Most lawyers pursue a practice specialty. While some law students sit down for their LSATs knowing what practice area interests them, others need to investigate first. This list provides a brief description of different legal practice areas to help you in your research.
Civil Rights Law
Civil rights attorneys protect Constitutional rights through the cases they pursue. Frequently, the work done by civil rights lawyers involves protecting first amendment rights (protecting religious beliefs, free expression, and the right to assemble) or fourteenth amendment rights (to equal protection under the law). Individuals in this specialty area often take part in proceedings within government agencies, so knowledge of administrative law is a must.
Family lawyers guide clients through changes to the status of their families. Areas of expertise may include:
• Prenuptial agreements
• Adoption or guardianships
• Divorce, custody, and child support
• Estate planning (although this can be its own specialty)
• Child welfare
• Juvenile delinquency
In addition to knowledge of family law, lawyers in this specialty area will want to master administrative law in order to effectively help clients navigate government agencies they may encounter.
Criminal lawyers are by far the most well-known legal specialists thanks to their high visibility in pop culture. From simple misdemeanors to major felonies, criminal lawyers (such as DUI attorneys) try a wide variety of cases. As a criminal attorney, you may represent the accused as a defender or the state as a prosecutor.
In environmental law, attorneys need to understand a number of different specialties which come to play in environmental cases, such as administrative law, land use, torts, health and safety laws, etc. Cases in environmental law may cover:
• Pollution and hazardous waste disposal
• Agricultural law
• Litigation risk assessment
• Specific types of land transactions
In this specialty, a background in the sciences can be a major benefit.
Employment lawyers manage legal aspects of the worker-employer relationship. Issues that arise in this specialty may include:
• Litigation risk assessment for employers
• Benefit and pension negotiations
• Discrimination and harassment suits
• Workplace injury suits
• Violations of labor laws
Estate lawyers help clients deal with wills, estate taxes, and bequests. They can assist with the orderly arrangement of financial affairs prior to death by helping to establish trusts, and can oversee the distribution of assets after death, helping to settle any conflicts that may arise.
Sports and Entertainment Law
Entertainment and sports attorneys work to develop contracts that deliver maximum benefits for their clients. This research-intensive field requires practitioners who know what their clients’ peers earn and what sort of bonus structures and royalties (e.g. for syndication of a television show or merchandise sales bearing the client’s name) are common. As many performers and athletes are represented by unions, entertainment lawyers also need to understand labor laws and collective bargaining agreements.
Finding Your Niche
When deciding on a specialty, think about what skills, talents, or past experience you have that can give you an advantage in your field. Extensive business experience could help inform a career in corporate law, while working as a talent or literary agent could be good experience for an entertainment lawyer. Foreign language skills provide an advantage in a number of areas, but especially immigration law.
Perform research to choose your law school electives wisely. Many specialized areas of practice span several types of law, so ensure that your electives support the broad practice of your specialty area. Make the effort to get in touch with lawyers in your fields of interest, either through legal blogs or professional associations (many associations offer reduced-rate memberships for students). And don’t forget to ask your professors to put you in touch with any practicing professionals they may know.