With a law degree, your job opportunities are virtually limitless. Whether you're dealing with legal or medical malpractice, family law, civil rights, or even employment disputes, every industry needs specialized legal professionals.
Each area of law presents an opportunity for a legal specialty. You may find that your style of legal counsel better suits itself to criminal matters versus drafting contracts for finance law or wills for estate planning. By knowing the different types of law you may specialize in, and what these areas entail, you can better decide what direction you want to take your legal career.
To help you narrow down your specialization and figure out what type of lawyer you want to be, we've compiled this comprehensive list of the various legal specialties and their roles for their clients:
Admiralty or Maritime Lawyer
Maritime law deals with all manner of legal disputes in the water. Admiralty attorneys may assist companies with nautical issues like domestic and foreign shipping routes, naval accidents, even maritime piracy. Maritime laws extend to American waters and any waters navigable by US vessels, so these attorneys will need extensive international legal knowledge.
If a company or individual is insolvent, it is a bankruptcy lawyer's job to advise them about their eligibility for bankruptcy, prepare their legal paperwork, and represent them in bankruptcy court. These lawyers advise clients when to file for bankruptcy and what type of bankruptcy to pursue in the client's best interests. They also present their clients with legal alternatives to filing for bankruptcy, where such exists.
As a bankruptcy lawyer, you'll work with debtors and creditors to notify them about your clients' bankruptcy filing and file associated paperwork. Creditor committees and bankruptcy trustees also hire bankruptcy attorneys to advise them and represent them in court.
Civil Litigation Lawyer
Civil litigation attorneys help clients in all matters of civil lawsuits, but not government disputes. The lawyer may represent either the defendant or the plaintiff and can further specialize in commercial litigation, corporate litigation, or environmental litigation.
Civil Rights Lawyer
Civil rights lawyers handle cases involving charging the state or other authorities with violations of an individual's constitutional rights. Circumstances may include harassment, civil liberties, voting rights, human rights, or discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion, gender, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, and more. In addition, civil rights lawyers secure the rights of individuals to the freedoms of expression, speech, movement, privacy, thought, religion, and the press.
Contract lawyers help clients draft and format legally binding contracts and enforce those contracts. They also provide counsel about contractual issues, lead negotiations, and handle breach-of-contract litigation.
Corporate or Business Lawyer
Corporate lawyers can work independently in a law firm or as a company's in-house counsel in different roles. These roles involve serving in positions like staff attorney, deputy general counsel, chief legal officer, or general counsel. Their tasks may include setting up the company, compliance issues, corporate governance, contract development and maintenance, and more.
A corporate lawyer operating as a business-litigation or business-transactional lawyer can specialize in various aspects of business operations, including real estate, acquisition and mergers, employment, drafting of contracts, filing cases, deal negotiations, trademarks, tax law, international commercial law, and bankruptcy proceedings.
As a criminal lawyer, you can be a public defense attorney, private defense attorney, or prosecutor. Criminal lawyers represent clients who have been accused of a crime and assist them through the various stages of a criminal proceeding, including arrest, bail, arraignment, pleas, appeal, and sentencing.
Digital Media and Internet Lawyer
As the name implies, digital media and internet lawyers handle litigation concerning the internet or technology related to the internet. The clients in these cases may need help with piracy issues, copyright laws, internet privacy, website terms and conditions, and online predators targeting children.
Employment or Labor Lawyer
Employment lawyers represent employers or employees in cases regarding a breach of an employment contract. Typically, they are hired to provide counsel or negotiate cases involving:
- Employee benefits
- Wage and overtime standards
- Privacy rights
- Termination of employment
- Sexual harassment
- Workers' compensation
- Workplace discrimination based on age, ancestry, color, race, religion, sex, and other protected categories
- Workplace safety
Those in the entertainment industry, film, music, or otherwise in the public eye, hire entertainment lawyers in litigation about entertainment contracts. These attorneys represent their clients in litigation, advise them, draft legally binding agreements, assist with trademark licensing agreements, royalty issues, and any other legal disputes associated with their art.
Environmental lawyers represent individuals, advocacy organizations, or government agencies in cases involving environmental regulation, public health, compliance, disputes about land or coastline use, and the legislative protection of natural resources.
Estate Planning Lawyer
An estate planning attorney specializes in drafting and executing clients' wills or trusts. In essence, they plan and manage their client's estate. If you practice this area of law, you will set up trusts and ensure that all involved follow your clients' instructions regarding the trust to the letter.
Estate planning lawyers also advise clients about life insurance, retirement plans, and contributions to charities. If someone disputes the estate of a deceased person, estate lawyers will be responsible for handling the case.
Family and Divorce Lawyer
Lawyers in this field help clients with child-custody cases, processing divorces and splitting up assets, child support, domestic abuse, civil unions, adoptions, and more.
Finance and Securities Lawyer
Finance and securities lawyers help individuals and corporations with cases involving the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Their caseloads might also include litigation regarding treasury, buying and selling stocks, and banking.
General Practice Lawyer
Unlike other lawyers that focus on a specialty, general-practice lawyers are the jack-of-all-trades. They possess the skills and knowledge to represent and counsel clients in a variety of legal cases, be it civil litigation, criminal, family law, personal injury, real estate law, and more.
General practice attorneys handle discovery, representation, filings, depositions, due diligence and offer consultation services to clients on a variety of matters. Their expertise in multiple law arenas enables these lawyers to provide a wide arrange of legal services.
As the name implies, government lawyers work for the government, serving as counsel at the state, federal, county, or municipal level. A government lawyer practices law similar to a private attorney but focuses more on matters that affect a governing body. A government lawyer's work, for example, may include cases involving harassment, wrongful death, or eminent domain.
Immigration lawyers assist people with obtaining visas, applying for green cards, seeking asylum, becoming a US citizen, and appealing deportation. They also help foreign companies to register to operate within the US.
Intellectual Property Lawyer
When people need professional help regarding their physical or intangible ideas, designs, inventions, or other intellectual property, they go to intellectual property (IP) lawyers. IP attorneys assist clients with issues relating to patents, copyrights, and trademarks—and violations thereof. Note, however, that before you can practice IP law, you may need a technical background in chemistry, software development, or another science. Additionally, you may be required to obtain additional licensing.
Legal Malpractice Lawyer
Legal malpractice attorneys assist other lawyers facing charges of legal malpractice. For example, this could include a lawyer charged with violating their responsibilities to a client, failing to uphold the client's best interests, or otherwise acting in a way that belies legal best practices.
Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Medical malpractice lawyers represent doctors or other health professionals who face charges of medical misconduct. For example, a medical facility generally hires this type of attorney when a medical professional is charged with making a consequential medical mistake such as offering the wrong treatment, wrongfully touching a patient, erring in surgery, and such. These cases can, but not always, deal with wrongful death as well.
Mergers and Acquisitions Lawyer
Mergers and acquisition lawyers represent companies and facilitate their buying, selling, and mergers with other companies. Attorneys who practice this area of law have a deep knowledge of the rules and procedures governing the structuring of merger-and-acquisition contracts, including tax, finance, and securities laws.
Also known as Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs), military lawyers represent members of the US Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and other US military branches in civil and criminal cases.
A military lawyer practices law only in a military court. The proceedings may be a military review, court-martial, or a Military Court of Inquiry. These attorneys also serve in cases brought before the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Though not quite lawyers themselves, paralegals assist lawyers in law firms. They help with legal research, filing documents, drafting, and other duties. In most states, being called to the state bar isn't required to become a paralegal. Similar to attorneys, some paralegals have specialties, such as estate planning and probate, real estate, corporate law, government law, or employment and labor laws.
Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal injury lawyers typically represent individuals in litigation cases involving an injury that resulted from another party's negligence. For example, a personal injury lawyer will represent a client who was hurt or whose family member died in an accident due to another party's negligence.
Personal injury lawyers also take on cases that involve medical malpractice, defamation, libel and slander, assault and battery, and product liability. People who are injured while on another person's property or are denied workers' compensation after being hurt on the job also hire personal injury attorneys.
Property or Real Estate Lawyer
Property or real estate lawyers counsel clients about land and real estate transactions. They draft legally binding agreements regarding the sale or rent of properties and handle issues concerning land or construction ownership, property development, tenant rights, landlord disputes, and other property disputes.
Public Interest Lawyer
Lawyers in this field typically work with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international public interest groups. Lawyers in this legal niche aren't in it to achieve great wealth but instead help their fellow man overcome social injustices. Public interest lawyers typically work pro bono or at reduced rates.
A lawyer in this field may also represent people who are facing criminal charges but who can't afford an attorney.
Tax lawyers help clients who have issues concerning local, state, or federal tax laws. A tax lawyer might, for example, help a person or company be confident that its activities do not contradict tax laws and can also help clients minimize their tax liabilities.
Toxic Tort Lawyer
When people are exposed to toxic or hazardous materials and end up with a pile of associated medical bills and illness, they hire a toxic tort lawyer to get compensation. Toxic tort lawyers assist clients like this through litigation and will negotiate settlements on their client's behalf.
The defending party in the case may be a manufacturer of a defective product that hurt the client or a company that failed to store chemicals properly or protect their employees. In many ways, the roles of a toxic-tort lawyer are quite similar to those of a personal injury lawyer.
Traffic or DUI Lawyer
People arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI)—misdemeanor and felony criminal cases—may need the services of a DUI/DWI or traffic lawyer. The lawyer can help with bail, entering pleas, and generally defending clients through cases from start to finish
Workers' Compensation Lawyer
Workers' compensation lawyers help people who are injured on the job and need assistance filing claims and getting compensated for their medical bills, time off work, and injuries. A workers' compensation attorney may also help the family of a worker whose death is the result of a workplace accident or occupational illness by proving the employer's liability and getting compensation for the family.
How to Pick the Right Legal Career for You
As we've seen, there are various career paths that you can follow within the legal industry. The route you choose depends on what type of litigation fires up your soul, as well as your innate skills and passions. If you're not sure which direction to go, we recommend visiting with and learning more about people in your fields of interest before or during your first year in law school.
If you choose by the end of that first year, you'll know what second-year law school courses to take to help you best prepare for your specialty. After law school, you can further specialize by getting a Masters of Law (LLM) degree or Doctor of Law (JSD or SJD) to deepen your knowledge of your specialty.