Everything to Know About These Common Lawyer Specialities if Considering a Career in Law
High school and college students who think that a career in law interests them should explore all that the field has to offer as early as possible. Each law school offers the same core courses but requires each law student to declare a specialty. Typically, they want the student to come into law school knowing what type of law they want to practice, so becoming familiar with common lawyer specializations grows in importance the closer you come to application time.
Legal Specialty Guides the Choice of Law School
More importantly, each student needs to choose a law school that specializes in the area of law they intend to practice. Here are a few examples. Pace University in White Plains, N.Y. specializes in environmental law, while The University of Oklahoma Law School specializes in oil and gas law. Harvard University’s law school gained its fame for its business law program.
This means when you choose your specialty area, that choice guides your school choice. Choosing any type of graduate school program differs from choosing an undergraduate school, since location plays little importance. Only the program and its professors matter when choosing a law school or other graduate studies program.
The many industries and facets of life that exist provide the many common lawyer specialty areas. For instance, some attorneys practice within the area of family law, and within that broad area, they specialize in divorce, child custody, child advocacy, adoption, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, or another interest. Let’s consider some of the most common legal practice areas.
Most individuals find the term divorce attorney familiar because most people know at least one divorced person. This common lawyer specialty within family law requires an understanding personality capable of empathy, sympathy, and caring. These attorneys represent one spouse during one of the most challenging times in a person’s life – the dissolution of their marriage. A divorce attorney must possess superior negotiation skills, communicate effectively in writing and orally, plus think creatively.
A divorce case may go uncontested, meaning that both parties agree to divorce. Typically, this type of divorce uses mediation to reach an agreement on matters such as alimony, division of property, custody if the marriage involved children or pets, and/or visitation rights for any children or pets. The divorce attorney may handle these other matters themselves or work with other attorneys who specialize in custody or property rights. A contested divorce requires many court filings and court appearances.
Within divorce law, family custody lawyers comprise one of the most common lawyer areas of expertise. Although they most commonly work with child custody, some individuals specialize in pets or professional animals, such as racehorses or stunt animals. The area of pet custody gained fame in the 1980s when yuppie couples began arguing over who got to keep their dog. This pet specialty gave rise to knowledge of the specialty of shared ownership/custody of working animals, typically among wealthy or celebrity couples.
Regardless of whether the custody battle concerns people or pets, this area of law contains some of the fiercest court fights. Immortalized in the classic film, Kramer vs. Kramer, starring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, custody negotiations less resemble business negotiations and often result in cat fights between spouses. Any lawyer choosing this as their field must possess a higher level of empathy than most, since they not only work with the parents but also meet with the children involved in the case.
A specialty in this area also requires consummate investigative skills, since the award of primary custody goes to the parent who can provide a better home environment. To gain custody, many parents reveal secrets about their spouse or hire private investigators through their attorney to prove that they offer a more stable home environment. The custody attorney must balance their zeal for investigation with an understanding of the plight of the spouse they represent, while prioritizing building a case that will best benefit the children involved.
A less common lawyer specialty, although much needed legal specialty, the acquisition of restraining orders, also called victim protection orders (VPOs), typically stems from domestic abuse cases. The restraining order lawyer may work at the same family law firm as divorce and custody attorneys. Some of these attorneys work for victim’s rights organizations, earning a salary instead of charging hourly fees for their services. These non-profit organizations typically charge nothing for helping individuals and families escape the cycle of domestic abuse.
On the other side of family law, adoption attorneys help families come together. In this common lawyer specialty, the attorney works with a person or a couple who wants to adopt a child or children. They may have fostered the child first or adopted them directly from an orphanage. This type of lawyer helps people who hope to provide a home for a child who lacks parents or who has been removed from the custody of their parents and declared a ward of the state.
Less common adoption scenarios also exist that these expert lawyers handle, such as assisting grandparents in the adoption of their grandchild when the child’s parents either died or the state removed them. These types of cases frequently involve court appearances and lengthy filings. The lawyer helps the prospective parents prove the viability and safety of their home and their ability to function well as parents.
For all matters of estate planning, people consult an estate lawyer, one of the most common lawyer fields. Estate planning encompasses the writing of last wills and testaments, codicils, the creation of trusts, consultations on the best life insurance options, annuity planning, retirement planning, etc. An estate planning attorney typically works with their clients for decades, helping them initially create the plan for their future finances when they’re younger, then managing the trust or acting as the administrator for a fund created to provide for an individual declared incompetent or a person with special needs.
The estate planning lawyer often becomes like an extended family member because of their long-term relationship with the head of the family and their management of the family’s trust or foundation. In some cases, the client may name the attorney as their child’s guardian of record, meaning that should something happen to both parents, the attorney would manage the child’s inheritance and provide for their care from it until they reached the age of maturity or in perpetuity in the case of a special needs child. This typically involves children who reside at a boarding school or in an assisted living center; it doesn’t mean the attorney takes the child home with them to live.
The immense area of business and corporate law features many areas of expertise, with real estate comprising one of the most popular specialties. Real estate law centers around the brokering of deals for real estate developments and the sale of luxury properties. For example, a real estate attorney would help an individual or company purchase a large ranch, then subdivide it to form the plats for a subdivision. Their work may continue with the sale of the subdivision’s lots to individuals wanting to construct a home.
Real estate lawyers also help subdivisions, homeowner’s associations (HOAs), and property owners’ associations (POAs) develop their by-laws and enforce them. Their expertise in building codes, code enforcement, and related areas provides the basis for authoring these by-laws and assisting the subdivisions, HOAs, and POAs in filing their by-laws with the appropriate municipality.
Another common lawyer specialty in business, the antitrust attorney, represents clients who want to fight the creation of a monopoly in a sector of business. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, concern grew that “Ma Bell” controlled all the telephone services in the U.S. Antitrust attorneys represented the concerned citizens’ groups that wanted the massive national telephone company dissolved and smaller, independent companies to vie for customers. Using antitrust laws written long before the case, antitrust attorneys won and Ma Bell broke apart into smaller companies, such as Bell South. Competing companies sprang up and, today, consumers choose between numerous phone companies for their landlines and their cellular services.
Antitrust lawyers also fight the formation of monopolies, which can occur when two or more large companies merge. These corporate mergers can push out smaller competitors, but U.S. business law protects small businesses, which comprise 99.9% of that nation’s businesses. These types of cases sometimes go all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to ensure fair business competition and to protect consumer rights, so that consumers have a choice of providers for everything from telephone services to automobiles.
Although the phrase criminal lawyers typically call to mind the television show character Perry Mason or shows like “The Practice” or “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” most criminal lawyers specialize in less glamorous areas, such as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Criminal law offers one of the more common lawyer areas of expertise, but few attorneys attain the fame of New York’s late Bruce Cutler, long-time attorney of the late John Gotti, Sr. Most criminal lawyers handle cases for individuals facing petty charges like breaking and entering or drunk and disorderly conduct. Some of these lawyers specialize in defending those accused of domestic violence.
Those who practice criminal law either open their own practice or serve as public defenders, a position with a town or city government in which they defend individuals accused of a crime and are unable to afford an attorney to assist with their defense. If, in the course of watching TV, a police character reads a criminal character their Miranda rights, you watch a real part of the U.S. legal system recreated. The Miranda rights of each individual promise that “if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you” and those attorneys to which it refers hold the position of public defender.
Many lawyers who practice privately find the common lawyer specialization of DWI and DUI attorney a lucrative one. Many individuals misunderstand the law surrounding drinking alcohol or using any type of drug, then driving a motorized vehicle. Because of this, those who have had just one or two drinks have often driven their vehicle, only to find themselves pulled over and charged for this motor vehicle offense. These lawyers help the individual charged in many ways beyond defending them in court; they may help them find a rehabilitation facility or a defensive driving course that assists them in changing their way of life.
Part of a DWI or DUI defense centers around proving the individual didn’t drive under the influence. This may involve challenging the testing methods the police used in determining the individual’s inebriation or proving that a medication the individual took affected the test’s outcome but did not affect the person’s function while driving. The DWI/DUI lawyer works to eliminate or reduce the charges against their client.
Working With Bondsmen
Many of the common lawyer specialties involve working with local bail bondsman services, including domestic abuse, victims protection, DWI, DUI, and other criminal offenses. A bondsman service specializing in bail makes a loan to the accused who has been arrested and had their bond hearing. At a bond hearing, a judge determines whether to allow the accused individual to go free until trial on their personal recognizance or for a monetary bail with or without other conditions.
The attorney for the accused may assist their family in finding bail bond services that will work with them to “make bail” for the individual, meaning the service offers a loan to the accused or their family or another representative, guaranteed by collateral, such as a home or vehicle. Some criminal attorneys forge working relationships with specific bail bonds services to make it easier for their clients to post bail.
Choosing Your Legal Specialty
This article touched on the most common lawyer specializations, but for any area in which you have an interest, a legal specialty probably exists. Less common but extremely challenging areas of law include environmental law, journalism law, maritime law, contract law, etc. Explore your favorite areas of interest to discover which legal specialty to choose, then start your search for the right law school for you.