Lawyers work in settings such as law firms, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, usually specializing in one or multiple areas of law. Among the biggest legal specialties are corporate and business law, litigation, real estate, and employment law.
Here’s an overview of the most popular practice areas, which may be useful when choosing a career in law after earning your law degree. Each section offers a summary of the area of law, the tasks that lawyers in that field handle, and pros and cons of the work.
When beginning law school, you may have a clear idea of the type of lawyer you want to become or you may not have made a decision yet. During the first year of law school, classes will introduce you to basic law principles.
As you progress through the second and third years of your law degree, coursework becomes more in-depth and specialized. Law students are able to explore different areas of law and start to choose a specialty.
The highest paying law careers are often those in the broad field of commercial law. Specializing at appearing in court hearings can also be lucrative. Career paths associated with the highest median annual salary include: corporate law, intellectual property law, tax law, litigation, and real estate law.
Many law schools assist graduating students join the workforce. You may benefit from mock job interviews to prepare you for the real thing, help with identifying potential employers, interviews being set up with law firms, and even being introduced to recruiters.
Administrative law is a branch of law that deals with the activities of administrative agencies of government.
Administrative agencies are created by the government to carry out specific functions, such as enforcing laws, issuing licenses and permits, and making regulations. Administrative law attorneys help clients navigate the rules and regulations of these agencies, and also handle proceedings and litigation. They advise on compliance with regulatory requirements, negotiate settlements and agreements, and provide strategic advice to clients.
Attorneys who specialize in administrative law may be referred to as administrative law attorneys or administrative attorneys. They may also be called regulatory attorneys, government attorneys, or public law attorneys.
Administrative law is not just a single field but encompasses many different areas of law that can have different pros and cons. Some administrative lawyers may focus on environmental law, which can be rewarding. Others may focus on healthcare law, which can be complex and challenging. Additionally, some administrative lawyers may work for government agencies, while others may work in private practice representing clients.
A benefit of working in this area is the ability to positively impact on society. Administrative lawyers play an important role in shaping policies and regulations that affect society at large. A negative is that administrative law can involve a significant amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, which can be tedious and time-consuming.
Being a barrister is a specific type of legal practice in some common law countries, including the UK, Australia, and Canada. Barristers are legal practitioners who have been called to the bar, meaning they’ve passed the required examinations and been granted the right to practice law as an independent advocate. They represent clients in court and provide legal advice on complex legal issues and cases.
Barristers typically work in private practice and are self-employed, although they may be employed by a chambers (a group of barristers who work together) or a law firm. They’re usually instructed by solicitors – another type of legal practitioner in these countries – who work with clients on a day-to-day basis and prepare cases before being presented in court. Barristers also usually specialize in a certain area of law.
The legal profession and the way it’s practiced vary significantly between countries, and the role of barristers is not present in all countries. In the United States, for example, the legal profession does not have the same distinction between barristers and solicitors, and all legal practitioners are commonly referred to as attorneys or lawyers.
Business law, also known as corporate law, is concerned with starting, organizing, managing, and dissolving businesses. Subfields include:
- Corporate: formation, organization, and governance of corporations.
- Securities: issuance and trading of stocks and other securities.
- Mergers and acquisitions: merger, acquisition, and divestiture of businesses.
- Contracts: formation, interpretation, and enforcement of contracts.
- Intellectual property: protection of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other forms of IP.
- Labor and employment: rights and obligations of employers and employees.
- Real estate: buying, selling, and leasing of properties.
Lawyers who specialize in business law are known as business attorneys or corporate attorneys. They may advise clients on business transactions, and represent them in legal disputes. They may also help clients navigate the complex regulations and rules governing commercial enterprise. There are many different types of law careers within this field, each with its own pros and cons.
Bankruptcy law is an area of legal practice that involves representing individuals and businesses in bankruptcy proceedings.
A bankruptcy lawyer has knowledge and experience in the area of bankruptcy law. You assist clients with filing for bankruptcy, developing a repayment plan, and navigating the legal process. Additionally, you may advise on issues related to debt restructuring and financial reorganization. You may also represent creditors or trustees in bankruptcy cases.
Attorneys who specialize in bankruptcy law are commonly referred to as bankruptcy lawyers or bankruptcy attorneys. A law degree (Juris Doctor or JD) is typically required to practice bankruptcy law. A degree in a related field such as finance, accounting, or business administration could be beneficial.
An advantage of this area of practice is high job security. Bankruptcy is a constant in the economy and the need for bankruptcy lawyers is ever present. Lawyers in this field also have the opportunity to help people and businesses through difficult financial situations and give them a fresh start.
Bankruptcy law can be emotionally taxing and stressful however, as the attorney deals with clients who are often in dire financial straits. Some bankruptcy lawyer may spend more time in court and paper work than interacting with clients, which can be less satisfying for some people.
Civil law is a branch of law dealing with non-criminal legal matters, such as disputes between individuals and organizations. This can include issues related to contracts, property, torts (civil wrongs), and family law for example. Civil law is typically concerned with compensating the victim(s) and/or correcting the situation rather than punishing the wrongdoer.
Civil lawyers provide legal representation and advice to clients, and may assist with negotiations and settlements, or represent clients in court.
Cases are usually heard in civil court, as opposed to criminal court. The standard of proof in civil cases is typically preponderance of the evidence, which means it’s more likely than not that the event happened. By contrast the standard of proof in criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt.
A benefit of a career in this broad area is that have you the opportunity to help people and organizations resolve legal disputes and find solutions to problems. Plus you get to choose an area of special interest, such as consumer law, or insurance. The work can be emotionally taxing however, often involving individuals facing personally challenging legal disputes.
Commercial law is a broad field of practice. The term encompasses laws and regulations that govern buying and selling, as well as the financing and operation of businesses. It also includes laws that protect consumers and businesses from fraud, unfair competition and other types of commercial misconduct.
Attorneys specializing in commercial law provide legal advice and representation to businesses, organizations and individuals on a wide range of commercial transactions, including the formation and dissolution of corporations, partnerships and other business entities, contracts, mergers, acquisitions, and other corporate transactions. They may also counsel clients on regulatory compliance, IP, and other legal matters that arise in the course of business operations.
Commercial law can be divided into subcategories such as banking and finance law, contract law, business and corporate law, and competition or antitrust law. Commercial lawyers are also known as corporate lawyers, business lawyers, or transactional lawyers.
This is often a lucrative legal field, with a high average salary. The work tends to involve large sums of money and high-value assets, which increase the stakes in financial terms and produce higher compensation for lawyers. Competition for top talent leads to large compensation packages.
Criminal law is a branch that deals with the prosecution and punishment of individuals and organizations accused of committing crimes. It encompasses the investigation, arrest, prosecution, and punishment of individuals and organizations who have been accused of committing crimes such as theft, fraud, embezzlement, assault, and murder.
Attorneys who specialize in this field may serve as criminal defense attorneys, representing individuals and organizations charged with criminal offenses. They may also work as prosecutors, who represent the government. A degree in criminal justice would provide an excellent background for a legal career in this field.
In criminal law, legal work may involve: researching and interpreting laws and regulations related to criminal charges and defenses, investigating the facts of a case and gathering evidence, advising clients on their rights and the potential outcomes of their case, interviewing witnesses and clients, drafting legal documents such as motions and briefs, and representing clients in court or during plea negotiations.
Criminal law attorneys analyze complex facts and legal problems and come up with creative solutions. You get the opportunity to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills. On the downside (depending on your personality), you may feel a sense of pressure to achieve the best possible outcome since criminal cases can have serious consequences for clients.
Employment law concerns the legal rights and responsibilities of employers and employees. Laws and regulations govern the relationship between employers and employees in areas such as hiring, firing, discrimination, harassment, wages and hours, and benefits.
Employment lawyers are also known as labor lawyers, or employment and labor attorneys. They specialize in advising employers and employees on legal complications in workplaces.
Employment law attorneys advise employers on how to comply with the law. They may also represent employees or employers in disputes or legal proceedings. Relevant federal and state laws and regulations include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Attorneys may also represent employees or employers in disputes over discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, breach of contract, and wage and hour claims. They also draft and review employment agreements, policies and handbooks, and assist in mediations and negotiations.
Environmental law is about the protection and preservation of the environment. Federal, state and local laws and regulations govern the use, conservation, and management of natural resources and the protection of the air, water, and land from pollution and other environmental hazards.
Environmental lawyers, also known as environmental attorneys, natural resources lawyers, or environmental and natural resources attorneys, work for government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private companies. They specialize in advising clients on regulatory issues related to the environment, including compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.
Environmental law also has its own set of pros and cons, such as the ability to make a difference in protecting the environment, the potential to work with diverse clients and industries, and the opportunity to work in varied settings. It can also be a challenging field to work in as the laws and regulations are complex.
Family law is concerns legal issues related to family relationships, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, and adoption.
Attorneys who specialize in this area of law are known as family lawyers, divorce lawyers, family law attorneys, or family attorneys. They may advise clients on the legal handling of marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, and adoption, as well as appear in court or negotiations. They may also assist clients in drafting legal documents such as prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, and parenting plans.
It’s one of the most emotionally demanding careers in law as you deal with important personal issues. Family lawyers must have strong interpersonal skills as they often work closely with clients through difficult and emotional times. Many family lawyers work in private law firms.
It’s also worth noting that in some jurisdictions, family law is considered as a separate area of law from other areas of practice. In other places, it’s considered as a subcategory of civil law. In Australia, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in law is the starting point to become a family lawyer.
Healthcare law covers the legal issues related to healthcare and health systems. Topics include regulation of healthcare providers, healthcare financing, and healthcare policy.
Attorneys who specialize in healthcare law are known as healthcare attorneys or healthcare lawyers. They may advise healthcare providers, hospitals, insurance companies, and other healthcare organizations on compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Anti-Kickback Statute. They also assist clients in the areas of healthcare fraud and abuse, medical malpractice, and healthcare mergers and acquisitions.
Healthcare law is a complex field, and healthcare attorneys must stay current on legal and regulatory developments in the healthcare industry. They may work in private practice, in-house counsel, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.
Some lawyers with dual or multi-specialization may be called a healthcare and employment lawyer or healthcare and business lawyer.
Immigration law is a branch of law dealing with the legal issues related to immigration, including the rules and procedures for obtaining visas, green cards, and citizenship.
Attorneys who specialize in immigration law are known as immigration lawyers or immigration attorneys. They may advise individuals and organizations on immigration-related issues, such as:
- Obtaining visas for work, study, or travel
- Obtaining permanent resident status (green card)
- Applying for naturalization (citizenship)
- Defending against removal (deportation) proceedings
- Advising employers on compliance with immigration laws and regulations.
Immigration law is complex and the laws and regulations are subject to change. Lawyers must stay current on legal and regulatory developments. They may work in private practice, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.
Immigration law is a federal law governed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Additionally, some states have their own laws regarding immigration, with their own bar association to regulate legal practice.
Intellectual property (IP) law concerns legal rights and protections associated with creations of the mind such as inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. Subfields include:
- Patents on inventions and new technologies.
- Copyright for literary, artistic, and musical works.
- Trademarks on symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce to identify and distinguish products or services.
- Trade secrets regarding confidential business information, such as formulas, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods, techniques, or processes.
Lawyers who specialize in IP law are known as intellectual property attorneys or IP attorneys. They advise clients on legal issues related to obtaining and enforcing IP rights, and appear in legal proceedings related to IP disputes, such as lawsuits for infringement of a patent, trademark, or copyright. IP attorneys may also be involved in IP transactions such as licensing, assignments, and mergers and acquisitions.
IP law requires you to understand technical and scientific aspects of inventions and creations being protected, as well as the legal principles and procedures involved. IP attorneys may work in private practice, in-house counsel, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.
A legal secretary is a person who provides administrative support to lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals. Legal secretaries answer phone calls, schedule appointments, manage email and mail, maintain files and databases, prepare documents, and do legal research. They work in law firms, corporations, and government agencies.
Some employers may require a high school diploma or an equivalent level of education for their legal secretaries and legal assistants. Others may prefer or require post-secondary education, such as an associate degree or certificate in paralegal studies or a related field. You can also become a legal secretary just through on-the-job training or an apprenticeship.
Litigation is a field of legal practice. Litigation itself is the process of taking legal action in a court of law to settle a dispute between two or more parties, and can be divided into subcategories such as civil and criminal.
Litigation attorneys, also known as litigators, represent clients in court, and handle all aspects of a case from the initial filing of a lawsuit through to the trial and appeals process.
Litigators work on a diverse legal matters such as personal injury, contract disputes, employment law, and construction. They investigate the facts of a case, prepare and file legal documents, handle court appearances, and negotiate settlements. They also work closely with clients to advise them on their legal rights, obligations, and options.
Working as a litigator is intellectually stimulating. You analyze complex legal issues, research case law, and develop legal strategies. But it can also be stressful due to the high stakes and tight deadlines of the work.
Paralegal is a profession or occupation within the legal field. A paralegal is a person who is trained and qualified to assist lawyers in the provision of legal services. They’re not licensed to practice law but are able to perform many of the same tasks that a lawyer would handle, such as legal research, drafting legal documents, and assisting in the preparation of cases for trial.
Paralegals work in numerous settings, including law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. They specialize in different areas of law such as criminal law, civil law, corporate law, immigration law, and many more. A bachelor’s degree may not be required, though a degree in law, political science, or criminal justice, or a certificate or degree in paralegal studies, can be beneficial for this career.
Some paralegals may have a specific area of focus, such as real estate, personal injury, or bankruptcy, while others work in general practice. They may also be referred to as legal assistants, legal technicians or legal support staff. The role of a paralegal, the regulation of the profession, and the requirements to become one vary from country to country and even within states or provinces.
Real estate law covers legal issues related to real property, such as buying, selling, renting, and owning land and buildings. Lawyers in this type of career are known as real estate attorneys or real property attorneys.
In this field, you advise clients on legal issues related to buying, selling, renting, and owning property. You may:
- Draft and review purchase agreements and other contracts
- Conduct title searches and resolve title disputes
- Review and explain closing documents
- Handle real estate closings and funding
- Advise on landlord-tenant law
- Represent clients in lawsuits such as eviction proceedings and boundary disputes.
Legal practice relies on understanding legal principles and procedures involved in real estate transactions, as well as knowledge of local zoning and building codes.
This can be an interesting field because you get to work with different clients, including individuals, businesses, developers, landlords, and tenants. You may also specialize in different domains, such as residential, commercial, and land use. The potential to have a stable career is there as well since properties are constantly being turned over.
In certain countries, conveyancing is a distinct profession. Conveyancers handle the legal work involved in transferring ownership of a property, including drafting and reviewing legal documents, conducting title searches, and ensuring that all legal requirements are met. This law career exists in the United Kingdom,, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Ireland.
A solicitor is a special type of lawyer in some common law countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Ireland. They’re one of the two main types of legal practitioners, the other one being barristers.
Solicitors typically handle the day-to-day management of legal cases and work closely with clients to advise them on legal matters. In some countries, such as the United States, the role of a solicitor does not exist. In the US, all legal practitioners are commonly referred to as attorneys or lawyers.
Sports law deals with legal issues encountered in professional and amateur sports, including the representation of athletes, teams, and sports organizations. Subdisciplines include:
- Contract law: Player contracts, sponsorship agreements, and other commercial deals
- Labor law: Collective bargaining agreements, grievances, and other labor issues
- IP law: Sports-related trademarks, copyrights, and other issues
- Administrative law: Regulation of sports by governing bodies, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Attorneys who specialize in sports law are known as sports attorneys or sports lawyers. They may advise clients on legal issues related to sports, and represent them in legal proceedings such as contract disputes, labor disputes, and IP disputes. They may also help clients navigate the complex regulations and rules governing sports organizations and events.
Working in sports law allows you to combine a passion for sports with a legal career. You may get the opportunity to work with high-profile clients, whether they’re individuals, teams or organizations. Be prepared for intense negotiations and high-pressure situations to be part of the job.
Tax law concerns the processes by which government imposes taxes on individuals and businesses. Attorneys in this field are known as tax attorneys or tax lawyers. They may advise individuals and businesses on tax-related issues such as:
- Compliance with federal, state, and local tax laws and regulations
- Tax planning and structuring of business transactions
- Tax disputes and audits
- Navigating the complex tax code and regulations.
Tax attorneys help ensure that their clients’ tax obligations are met and that they receive a fair outcome. Tax laws and regulations are always in operation, meaning tax attorneys will always be in demand. High earning potential exists because of the financial gains available to businesses from good advice. You need to be detail-oriented and have strong analytical skills to succeed in this law field.
Before finishing your law degree, it’s highly recommended to do an internship or clerkship. These opportunities can include working with a corporation, non-profit, government agency or a judge. You’ll gain real-world experience and get a far better idea of the kind of law career you want.