If you’re an aspiring lawyer and aren’t sure which area of law to specialize in, this guide has got you covered!
A lot of law students enter the legal field chasing an idealized version of what it means to be an attorney. Based on the media’s portrayal of the profession, students expect glamorous, high-paying careers where they solve high profile cases and put the most prolific criminals behind bars.
In reality, not all lawyers work with or against high-profile criminals. Many deal with day-to-day cases that don’t make headlines but still have life-changing impacts on clients. As such, there are several types of law that students pursue, each having its own benefits and drawbacks!
To learn more about the different law specialties there are and how to choose the right one, read on!
There are about 15 common law specialties. Here’s a breakdown of what each specialty focuses on and involves.
Civil rights lawyers fight for human rights and freedoms and maintain the balance between governmental power and individual liberties. While this job is highly rewarding, it is a small and competitive field. Many civil rights lawyers also take on pro bono cases regularly, which can impact their pay.
This legal specialty is self-explanatory—it is the practice of laws pertaining to animal rights. These lawyers speak on behalf of animals and sometimes their owners. Many animal lawyers fight for policy and status change and work alongside animal activists to prevent animal exploitation.
This specialty is less common because it isn’t exactly in high demand; there are few animal rights law firms. Most lawyers pursue this legal specialty because they have a strong passion for animal welfare as it is not a particularly high-paying career.
Corporate law ensures clients conduct their businesses according to local, state, and federal laws. This legal specialty is high-paying but also extremely high-pressure!
Business’ reputations and credibility are on the line in these cases and there are often large sums of money at stake, which can mean big payouts for you or large losses for the companies you represent.
These lawyers are in charge of counselling education institutions and systems or parents who want to file motions against school districts.
Education lawyers ensure children receive the most equitable education, but finding jobs within the field can be challenging. Many lawyers only incorporate a few cases involving this type of law into their own private sector practice.
One of the most common law specialties is criminal law. Criminal lawyers either defend or prosecute people accused of committing crimes. This specialty can land lawyers high-profile cases but tends to also be physically and emotionally draining!
Employment and labor lawyers focus on upholding worker and employer rights. This is another common legal specialty that is competitive but growing in demand, especially since thousands of employees were laid off during and after the pandemic.
Environmental lawyers focus on regulatory policies and issues regarding natural resources. Like animal law, this field is typically pursued out of passion.
These lawyers are becoming increasingly important as more environmental crises arise, but this field of law is meticulous and involves a lot of policies and paper paperwork! It can also be frustrating as even minimal environmental advances take time and significant effort!
Family law focuses on the relationships and interactions between family members. They often deal with child support cases, divorce, adoptions, and domestic abuse, meaning this specialty can be emotionally taxing.
Speaking of tax, another common specialty is tax law which focuses on protecting the regulations stipulated by the federal Internal Revenue Code. While tax lawyers typically have high salaries, their jobs are considered to be relatively uneventful in comparison to other specialties!
Health lawyers protect and advise the healthcare industry and the patients within it. They have a high degree of flexibility as they can represent hospitals, clinics, nurses, doctors, patients, and health organizations but generally require some medical knowledge or training to join the field.
Inventors require intellectual property lawyers to protect their creations. One highly coveted subspecialty within intellectual property law is patent law. Only a small percentage of lawyers are able to become certified patent attorneys.
Many intellectual property lawyers also focus solely on copyright law, as it is a complex subspecialty itself.
International law involves the body of rules that govern the relationships between sovereign states and other countries. Attorneys should know multiple languages to thrive in this field.
These lawyers can work in private international law, where they work with law firms, corporations, banks, or telecommunication firms. Or, they can work in public international law where they work with national governments, public interest groups, and other international institutions.
Another field that foreign language proficiency would benefit is immigration law. This legal specialty protects the rights of immigrants and ensures they receive accessible opportunities and sanctuary.
Sports lawyers typically work with teams, players, or leagues to negotiate contracts and protect clients from criminal accusations or personal property infringements. This field is highly competitive and successful sports lawyers typically have established connections in the sports industry.
Real estate lawyers handle cases involving the buying, selling, or renting of land. Real estate lawyers have high pay potential, but their caseloads tend to fluctuate with the housing market.
Now that you have a better idea of the types of legal specialties there are, you may still be asking yourself, “what type of law should I practice?”
While it may be difficult to pick one law specialty, you should be able to eliminate the majority of specialties by following these steps:
When you pick a law specialty, you’ll have to spend several years building rapport and experience in it to truly thrive. Lawyers are known for having long hours, so it’s important you have a genuine interest in the specialty you pursue.
If you know you want an exciting career where you’re spending more time in the courtroom than outside of it, you may want to eliminate options like tax law, which involves a significant amount of paperwork and little to no time in front of a jury.
Are you interested in joining the highest-paying law specialty? Do you have large student loans from law school that you want to pay off as soon as possible? Do you want to work for a BigLaw firm? Or, are you most concerned with the work you do and the impact you have?
Take your priorities into account when you decide on your top legal specialties. Maybe you have a passion for civil rights but want the pay check that comes with corporate law. Decide which priority comes first and take it from there.
On the other hand, if you’ve always been an avid animal activist and are more concerned about making a difference than your salary, you should pursue animal law. While animal lawyers are typically paid significantly less than other law specialties, around $50,000 a year to be exact, you’ll have high career satisfaction.
The best way to decide which law specialty to pursue is to gain experience in it! Your law school will have several resources for you to take advantage of to decide which law specialty you like. Law schools typically have diverse course offerings and legal clinics in several specialties.
Hands-on experience will give you better insight into the day-to-day tasks of each specialty. Coursework will also help you understand the types of laws you’ll be working with every day and can help you gauge your interest!
For certain competitive legal fields that involve large law firms, like criminal law, corporate law, and patent law, employers will expect you to have graduated from a top-ranking law school, likely one of the T14, and be at the top of your class.
If you do not have a competitive application to join one of these prestigious specialties, you should consider your other options. While you should still try your best to get into your top choice, ensure you also have fall back options.
Below, you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions about choosing a law specialty.
The best field of law to go into depends entirely on your passions, career goals, priorities, and application! Consider these factors when deciding which law specialty to pursue.
Intellectual property law is considered to be one of the most in demand legal specialties currently, a trend that is predicted to only increase in the near future.
Your pay will depend on several factors including your location, expertise, and employer. But, patent attorneys are typically paid the most, with an average salary of over $180,000 a year. General intellectual property lawyers are also well-paid, with an average salary of $162,000.
Unfortunately, every legal specialty comes with its fair share of stress. The least stressful law practice will be one that lets you follow your passion, has job security, and offers you abundant opportunities to reach your career goals.
There will be many monumental decisions you make throughout your legal career. This guide should help you make the most informed decision about the law specialty you pursue!
While most lawyers stick to one practice, with a JD you’re qualified to pursue any specialty! If you’re torn between a few specialties, you have the option to gain experience in all of them! Carefully consider all of your options and ensure you prioritize your interests and goals.