does not always keep pace with the most recent practices in the workforce, and this is especially true with technology.
Where in school your professors might teach you about spending hours looking for and through case files for information, in modern law firms, the story is a lot different.
Computers, software, and technologically savvy office managers have made it much quicker and easier to access the firm’s database wherever you go. So while you might work long hours, now you can do some work from home on your phone or laptop where you access any document or case file you need. It helps lawyers have more of a work-life balance to spend time with their families.
New technology is also rapidly changing the nature of personal injury cases. For example, dashboard cameras have become a bit of a game changing device to provide hard evidence of what really happened in car accidents.
Smartphones have given everyone a camera for pictures and video to gather evidence at the scene, and phone tracking helps prove someone was or was not at the site of the incident. There is also wearable technology such as FitBits that can measure how a person’s activity is impacted as a result of an injury.
Looking ahead to the future, consider how driverless cars will change the landscape of car accident litigation and insurance. Artificial intelligence is already being used by some of the biggest insurance companies to process claims in mere seconds, which will also change how personal injury lawyers interact with them on behalf of their clients.
These sorts of issues cannot possibly be taught in school — they’re still too new, or don’t even exist yet, for people to know what to teach about them. They are things you will learn on the job how to handle.
3. What It’s Like Dealing with the Best and Worst of People
One thing that your professors will never be able to really prepare you for is what it is actually like to deal with people during a personal injury case: your clients, insurance companies, and the people responsible for the injuries.
You will find that you experience the full spectrum of humanity—from the absolute best, noble, and heroic men and women to the absolute worst, vile, and corrupt people and organizations.
Your clients will come to you likely at one of the worst points in their lives, after suffering serious and life altering injuries, or with the family of a loved one that died. Then you’ll have to deal with the people or organizations that were at least partially responsible for it, and with the insurance companies both of your client and of the other party.
You’ll meet plenty of desperate people you want to help who are outside of the statutes of limitations, or who are too depressed or non committal to take a winning case to the end. As a result, you will inevitably have some emotionally draining cases that break your heart.
However, you will also get the sense of fulfillment when you help the good and the needy overcome their nightmare and move on with their lives. Furthermore, not every case or defendant you deal with will be terrible people.
The majority of your cases, everyone involved will just be regular human beings that have their bad moments and their good moments and the rest of the time are normal.