LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)
Part VII. The Part of Tens
Chapter 22. Ten Kinds of Law You Can Practice
In This Chapter
Examining different legal specialties
Deciding which area of legal practice to specialize in
So you're seriously considering law school. Have you thought about what you'd do with a law degree? A degree of Juris Doctor (JD — that's the degree you get when you graduate from law school) can lead down all sorts of roads. A lawyer isn't a multipurpose legal expert; different lawyers specialize in different fields. Don't assume that just because someone is a lawyer she can handle any legal task. Just as you'd never go to a plastic surgeon to get a liver transplant, you wouldn't want to hire a criminal lawyer to write your will.
This chapter contains some common areas of legal practice. Note: We have room to list only the most common ones. Many specialties aren't listed. Within most of these listed specialties, some lawyers are primarily litigators — they go to court and talk to judges — and other lawyers specialize in transactional work — they sit in offices, writing documents and negotiating deals. The law offers something for nearly everyone!
Some lawyers spend all their time working on behalf of corporations. They negotiate deals, write and review contracts, and handle venture capital, securities, mergers, acquisitions, commercial paper, and plenty of other big-money topics. Some lawyers work directly for individual corporations as corporate counsel. Others work in firms that do the work for big and small businesses. If you're into deal making and especially like to wear fancy clothes, this field could be for you.
Do you want to put bad guys behind bars or fight to keep wrongfully accused people out of jail? Perhaps what interests you most is the theoretical study of criminal justice, the rationale behind such concepts as the insanity defense, the death penalty, and lengthy incarcerations. These topics all fall under the heading of criminal law. Criminal lawyers include prosecutors, who work for the state prosecuting people accused of crimes, and public defenders, who defend these same people accused of crimes. This field is a great area to pursue if you want to spend a lot of time in court.
Domestic Relations/Family Law
Domestic relations and family law encompass all the legal aspects of family life — prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, custody, child support, division of marital property, visitation, child abuse, adoption, and so on. Some family lawyers specialize in even more particular matters, such as divorces involving wealthy people, though the relatively small number of super-wealthy people in the world limits the number of lawyers who can find work in this area. More typically, family lawyers handle the unfortunate situations confronting everyday people. Many family lawyers work closely with social services, particularly to monitor the welfare of children who may get lost in unfortunate family situations.
Employment law concerns itself with all aspects of the workplace — compensation, discrimination, sexual harassment, hiring and firing, benefits, and workplace safety. When employees sue employers for wrongful termination or national origin discrimination, employment lawyers get to participate in the fracas.
Labor law isn't the same thing as employment law. Labor law involves labor unions and collective bargaining agreements. Labor law has tons of federal regulation, such as the National Labor Relations Act, and various other state and federal statutes that cover specific industries, such as railroads.
Intellectual property includes copyrights, trademarks, and trade names. It also includes patents, though patent lawyers tend to specialize primarily in that area. (Patent law often involves inventions, so many patent lawyers are former engineers or engineering majors.) Intellectual property lawyers help their clients register trademarks, file lawsuits for trademark or trade name violations, watch out for unfair competition, and regularly consider matters such as the value of celebrity endorsements. The Internet has opened up a vast new arena of intellectual property matters, so if you're into software and electronically distributed texts, you may want to pay more attention while you're in intellectual property class.
You've heard of the United Nations, but there are hundreds of other less well-known international organizations in the world, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and Mercosur (or Southern Cone Common Market — that's in South America). International law comes from all sorts of different sources. Countries enter into treaties and conventions with one another. International organizations such as the International Court of Justice decide some international disputes, and the vague but important principle known as customary international law provides guidance for nations interacting with one another. International lawyers figure out all this stuff. International law is complicated but interesting, and involvement in international affairs carries significant prestige, so many people study this field.
If you think international law is for you, brush up on your foreign languages; speaking several definitely helps you find jobs.
Personal Injury/Insurance Defense
Have you been injured in an accident? We hope not, but if you become a plaintiff's attorney and specialize in personal injury cases, you may want to find people who have. Plaintiffs’ attorneys file lawsuits on behalf of people who've been injured in some way and hope to recover damages. These lawsuits are usually based on torts, which are injuries such as battery, trespass, fraud, products liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress — anything that injures someone but isn't a crime under state or federal law. (This kind of lawsuit is called civil, not because the parties are especially polite to each other but because the lawsuits are brought by private citizens, unlike criminal lawsuits, which are always brought by the state.)
Of course, someone has to defend the people and companies who get sued in personal injury lawsuits. Defense lawyers rise to the occasion here. In any given year, many personal injury lawsuits are filed against companies with malpractice insurance, and the insurance companies often end up paying for the legal defense. Lawyers who defend defendants in certain kinds of personal injury cases are called insurance defense attorneys.
One big difference between plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers is in the way they get paid for their work. Plaintiffs’ attorneys often collect a contingency fee, which is a percentage of whatever amount the plaintiff recovers if he wins the lawsuit. If the lawsuit fails, the attorney doesn't get paid. Defense attorneys typically bill by the hour, so the more hours they work on a case, the more they get paid.
If you've ever bought property, like a house, you've probably met a real estate attorney. Real estate lawyers are the folks who oversee closings, those quaint ceremonial occasions in which the parties to a transaction sit around a table and pass around myriad forms that everyone has to sign, at the end of which the buyer is poorer and owns the property and the seller is richer and doesn't. Real estate lawyers also do title searches, investigate zoning laws, and come to a deeper understanding of arcane concepts such as the rule against perpetuities (go to law school to figure out that one). Real estate tends to be a fairly stable field that attracts people who want relatively regular hours, though things can get crazy in real estate offices at the end of every month or whenever interest rates do something exciting.
Ever read the Internal Revenue Code? Become a tax lawyer and you'll experience that sublime pleasure on a daily basis. Tax lawyers almost have to specialize in this one area; the state and federal tax codes are so complex and change so often that being a generalist with a sideline in tax is difficult. Good tax lawyers have mastered a delicate balancing act, making sure that their clients pay exactly as much tax as they need to in order to avoid prosecution but also ensuring that they don't pay a penny more than they absolutely must.
Attorneys who specialize in tax are unusual in that they very often have an advanced legal degree, called a Master of Laws (LLM).
Trusts and Estates/Probate
When people die, they usually leave stuff behind. Trusts and estates is the field of study concerned with how all that stuff gets disposed of, a process known as probate. Sometimes people die without wills, and it's the lawyer's job to figure out who gets what according to state laws of descent and distribution. Rich people don't like to let the state decide who gets their money and property, so they usually write wills or create trusts to ensure that particular people get particular things. Lawyers who do estate planning are usually in demand, especially if they combine this specialty with some specialized knowledge of tax laws.
About the Authors
Scott A. Hatch, JD, and Lisa Zimmer Hatch, MA, have prepared thousands of teens and adults to excel on standardized tests, gain admission to the colleges of their choice, and secure challenging and lucrative professional careers since 1987. They’ve taught paralegals and other legal professionals on a live-lecture, online, DVD, and independent-study basis through more than 300 universities worldwide. Scott and Lisa have a special place in their hearts for the LSAT because they met when Lisa took one of Scott’s LSAT prep courses. Together they’ve authored numerous law and standardized test prep texts, including GMAT For Dummies, 6th edition, ACT For Dummies,5th edition, SAT II US History For Dummies, SAT II Biology For Dummies, SAT II Math For Dummies, Catholic High School Entrance Exams For Dummies, and Paralegal Career For Dummies (Wiley).
Lisa is currently an independent educational consultant and the president of College Primers, where she guides high school and college students through the undergraduate and graduate admissions process and prepares students to excel on entrance exams through individualized coaching and small group courses. She graduated with honors in English from the University of Puget Sound, received a master’s degree in humanities with a literature emphasis from California State University, and completed UCLA’s College Counseling Certificate program. Scott received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and his Juris Doctorate from Southwestern University School of Law. He was a contributing editor to the Judicial Profiler and The Colorado Law Annotated and has served as editor of several national award-winning publications. His most recent books include A Legal Guide to Probate and Estate Planning and A Legal Guide to Family Law, which are inaugural texts in B & B Publications’ Learn the Law series.
Amy Hackney Blackwell is a scientist, a writer, and a former attorney. She holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a Ph.D. from Clemson University, where she is a research associate at the botanical garden. Her fields of research include international laws on the collection of biological resources, intellectual property issues related to genetic materials and cultural artifacts, and historical botany and ecology.