The legal profession is divided into many different specialties. Some specialties overlap and rely on similar skills and knowledge bases, and others are entirely separate, existing in parallel court systems and legal codes. Clients can identify the lawyer they need by understanding what specific problem they need addressing.
Criminal vs. Civil
The two basic divisions in law are criminal and civil law. Criminal law deals with the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of individuals guilty of crimes. Criminal law is always between the Government and the Accused. Civil law governs disputes between individuals—for example, breaches of contract or personal injury.
Transactional vs. Litigation
Lawyers are divided into two basic types: transactional and litigation attorneys. Transactional attorneys help businesses and individuals file paperwork, comply with regulations, conduct internal reviews, and other similar legal matters. Litigation and trial attorneys engage in traditional legal practice – similar to what people see on T.V. These lawyers file lawsuits, conduct discovery, settle disputes, and fight cases in court.
In general, litigation attorneys can perform transactional work because, in general, a litigator is only involved if there was a breakdown in the contract or paperwork. Therefore, litigators are experienced at identifying the problems in transactions and exploiting them for litigation advantage. Conversely, most transactional attorneys probably will not make effective litigators because they are unfamiliar with the civil procedure and court rules that govern civil disputes.
Real estate attorneys are both transactional and litigation attorneys. Real estate laws involve the purchase, sale, lease, and mortgage of real property.
A lawyer who focuses on personal injury cases assists clients with settling car accident disputes, slip and falls, and similar cases.
Tax lawyers assist clients with federal, state, and local tax issues. For example, a property tax lawyer would help his or her clients settle disputes. In general, tax law is a parallel code involving administrative courts, such as within the Internal Revenue Service and Tax Court.
Trusts And Estates
Trust and estate lawyers (T&E) help clients plan and settle their estate. There are some overlapping issues with tax, such as the estate tax and structuring trusts.
Family And Matrimonial Law
Family lawyers help individuals get divorced, file for child custody, modify spousal and child support, adopt, and draft prenuptial agreements. Family lawyers usually also assist clients in securing and opposing restraining orders.
Employment attorneys assist businesses and workers in employment-related matters. A business-oriented attorney defends businesses against lawsuits filed by workers, e.g., wage and hour or discrimination lawsuits. Employment attorneys also provide transactional work by assisting businesses in complying with employment and labor laws.
Workers’ compensation is a parallel court system in many states. It deals with providing workers with benefits when they’re injured on the job.
Immigration attorneys help people emigrate to the United States, secure residency status and assist businesses with work visas.
Intellectual property (IP) is divided into three areas: copyright, trademarks, and patents. IP lawyers help their clients secure and defend their IP rights.
Bankruptcy is a parallel federal court system that helps individuals and businesses reorganize and discharge a debt.