When you're ready to pursue your Juris Doctor (JD), you might be eager to start taking a broad number of classes that cover law at an all-encompassing level. But you may want to hone in on specific areas of the law that fascinate you – most specifically, the types of law you plan on taking on in your future career. Whether you plan on being a divorce lawyer, environmental lawyer or general practitioner, there are plenty of nuances that separate these different fields.
Though many students go to law school knowing what type of law they'd like to pursue, others don't figure out exactly what field they'd like to go into until they take some courses and see what they favor about each type of law. We've created a list of some of the major types of law to help guide you in deciding what path you'd like to take.
Administrative and regulatory law
Administrative law is the area of the legal system that works directly with government institutions. As is the case with most federal, state and local entities, all governments have a specific set of practices involved in a majority of transactions, including creating laws, ensuring land is being protected and used as intended and making sure international and intranational trade is being conducted in a compliant fashion.
Generally, administrative and regulatory lawyers must understand several aspects of the law, including health care, business law, environmental law and immigration law, among others. In addition, lawyers in all fields should understand the nuances of administrative law, as nearly all forms of law govern under regulatory principles. That's why many law schools require students to take a course in administrative law, whether they're planning on becoming a criminal, civil, real estate, corporate or other type of lawyer.
As its title suggests, a civil lawyer represents clients in civil cases. Civil law deals with cases that involve an individual or group causing direct harm to an individual or small party. (This is different from criminal law, which handles lawsuits in which the federal, state or local government is the party being harmed by the defendants' actions, but we'll divulge more on that later.) Some common forms of civil trials include defamation, property damage and breaking and entering.
Unlike criminal cases, which are decided upon by a jury, most civil cases are settled by a judge. Additionally, the punishment for committing a civil case is typically a cash payout (rather than a prison sentence). In many instances, the prosecuting party will take the defendant to criminal court as well as civil court. One prominent example of this was the trial against O.J. Simpson; he was first sent to criminal court – the more televised trial – in which he was acquitted, but was eventually tried for wrongful death in a civil trial two years later.
In corporate law, professionals might work under a number of circumstances. Two common instances include business litigation and transactional law.
When corporate lawyers provide litigation, they represent their clients when business transactions don't go as planned. Some examples of instances that may lead to corporate lawsuits include the breaching of contracts, wrongful termination or employer negligence that results in a workplace injury. When businesses want to restructure after experiencing a financial hardship, they might seek the assistance of bankruptcy lawyers, a specific form of corporate litigator.
While corporate litigators may spend a large chunk of their working time in and preparing for court, most business lawyers work through what is known as transactional business law. In these instances, they will typically offer legal advice to public and private companies on a variety of affairs, including mergers and acquisitions, taxes, loans and other financing, intellectual property licensing and the purchase and sale of businesses.
When most people think of lawyers, they probably imagine a lawyer participating in a high-profile criminal case. This is mostly because it's what they see the most of in the TV shows they watch. Criminal law is a subset of the law that deals with individuals who have broken laws as governed by federal, state or local governments. A criminal lawyer can deal with a variety of cases, ranging from traffic tickets and minor misdemeanors to severe felonies, such as assault and murder.
There are two main types of lawyers in this field: criminal prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers. Typically, criminal prosecutors will represent local, state or federal government entities in cases that charge specific individuals with committing a crime. Though most prosecutors work directly for the government, many are private lawyers who work with smaller communities. On the other hand, criminal defense lawyers represent individuals that have been charged with crimes. Like prosecutors, many defense lawyers work for the government as public defenders, providing assistance to clients who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to defend their case. Others work for private law firms, for which clients pay for their services. There are plenty of pros and cons between being a public and private prosecutor or defense attorney, but we will go into further detail about these differences in an upcoming post.
An essential type of law that affects Americans of all ages and demographics is family law. This type of law covers a variety of legal issues, most often related to divorce and prenuptial engagements. In instances of divorce, a number of issues might come up, including child support and custody battles. Family lawyers might also draft up different documents, including pre-nuptial, marital property and cohabitation agreements.
Something worth noting about family law is that it can involve emotional and sometimes disconcerting issues in which the lawyer in charge of the case must try to remain stoic. Specifically due to the fact that family law often involves working with children, it can be difficult to separate one's emotions from the case. Despite the fact that this is an emotionally challenging area of the justice system to work with, it can be highly rewarding when the case goes as you intended.
As immigration laws and practices are constantly shifting and evolving in the U.S., there is a need for lawyers that specialize in this field of the law. Immigration lawyers can work in a variety of settings. One such environment is large-scale law firms. These employers seek out lawyers who can assist in securing work visas for foreign workers and students. Other common settings for immigrantion lawyers are smaller firms or public interest groups, which focus on personal or family immigration cases. Immigration lawyers working for these entities might work directly with undocumented immigrants, seeking solutions for them to avoid being deported. Additionally, many immigration lawyers work directly for the government, more specifically the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Even though this is a relatively comprehensive list, these are by no means the only types of law you might want to pursue. Some other areas include:
Factors to consider
When you're going for your JD and trying to decide which concentration you'd like to focus on, there are a number of factors that might influence you to or dissuade you from pursuing a certain specialization. When you're making this big decision, you might consider these parts:
There are plenty of programs that allow you to specialize in a specialized type of law. To find the right law school, you can browse our selection of law schools to begin narrowing down your options.