Constitutional lawyers are often involved in high-profile political cases, followed by the media. For example, they might advocate for a well-known client’s civil rights or defend a client against a civil rights complaint. They might challenge the constitutionality of a judicial appointment or a piece of legislation.
Constitutional lawyers employed by organizations such as the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law respond to requests for help from people who believe their constitutional rights have been violated.
If they decide to take the case, they research past cases and answer questions about how the Constitution might apply to the issue. They help clients meet legal deadlines and litigate when appropriate.
These lawyers employed by prestigious law schools may work as full-time professors, but they may also file briefs or present arguments before the Supreme Court on constitutional cases. Constitutional law is considered one of the most complex areas of legal practice.
Major Areas of Constitutional Law
Constitutional law is broad and cuts across many areas of practice. Some of the major elements include:
Judicial review is the power vested in the US Supreme Court to determine whether a law or executive order by the government is constitutional. As the Constitution is deemed the supreme law of the land, the Supreme Court has the final authority on matters relating to it.
Legislative procedures refer to the rules established by the government to make or legislate laws. This includes processes for amending laws, enacting new laws, amending the constitution, and revising the number of terms or years that a legislative body might serve.
Separation of Powers
Constitutional law divides the power of the central government into primary branches. Typically, these consist of an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. This separation of power ensures that one branch doesn’t dominate the others.
Key Principles and Clauses
Below are some key clauses and principles that form part of constitutional law:
Rule of Law
The rule of law is a practice under which persons, private entities, and institutions are held to account under the law. Justice is delivered promptly by ethical, competent, unbiased, and accessible people who reflect the communities they serve. It also requires the law to be just, clear and applied uniformly across the land while protecting the person’s fundamental rights.
A lot of the government’s legislative authority comes from the Constitution’s commerce clause. The federal government can only regulate an industry if the industry impacts or has the potential to impact interstate commerce. The authors of the Constitution wanted the federal government to regulate the relationship between states while leaving it to the states to draft the laws that they saw fit.
As stated under the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution, this clause states no person should be denied liberty or deprived of life or property without following due process. This clause also requires the state to guarantee the same rights, protections, and privileges to all citizens.
As a guarantor of the Union, this clause states that all laws made to establish and further the Constitution constitute the supreme law of the land. In other words, the Constitution and federal law take precedence over state laws, and judges in all courts must abide by these principles.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights outlines the fundamental rights of the people regarding government and makes up the first 10 amendments of the US Constitution. This includes human rights, which apply to the natural rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of where they live (e.g., freedom from religious persecution), and civil liberties, the rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution (e.g., the right to a trial by jury or protection from unreasonable police actions).
Freedom of Speech
The government can’t unduly limit the right of the people to speak, assemble, and practice religion. The government can make only limited decisions and place restrictions on speech. If they make restrictions, they must apply the restrictions uniformly to everyone. Constitutional lawyers continue to challenge limitations on free speech, and the courts continue to struggle with the balancing act of serving both legitimate public interests and the private right to speech and expression.
Due process is the idea that the government can’t take someone’s liberty or property without a fair judicial procedure. A person accused of a crime has the right to have reasonable notice of the charges against them and an opportunity to be heard in the matter. They have the right to a fair judge or jury in their case.
They have the right to cross-examine witnesses and the opportunity to have a lawyer. Courts must keep records of proceedings and publicly state the reasons for their decisions. You also have the right to a fair process in civil matters.
Under this clause, the state or Congress cannot make laws that seek the establishment of religion or laws that prohibit personal freedom, curtail freedom of speech, or repress the right of peaceful assembly. It also requires the government to find redress to grievances.
What Does a Constitutional Lawyer Do?
A constitutional lawyer uses the laws of state and federal constitutions to represent their clients, such as an individual who believes another person violated their constitutional rights. These lawyers often argue their cases in federal courts, and some cases may make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Constitutional lawyers typically have many job responsibilities, which may include:
. Present arguments in constitutional cases before jury members and judges.
. Research relevant cases to find similarities and legal precedents.
. Advice clients on matters related to constitutional law
. Defend the constitutional rights of their clients in court.
. Interview clients and other parties to understand their perspectives.
. File briefs and other paperwork before court hearings.
. Interpret constitutional laws and rulings for their clients.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Constitutional Lawyer?
It’s helpful for constitutional lawyers to have a broad range of hard and soft skills to help them research cases, present arguments in court, and interact with their clients. Here are some helpful skills for constitutional lawyers:
Constitutional lawyers have excellent communication skills to help them perform many of their job duties. These lawyers interview clients by actively listening to them and asking questions to understand their prospects. Constitutional lawyers use their public speaking skills when arguing their cases in court before jury members and judges.
Verbal communication skills can help them present facts and defend their cases in a confident, persuasive manner. It’s also important for constitutional lawyers to have strong written communication skills when filing briefs or preparing paperwork for the court to help them explain their arguments in writing.
Constitutional lawyers perform research to study the U.S. Constitution. When working on cases, they search legal websites and other credible sources to find information about state or federal laws. They research similar cases that may be relevant to their case. These lawyers study those cases to understand different perspectives so they can successfully argue on behalf of their clients.
They also use their research skills to stay updated on new legal precedents established by the U.S. Supreme Court, which may impact their cases.
Critical Analytical Skills
Like most lawyers, constitutional lawyers ought to be critical thinkers and analysts, evaluating laws and concepts and giving sound interpretations devoid of bias. Winning a case requires analysis, thought, and careful questioning.
Therefore, part of your training as a constitutional lawyer involves honing your thinking and questioning skills and not taking things at face value. Critical analytical skills are also needed in court to analyze all possible interpretations and angles of a case.
Constitutional lawyers use organizational skills to manage their workloads effectively. They may handle multiple cases simultaneously, so they use time management skills to prioritize their tasks and meet their deadlines, such as filing paperwork in court. Organization skills can help them complete their work with acute attention to detail.
When working in high-pressure situations, such as a case with media attention, constitutional lawyers can use their organizational skills to remain focused on their tasks. They also use organizational skills to set personal and professional goals and work hard to achieve them.
Knowledge of the Constitution
These lawyers need to have in-depth knowledge of the U.S. Constitution so they can prepare their arguments and defend their clients skillfully. They’re familiar with constitutional law, including the Bill of Rights, which contains the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They understand the laws and amendments of the U.S.
Constitution, including any recent precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Each state also has its own constitution, so it’s helpful for these lawyers to understand the differences in state constitutions before arguing cases in state courts.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does a Constitutional Lawyer Cost?
Lawyers take different approaches to billing, but many constitutional attorneys charge either an hourly rate or a contingency fee. A contingency fee means that you don’t have to pay anything upfront, but your lawyer will take a percentage if you win your case. If you don’t win, your lawyer won’t receive any payment. This method is generally not used unless you have a good chance of winning a sizeable amount in a lawsuit. Discuss rates with your lawyer up front to avoid costly surprises.
What Should I Expect When Working with a Constitutional Lawyer?
Depending on whether you’re looking for money as retribution or for a law or regulation change, you’ll be facing a different timeline and process. You may be able to form a class action suit if a large group of people has been affected by the same issue; however, these last a long time, and there’s no guarantee of a resolution. A constitutional lawyer can give you a better understanding of what your process would be like and how long it would take.