While the vision of a power suit-clad lawyer arguing a brilliant case in front of judge and jury may be a familiar one if you’re a fan of prime-time television, this is far from an accurate depiction of real employment for most people in the legal field. Lawyers comprise a breadth and depth of specialties—each with their own unique area of legal expertise.
You’re not required to know what field of law you want to practice before starting law school—education is often a journey of discovery, after all—but it is helpful to have an understanding of the different areas of the practice of law in the United States before you begin your legal studies in-depth. The following types of law are some of the more common fields of practice in the legal community.
As evidenced by the abundance of shows like Law & Order on television today, this may be the most well-known field of practice. In short, criminal law is concerned with the punishment of people who commit crimes. Prosecutors and district attorneys represent the interests of the state in prosecuting people accused of crimes while their counterparts, criminal defense attorneys, are tasked with defending the rights of the accused. If you are looking for a legal career centered in the courtroom, criminal law could be the right avenue for you. But it’s not all courtroom work—you’ll have to do extensive research, draft legal briefs, fill out paperwork, and meet with lots of individuals outside the courtroom.
Elder law comprises a comprehensive range of legal matters pertaining to older people and their families, as well as the disabled. Elder lawyers provide services and advocacy on topics including financial and physical abuse and neglect; nursing home litigation; and end-of-life issues. Given the country’s rapidly aging population, demand for elder attorneys is anticipated to rise in the years ahead.
The employer/employee relationship is complex. Employment law deals with the responsibilities and rights between employers and workers in order to ensure fair practices. Employment lawyers’ areas of focus include discrimination (sexual, race, age, etc.), harassment, retaliation, disparate treatment, and constructive discharge, among others. Depending on which side they work for—employers or employees—jobs in employment law can vary drastically. Employment lawyers engaged on the employer side of the business might help ensure their company complies with federal labor laws or represent the company in employment disputes. Employment lawyers engaged on the employee side of the business might represent clients in discrimination or wrongful discharge cases, or they might specialize in labor relations, providing counsel and services to labor unions.
Entertainment law encompasses all legal services for and within the entertainment industry. Lawyers in this field regularly counsel clients on issues including intellectual property, business, contracts, taxation, securities, international, immigration, employment/labor, and litigation. Unlike other well-defined areas of law that have a large body of casework to rely upon, entertainment law can sometimes be an indistinct field, with entertainment lawyers required to know a wide variety of areas of law, and often being called upon to offer services outside the realm of legal knowledge.
Family and Juvenile Law
Family and juvenile law comprises legal topics pertaining to marriage, other domestic unions, and children. Family and juvenile lawyers represent clients on matters including divorce and annulment, division of property, custody and visitation rights, child support, and alimony. This area of the law also comprises issues related specifically to children, including guardianship, state child protection, adoption, domestic violence, and restraining orders. Within the field of family law, attorneys can also specialize in certain areas, such as adoption law. Most family lawyers either work in small or mid-size law practices, non-profit organizations, or local/state government agencies.
Intellectual Property Law
The field of intellectual property law (IP law) is concerned with protecting the rights of inventors, authors, and businesses to their ideas, creations, inventions, and identifying symbols (such as trademarks). Lawyers within this field usually specialize in a specific area, and as such usually become experts in their particular domain. Individual fields within intellectual property law include patent law and copyright law. As experts in federal patent, trademark, and copyright laws, as well as state trade secret laws, IP lawyers advise clients on matters pertaining to the protection of intellectual property, including everything from tangible things to written and artistic expressions.
Every country has its own laws, but what about when countries interact with each other? Enter international law. A broad and diverse field, international law deals with issues of business and trade, criminal disputes, and human rights issues. On the private side, international lawyers can find employment in large corporations, law firms or even banks, working in legal matters of finance and trade. Fewer opportunities exist on the public side of international law, which might handle deals with sovereign nations or issues with immigration and refugee law.
Real Estate Law
On paper, real estate law is a simple issue: Who owns land, and who may use it? In reality, it’s significantly more complicated. Real estate lawyers are involved with the comprehensive business of real estate, including the selling, buying, and leasing of residential and commercial land, buildings, housing, natural resources, and other real estate-related interests. This type of work is usually transactional in nature with real estate lawyers involved in drafting, negotiating, and closing real estate agreements.
Defining Your Legal Career
These are some of the more commonly known areas of law, but they’re far from the only ones. Other potential specializations include bankruptcy law, business (corporate) law, admiralty law, constitutional law, environmental law, healthcare law, civil rights law, immigration law, military law, personal injury law, and tax law. And while the list may seem exhaustive, this is good news for prospective lawyers looking for fulfilling legal careers: With so many options from which to choose, you’re sure to find the perfect specialization for your legal career.
At San Francisco Law School and its San Diego, California branch, we offer students a comprehensive law degree program. In addition to core classes in the general principles of law, we also offer classes in many of the above practice areas, such as elder law, employment law, family law, and international law—giving our students the opportunity to explore a wide range of fields before graduating and deciding the course of their career. It’s also important to research which law school suits the area of law you choose to study.
If you would like to learn more about Alliant’s California law schools in San Francisco (main campus) or San Diego (branch campus), please contact an admissions counselor, or give us a call at 1-866-825-5426.