With a law degree, your job opportunities are virtually limitless. Whether it's the medical field, oil, and gas, engineering, real estate, or even the military, every industry needs legal professionals.
But there are different types of lawyers, too. And each type is better suited to a particular industry or industries than others. By knowing the types of lawyers and what each does, you can decide what direction you want to take your legal career.
To help with this, we've compiled this comprehensive list of various types of lawyers and their roles for their clients:
Immigration lawyers assist people with issues including getting visas, applying for green cards, seeking asylum, becoming a U.S. citizen, and appealing deportation. They also help foreign companies registering in the U.S.
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.
Also known as Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs), military lawyers represent members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and all other U.S. military branches in both 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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
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.
Civil Rights Lawyer
Civil-rights lawyers handle cases that involve charging the state or other authorities with violating an individual's 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. Civil-rights lawyers secure the rights of an individual to freedom of expression, speech, movement, privacy, thought, religion, and the press.
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.
Estate Planning Lawyer
An estate-planning lawyer 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.
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. The lawyer advises clients when to file for bankruptcy and what type of bankruptcy to pursue, for 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.
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. You may be required to obtain additional licensing.
Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal-injury lawyers specialize in tort law. They 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 who's 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.
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. The toxic tort lawyer helps clients like this through litigation and negotiates settlements on their 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.
Employment or Labor Lawyer
Employment lawyers represent employers or employees in cases regarding a breach of an employment contract. Typically, people hire them 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 the like
- Workplace safety
Corporate or Business Lawyer
Corporate lawyers can work independently in a law firm, or as a company's in-house counsel. They serve in roles like staff attorney, deputy general counsel, chief legal officer, or general counsel. Business owners rely on them for help with things like setting up a 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.
Mergers & Acquisitions Lawyer
Mergers and acquisition lawyers represent companies and facilitate their buying, selling, and mergers with other companies. Attorneys that practice this area of law have a deep knowledge of the rules and procedures that govern the structuring of merger-and-acquisition contracts – including tax law, finance law, and securities law.
Property / Real Estate Lawyer
Property or real-estate Lawyers counsel clients about land or 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
Public-interest lawyers typically work pro bono or at reduced rates. Lawyers in this legal niche aren't in it to achieve great wealth, but rather, help their fellow man overcome social injustices. Lawyers in this field typically work with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international public-interest groups.
A lawyer in this field may also represent people who are facing criminal charges but who can't afford an attorney.
Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Medical-malpractice lawyers represent doctors or other health professionals who face misconduct charges, or the clients accusing them of such. 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.
Legal Malpractice Lawyer
Legal-malpractice lawyers assist other attorneys facing charges of legal malpractice. This might include a lawyer charged with violating his or her responsibilities to a client, failing to uphold the best interests of a client, or otherwise acting in a way that belies legal best practices.
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.
Family & Divorce Lawyer
Lawyers in this field help clients with child-custody cases, processing divorces and splitting, child support, domestic abuse, legitimacy, civil unions, adoptions, and more.
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 lawyer may also help the family of a worker whose death is the result of a workplace accident or occupational disease, by proving the employer's liability and getting compensation for the family.
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.
Civil Litigation Lawyer
Civil-litigation attorneys advise the parties to a lawsuit. The lawyer may represent either the defendant or the plaintiff and can specialize in commercial litigation, corporate litigation, or environmental litigation.
Environmental lawyers represent individuals, advocacy organizations, or government agencies in cases involving environmental regulation, public health, compliance, disputes about land or coastline use, and legislative protection of natural resources.
Finance & 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.
Digital Media & 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.
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.
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. Like attorneys, some paralegals have specialties, such as estate planning and probate, real estate, corporate law, government law, or employment and labor laws.
General Practice Lawyer
Unlike other lawyers that focus on a specialty, general-practice lawyers are jacks-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, or something else. You could liken a general-practice lawyer versus an environmental lawyer to that of a general-practice doctor versus an orthopedic doctor.
General-practice lawyers handle discovery, representation, filings, depositions, due diligence, and offers 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.
What type of Lawyer are 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 Laws (J.S.D or S.J.D) to deepen your knowledge of your specialty.