After you take the LSAT, you’ll be filling out law school applications. As you do so, it can help to have some idea of the area(s) of law in which you’d ultimately like to practice. The following overview may help you identify the issue areas that appeal to you the most.
In this area of law, you either work as a defense attorney defending those accused of crimes, or as a government (state or federal) prosecutor charging the accused. No matter which side you're on, you'll learn the ins and outs of criminal statutes, sentencing, post-conviction proceedings, and criminal procedure. You’ll also deal with many fundamental constitutional rights—such as due process and liberty—that are necessary to maintain a free society.
This area of law focuses on balancing government power with personal liberties. The number of full-time jobs in this field is fairly small, so many aspiring civil rights lawyers may seek a generalist practice with a law firm and then cultivate a pro bono docket to pursue civil rights cases. That said, many lawyers are able to work full-time as civil rights attorneys, whether as part of a larger firm with diverse practice areas, with a non-profit organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), or with a public interest/plaintiff’s side law firm.
Corporate and Securities Law
A corporate lawyer advises businesses on compliance with governing legal rules and regulations. A corporate law practice may be transactional (e.g., contracts) or litigation-based. Corporate lawyers are involved in everything from preparing initial articles of incorporation and bylaws to handling corporate reorganizations under federal bankruptcy law. Corporate law may also include intellectual property disputes, risk management (re: liability), regulatory investigations, and more.
Securities law is highly complex. Lawyers with this specialty are usually involved in the formation and financing of corporations through securities like stock. They're also involved with corporate takeovers, mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs.
As an education lawyer, you may advise or represent educational agencies such as school districts in matters related to education law. These could include, but are not limited to: development of educational policy, governance issues, special-education law, employee selection and retention processes, and so on. Alternatively or additionally, you may represent parents in administrative hearings and/or litigation against school districts.
This area of law focuses on family relationships, and many lawyers in this field are solo practitioners or part of small specialized firms or public interest organizations. Family lawyers may deal with such issues such as adoption, child custody, alimony, child support, and divorce proceedings.
This field of law deals with the rights of employers and employees. As a lawyer specializing in this area, you may resolve disputes involving wages and hours, workplace injury, workplace safety, benefit plans, pensions, the right to unionize, unlawful termination, and so on. It's possible to represent an individual employee, union or other interest group, businesses of any size, or a government agency.
In this field, you’d work on legal and regulatory issues surrounding: water quality, toxic torts, energy trade regulation, public land use, electric power licensing, hazardous waste disposal, marine resources, and more. You could work directly for government agencies, or represent corporations or public interest organizations dedicated to environmental protection.
Intellectual Property Law
This area of law focuses on authors' rights in their works; inventors' rights in their products, services, and discoveries; and businesses' rights to identifying marks. Intellectual property law includes copyright, trademarks, and patents. You could represent authors, publishers, or businesses, or work for a governmental regulatory agency. It's possible to specialize in particular areas of IP law. Given the complexity and fast pace of the digital world, intellectual property law is ever evolving.
As an immigration lawyer, you'll deal with issues related to U.S. immigration law and policies, and may represent foreign nationals seeking to come to America either on a temporary or permanent basis. Immigration law covers the legal rights, duties, and obligations of noncitizens entering the country; applications and procedures for securing visas and naturalization; refugee and asylum law; and removal (deportation) defense. You may opt to work with clients on all areas of immigration law, or choose to specialize in a number of subcategories such as business immigration law, criminal and removal defense, or refugee and asylum law. Immigration law is a complex, highly-specialized practice in an area where law and policy change frequently.
As countries become more economically interdependent, international lawyers have come to play a larger role. Here, too, immigration law is of increasing significance, as more people move across international boundaries for work, tourism, or to permanently begin a new life. A lawyer specializing in international law has many job opportunities to choose from. You could work for any government, public interest groups, or international institutions (like the United Nations or World Bank). You may also work in the private sector representing corporations, telecommunication firms, or banks. If you are fluent in other languages, or are familiar with other cultures, choosing this field can give you an advantage after graduation.
As a lawyer who specializes in health law, you'll deal with a variety of disciplines. You may represent hospitals, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), physician groups, or individual doctors. If you work for a government agency, you may find yourself investigating fraud, handling Medicare policy and compliance, or playing a role in public health. Many health lawyers are on the business side of health care, dealing with tax law, employee benefits, mergers, and so on. Health lawyers who choose to specialize in clinical ethics and bioethics can also represent research centers. Because of rapid technology growth in healthcare, you may deal with biomedicine, telemedicine, and intellectual property issues.
Real Estate Law
This field of law focuses on land. It covers issues such as rights of ownership and possession of property and/or buildings; proper procedures for the purchase, sale, or transfer of property; landlord/tenant issues; and compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Real estate lawyers may be transactional or litigators; may have sub-specializations in particular fields of real estate or other related areas of law; and may work at the local, state, or federal level.
Entertainment & Sports Law
Entertainment law focuses an array of issues. It involves any legal issues related to such entertainment industries as music, theater, film, or television; recordings or live performances; and so on. Entertainment lawyers may work to resolve issues between actors and studios (such as contract negotiation and enforcement) or labor issues (such as disputes initiated by trade union members). This field also includes intellectual property law protections for copyrighted material, such as original songs, scripts, productions, and so forth, as well as disputes over ideas for new movies or music. Entertainment lawyers could work for a movie studio, record company, or talent agency, or represent individual entertainers.
Sports law is separated between amateur and professional sports. Amateur level sports are with colleges and universities. As a lawyer at this level, you'd make sure all athletes and donors are in compliance with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules and regulations. You could also work with federally-funded universities to prevent gender discrimination. As a lawyer at the professional level, you'd handle contracts and antitrust issues, and could represent team owners or individual players.
This field of law focuses on federal, state, and local taxes—an increasingly complex web of highly technical laws and regulations that has become increasingly specialized over the past 50 years. Take one look at the IRS tax code, and you can see why there are lawyers who focus entire careers on it. It's thousands of pages long, with new statutes, court rulings, and administrative rulings issued all the time. As a tax lawyer, you'll work with clients to help them understand how current tax laws apply to their economic situation. You may advise clients on such issues as how to reduce overall tax liability, eligibility for special programs, and the like.
Which Will You Choose?
Thankfully, you don't need to know the type of law you want to practice before you go into law school. After your first year, you may be advised to choose a practice area, but you're not required to do so. Specializing can help shape your course selection during the rest of your law school career, but it's still a good idea to expose yourself to as many areas of law as possible before you decide on the one that's right for you.