Lawyers are involved in everything from buying a home, to writing a will, to prosecuting and defending criminals. They counsel, strategize, problem-solve, write, advocate, negotiate, and more. How you spend your time as a lawyer really depends on the type of law you practice and the type of company or organization in which you work.
It is not necessary to select a specialty or area of practice prior to starting law school, however it is important to explore the diverse variety of opportunities within law and understand how the required skills and day to day tasks in a field of law may or may not be a good fit for you. A brief description of some specialties are outlined below.
This is the area of law concerned with the balance of governmental power and individual liberties. Full-time civil rights attorneys often work for non-profit, public interest law firms, or as part of a larger firm with a diverse practice.
Corporate lawyers help clients conduct their business affairs in a manner that is efficient and consistent with the law. The responsibilities of a corporate lawyer can range from preparing the initial articles of incorporation and bylaws for a new enterprise to handling a corporate reorganization under the provisions of federal bankruptcy law. Corporate lawyers' primary responsibility is to ensure that their clients' business transactions are in compliance with the law.
Criminal defense lawyers represent clients accused of crimes. Their public counterparts are the prosecutors and district attorneys who represent the interests of the state in the prosecution of those accused of crimes. Both types of criminal lawyers deal with fundamental issues of the law and personal liberty. They defend many of the basic rights considered crucial to the preservation of a free and just society.
An education law attorney may provide advice, counsel, and representation of a school district or other educational agency in matters pertinent to education law, such as student residency, governance issues, the principal and teacher selection and retention process, student discipline, special-education law, tuition fraud, and in the development of educational policies. Other education law attorneys may represent parents with special-education or student-expulsion matters against a school district.
Employment and labor law addresses the legal rights of workers and their employers. Attorneys practicing employment and labor law might represent an individual employee, a group of employees, job applicants, a union, union employees, government workers, a large or small business or organization, a government agency, or interest groups.
Environmental law was born out of widespread public and professional concern about the fate of our natural resources. Lawyers in this field may tackle legal and regulatory issues relating to air and water quality, hazardous waste practice, natural gas transportation, oil and gas exploration and development, electric power licensing, water rights, toxic torts, public land use, marine resources, and energy trade regulation. They may work directly for governmental agencies that address environmental problems or represent corporations, public interest groups, and entities concerned about protecting the environment.
Family, or domestic relations, law is concerned with relationships between individuals in the context of the family. Many lawyers who practice this kind of law are members of small law firms or are solo practitioners. They specialize in solving problems that arise among family members and in creating or dissolving personal relationships through such means as adoption or divorce.
The practice of health law encompasses many different disciplines. Lawyers in this field can be in the private bar or at government agencies. Many health lawyers are engaged in the business of health care, spending significant time in mergers and acquisitions, tax law, employee benefits, and risk management issues. The impact of technology on health care has been great with health lawyers helping to guide their clients through intellectual property, biomedicine, and telemedicine issues. Other health lawyers specialize in bioethics and clinical ethics, representing universities and other research academic centers.
United States immigration law deals with legal issues and policies relating to foreign nationals who come to the U.S. on a temporary or permanent basis, including the associated legal rights, duties, and obligations of aliens in the United States; the application processes and procedures involved with naturalization of foreign nationals who wish to become U.S. citizens; as well as dealing with legal issues relating to people who are refugees, people who cross U.S. borders by means of fraud or other illegal means, and those who traffic or otherwise illegally transport aliens to the United States.
Intellectual property law is concerned with the protection of inventors' rights in their discoveries, authors' rights in their creations, and businesses' rights in their identifying marks. Often, an intellectual property lawyer will specialize in a particular area of the law. A copyright attorney counsels authors, composers, and artists on the scope of their rights in their creations and personal identities; negotiates contracts; and litigates to enforce these rights.
International law has grown significantly as a field of practice, reflecting the increasing interdependence of nations and economies. International lawyers advocate on legal matters involving interests of two or more countries across the world. There are further sub divisions of the international law that involve international business laws, environmental laws, tax laws, and human rights law.
Real estate law generally involves anything dealing with real property (land). These laws are designed to determine who owns land and the buildings on it, who has a right to possess and use land or buildings, the sale and purchase of real property, landlord and tenant issues, the development of real property, and compliance with local, state, or national regulations affecting the use of real property.
Sports law is divided between amateur and professional sports. At the amateur or university level, sports lawyers ensure that athletes and donors are in compliance with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules. At the professional level, sports lawyers address contract and antitrust issues. Entertainment law may involve employment law issues, for example, contracts between actors and studios, labor law issues affecting trade unions, and intellectual property law, including the protection of creative works such as new songs and the collection of royalties.
In the past 50 years, the importance and complexity of federal, state, and local taxes have necessitated a specialty in this field of law. It is one area of the law where change is constant. New statutes, court decisions, and administrative rulings are issues frequently, and the tax lawyer must be alert to these changes. Economic planning usually includes attention to taxes, and the tax lawyer often assists clients in understanding and minimizing tax liabilities.