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Interview with a Lawyer: A Look at Legal Life


First, I’d just like to say that we own Algeria. Secondly, I’d like to say that watching a soccer game from a bar at 7 in the morning is as surreal an experience as you’ll find outside of a Wes Anderson film. Thirdly, I’d actually like to introduce you to the interview we’ve got below.

Odds are that you’re thinking about being a lawyer. You’ve either taken the LSAT or are going to take the LSAT, with the next step obviously being applying for law school.

Before you make the leap, however, it’s important to take a look at where you’ll be landing. Below is an interview we conducted with Joan Cotkin, a Los Angeles-based lawyer doing the kind of work many of you ostensibly hope to do. She gives a good peek at the kind of life you’ll be leading when you too are a lawyer.

1. What’s your name and where do you work?

Joan M. Cotkin, Nossaman LLP, in downtown Los Angeles, CA.

2. What kind of law do you practice?

Civil litigation with an emphasis on insurance coverage issues, employment law and general business litigation. I have been fortunate enough to handle almost any kind of civil litigation including professional liability and have had many jury trials in courts all over California.

3. What is a typical day at the office like for you?

I usually come into the office between 5:30 am and 6:30 am and put in between 10-12 hours depending on the pending matters. If I am in trial then the work day is intense–usually 16 to 20 hours a day with early am in the office for pretrial prep, late afternoon and evening post trial day review and next day prep and weekend work. Unless I am in trial, I do take weekends off.

4. What do you like best about your job?

I enjoy the challenge and variety of fact patterns, figuring out what really happened, and how to formulate a claim or a defense to a claim. Among the challenges are the continued and constant variation of law–new practice areas, as well as the almost daily development of the law as appellate courts and legislatures do their work. I enjoy the creative side of coming up with an analysis with legal argument and authority to support it. It is particularly satisfying to establish law in an appellate setting and I have been fortunate to have participated in a number of appeals that did so.

It is most satisfying to assist those who need representation and to be successful in securing their rights.

5. What do you like least about your job?

Time sheets, collecting accounts receivable and other aspects of the business of law.

6. What do you wish you had known about the legal profession before becoming an attorney?

I knew very little about the profession other than the idealistic portrayals in the media, which is probably a good thing.

7. Do you have any advice for students contemplating the legal profession?

Be prepared for challenging work and lots of it. Mental agility is important as well as the ability to simplify.

The best lawyers are able to analyze the issues in simple terms. Being succinct is a key factor in all legal work: Being able to articulate “who is suing whom for what” in ten words or less.

A brief which can express the concepts in simple declarative sentences is much more persuasive than a lengthy complex discourse. Especially at the trial court level–Judges only have about five minutes of time to work up each matter that comes before them.