Types of Lawyers
Learn about the variety of law careers below.
Lawyers can be classified based on their areas of specialization. Each lawyer has specialized knowledge and skills to provide their clients with the best legal representation. Criminal lawyers, for example, represent individuals or organizations charged with crimes, ensuring their rights are protected. Family lawyers handle matters such as divorce, child custody, and alimony. Intellectual property lawyers focus on protecting patents, trademarks, and copyrights, while employment lawyers deal with workplace rights and regulations issues.
Personal injury lawyers represent clients who have suffered physical or psychological harm due to negligence or wrongdoing by another party. Immigration lawyers assist with legal issues related to foreign citizens who want to live or work in a country. Estate planning lawyers help with wills and trusts, and tax lawyers deal with matters related to federal, state, and local taxes. Real estate lawyers deal with property-related issues like transactions, disputes, and property claims. Additionally, corporate lawyers work with businesses on matters like formation, governance, and mergers. Finally, civil rights lawyers defend the individual rights granted by the Constitution.
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List of Lawyer Careers
A bankruptcy lawyer assists clients through court proceedings that are designed to reduce or eliminate debt or to proceed in declaring bankruptcy. Clients may be individuals or corporations. Many bankruptcy lawyers join the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. Issues that they may handle are listed below:
- Bankruptcy– These types of attorneys often handle bankruptcy proceedings for their clients (individuals or corporations) in court.
- Debt – These types of lawyers are also known as Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Lawyers, and will help clients to negotiate debt payments with their creditors in order to avoid debt settlement companies and the fees they charge.
Corporate law attorneys and business attorneys serve their client, the business or corporation that employs them. They may work alone or with a team of lawyers in representing the companies that are their clients. These types of lawyers are also called General Counsel, In-House Counsel, Staff Attorney and Chief Legal Officer. They may be members of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Duties and specialties that fall under this heading include:
- General Counsel – This is the title of the chief lawyer or attorney for an agency or company. A general counsel typically manages an entire legal team and balances administrative and management issues with generalist legal concerns.
- Trademark / Copyright – These types of attorneys specialize in working with clients who have ownership interests and rights in a variety of areas such as slogans, logos, works of media and other artistic endeavors.
- Privacy and Data Security – Lawyers representing these issues are often referred to as privacy law or cybersecurity lawyers. They work for all types of clients, including individuals and companies, and may need some specialized information technology training as well.
- Cyberspace law – Most cyberspace legal experts work in big business, both at technology companies, but also at firms in research, entertainment, and manufacturing.
- Collections– This type of attorney specializes in matter regarding unpaid accounts. They may be employed by creditors who are trying to collect debt from customers, or by debtors to help resolve their financial matters.
- Contracts- A contracts lawyer is responsible for drafting, managing, and executing contracts of all types between parties, who may be individuals or companies.
- Incorporation- An attorney who specializes in incorporation can help companies decide what format of business will work best for their particular situation – which may include incorporation, limited liability company, and sole proprietorship.
- Litigation – A litigation lawyer spends most of their time either preparing to go into or arguing cases in court. This work also involves much negotiation and investigation in representing clients ranging from individuals to businesses.
- Patents– A patent lawyer defends a client’s rights to their invention, may assist in patent infringement cases, and represents companies and individuals in navigating the patent application process.
Civil rights attorneys represent the historical, constitutional civil rights of citizens of the United States. They work to protect individuals against discrimination and harassment, as well as to preserve privacy and freedoms rights. Many civil rights attorneys join groups such as Lawyers for Civil Rights in order to better advocate for their clients. Duties that a civil rights lawyer may handle are:
- Constitutional Law – An attorney specializing in Constitutional Law handle cases involving the interpretation of laws in the U.S. Constitution. These cases may be argued in federal courts or the Supreme Court.
- Discrimination- Also called EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) attorneys, a discrimination lawyer handles cases of discrimination, retaliation and harassment related to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other violations of such federal laws.
- Civil Liberties– Also called civil rights lawyers, these lawyers work in areas of the law falling under the First Amendment’s freedoms of assembly, expression and religion, as well as under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection or civil rights clause.
- Gay and Lesbian Rights– These types of lawyers represent the civil rights and protections of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those living with HIV.
- Voting Rights– These attorneys represent, fight for and protect the right of every citizen over the age of 18 to vote.
- Human Rights– A human rights attorney works on violations of human rights that occur worldwide. These may include, but are not limited to, protecting vulnerable populations, marginalized groups, refugees, and others.
Criminal defense attorneys represent those who accused of a wide variety of crimes, otherwise known as defendants, both in and out of court. They may choose to join the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Issues with which criminal defense attorneys may deal include (but are not limited to):
- Expungement – A lawyer specializing in expungement will help a client to expunge arrests and convictions from their criminal records.
- Traffic Ticket –Traffic ticket lawyers can help clients to contest traffic tickets in court, negotiate with prosecutors to reduce fines, and get traffic ticket cases dismissed.
- Crime – Lawyers may specialize in a variety of crimes, and may be referred to as public defenders or criminal defense lawyers. The crimes they may represent include but are not limited to sex crimes, domestic violence crimes, embezzlement, theft, violent crimes and fraud.
- Criminal Prosecutor – Prosecutors bear the responsibility for protecting society by ensuring that criminals are held accountable for their crimes.
A lawyer who specializes in DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) works with clients accused of these crimes to try to get their cases dismissed or sentences reduced. One organization for these lawyers is the DUI Defense Lawyers Association. Issues they may handle include:
- DUI/DWI– A lawyer who handles DUI/DWI is a specialized criminal defense attorney who is an expert in DUI/DWI laws pertaining to the state in which they are licensed to practice law.
- Aggravated DUI– Lawyers handling aggravated DUI cases represent clients who have aggravating factors present along with their DUI charge, such as extremely high blood alcohol levels, minors present in the vehicle, and multiple DUI convictions. They work to get their sentences reduced as much as possible.
- Commercial DUI Regulations-This type of lawyer represents those with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) who are charged with DUI. They defend clients against the DUI as well as violations of the standards of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
- Drunk Biking-Lawyers may also represent those accused of drunk biking. Each state has different laws on drinking and bicycling, so these lawyers must know the particular laws of their state in order to properly defend clients in biking under the influence cases.
- Felony DUI-A felony DUI lawyer represents clients who are accused of committing a felony in conjunction with a DUI charge, such as vehicular manslaughter or vehicular assault. All states have different felony DUI laws, and this type of attorney must know the ins and outs of their state laws.
Employment lawyers help to protect the rights and benefits of people in the workplace. They make sure that federal, state and local laws that insure fair treatment for employees are upheld. Some employment lawyers choose to join the National Employment Lawyers Association. Duties of employment lawyers include:
- Workers’ compensation –This type of lawyer helps employees who have been injured on the job recover compensation for their injuries, such as lost wages and medical bills.
- Termination of employment –Employment lawyers may help clients whose employment has been terminated unlawfully.
- Sexual harassment – Employment lawyers may also help employees who are accusing other workers of sexual harassment, or help defend supervisors against sexual harassment charges.
- Workplace safety –Employment lawyers must know the OSHA health and safety laws inside and out in order to help protect employees within the workplace.
- Wage and overtime standards – Another area in which employment lawyers can help clients is in getting fair wages and pay for overtime.
- Privacy rights – Employees have a right to privacy in the workplace. Employment lawyers can help clients to safeguard those rights and make sure they are being upheld.
- Discrimination – Employment lawyers help employees fight discrimination in the workplace. This discrimination may be based on age, ancestry, color, creed, disability, marital status, medical conditions, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.
- Employee benefits – Employment lawyers work to guarantee employees receive benefits to which they are entitled, such as leaves of absence and retirement plans.
An environmental lawyer works to make sure that businesses are not destroying the environment and that federal environmental laws are being upheld. Their clients may be commercial companies, manufacturing companies, insurance companies, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private individuals. The American College of Environmental Lawyers is one professional organization for environmental lawyers.
- Environmental Lawyer -Some of the issues and types of clients that environmental lawyers deal with is business’ compliance with environmental laws, manufacturing practices, real estate clients, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
An estate planning attorney handles the administration of a deceased person’s estate. They may consider joining the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. Duties of an estate law attorney include:
- Living Wills– Living wills are documents prepared by estate planning attorneys. They detail a person’s desires regarding medical treatment in the case that they are no longer to express informed consent.
- Trusts– A trust is prepared by an estate planning attorney, and holds assets in a trust fund on the behalf of a beneficiary, usually until that beneficiary reaches a certain age.
- Wills– Otherwise known as a Last Will and Testament, a will is prepared by an estate planning attorney and details how, and to whom, a person wants their assets distributed upon their death.
A lawyer specializing in family and divorce may handle a variety of cases. These range from divorce to child custody to adoption cases, and more. Some are members of the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys. Issues with which family and divorce lawyers work include, but are not limited to:
- Adoption – Family lawyers may help clients to adopt children, handling the paperwork and legal proceedings both in and out of court.
- Child Custody – Family lawyers often help to negotiate matters of child custody upon a separation or divorce of the parents.
- Divorce – Family and divorce lawyers can represent clients who are dissolving a marriage. They must be specialists in the civil laws of the state in which they practice and be able to handle delicate family issues.
A government attorney works for a branch of the federal, state or local government. Their focus is on the laws and policies that affect the agency for which they work. Some who work in local government join the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
- Administrative Law – Administrative law is the body of law and regulation that covers the administrative structures used to manage specific aspects of the authority given to government.
An immigration lawyer represents the rights of those who are trying to obtain U.S. citizenship. They may be members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Issues with which they work include:
- Citizenship– Immigration lawyers help clients who are working to obtain U.S. citizenship. They deal with a wide variety of issues, including filing papers with the court, as well as representing their client in a court of law.
- Employment Business Citizenship– This is a special type of citizenship in which a business is allowed to sponsor an immigrant employee for a work visa. Immigration lawyers can help the business owner navigate the legal system in this endeavor, as well as protecting the immigrant’s rights.
Military lawyers work for clients who are members of the military, representing then in military courts in a wide variety of legal matters, including both civil and criminal cases.
- Veteran’s Benefits-One of the areas in which a military lawyer works is veteran’s benefits. Military lawyers help former members of the military (veterans) in a variety of issues such as filing disability claims and receiving benefits to which they are entitled as veterans.
- Military Law Basics-Military lawyers must be familiar with the basics of military law. Its foundation is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers crimes and offenses, as well as rules for trials and sentencing.
Paralegals work to assist lawyers and also provide legal services to clients for which a lawyer is not necessary. They may work under the supervision of a lawyer, drafting documents, filing motions, interviewing clients and preparing retainers. Associations they may join include the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. and NALA. Types of paralegals include (but are not limited to):
- Litigation Paralegal – A litigation paralegal works side-by-side with trial attorneys during the litigation process. They may assist the trial lawyer from the beginning to the end of a trial.
- Estate Planning and Probate Paralegal –This type of paralegal helps estate planning lawyers, working with clients, and dealing with probate matters in the courts.
- Corporate Paralegal– A corporate paralegal assists the legal department of a corporation in a variety of duties of corporate law, including administrative and court proceedings.
- Employment/Labor Law Paralegal– An employment law paralegal must know their state’s employment and labor laws inside and out, and works assisting employment and labor attorneys as well as employers and employees.
- Real Estate Paralegal– Real estate paralegals’ duties vary depending upon the state laws where they work. They may handle real estate transactions directly or assist lawyers in doing so.
- Government Paralegal– A government paralegal may work for any branch of the U.S. government in a variety of duties, such as administrative, investigation, and education.
A personal injury lawyer handles civil cases involving personal injury, medical malpractice, slander, libel, defamation, product liability, assault and battery, injuries occurring on another’s property, and more. They may choose to join the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. Some of the issues that they deal with include (but are not limited to):
- Back, Knee, Shoulder, Head Injury– Personal injury lawyers deal with a variety of cases, which may include slip and fall accidents and injuries, head and brain injuries, neck, back and spinal cord injuries, and nerve damage.
- Hearing Loss– Another area in which personal injury lawyers may represent clients in when hearing loss is sustained from injury, negligence or malpractice.
- Occupational Disease– Work-related diseases can cause a variety of syndromes and injuries, for which clients are due benefits and compensation.
- Repetitive Stress Injury-Repetitive stress injuries commonly occur in the workplace from simple movements such as typing, scanning items at a retail checkout, and working on an assembly line.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome– Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a painful condition affecting the hands, arms and wrists that may be a result of a workplace accident, car accident or other personal injury.
- Burn Injury– A burn injury lawyer handles clients with burns that may be the result of an unsafe product, a hazard on someone’s property, or an accident sustained at an outdoor gathering.
- Chronic Pain-Chronic pain is a diagnosis with a variety of causes that must be handled effectively by a personal injury lawyer in order to obtain the best result for clients.
- Respiratory Illness-Personal injury lawyers handle a variety or respiratory conditions in clients, resulting from mold, occupational injury, COPD, and more.
- Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health– Personal injury lawyers may also handle cases for clients who have had mental health problems as the result of an accident or injury.
- Toxic Injury-Toxic injury is also known as environmental injury, and results from exposure to dangerous chemical substances in the environment, on the job, or in consumer products.
- Amputation– Accidents, surgeries or injuries can result in amputation, or loss of limb(s). Personal injury lawyers can help clients receive compensation for amputations that were unexpected and were not their fault.
- Car Accidents– Personal injury lawyers often handle cases for clients who have been injured in car accidents.
- Construction Site Accident– Many injuries occur on construction sites, either on-the-job or for bystanders who are just moving through the site, and cases for these clients are handled by personal injury lawyers.
- Denied Workers’ Comp Claim– Workers compensation claims may be denied for many reasons. A personal injury lawyer who specializes in these can help you to appeal these denials and obtain the compensation you deserve.
- Third Party Injury– A third-party liability claims lawyer may work with workers’ compensation claims or other injuries that are caused by a third party with no connection to the workplace or other place in which the client sustained the injury.
A private practice lawyer works alone or in an office with other lawyers where they specialize in a niche area of law. Private practice lawyers who work alone deal with a variety of legal issues. The cases that they may handle include, but are not limited to, civil litigation suits, commercial cases, divorce and child custody cases, and malpractice suits.
Property lawyers handle real estate transactions and litigate property matters. They may choose to join the American College of Real Estate Lawyers. Issues that they may deal with include (but are not limited to):
- Foreclosure– Foreclosure lawyers work with clients to fight the foreclosure of their property. They help them to navigate the legal system in submitting paperwork and formulating arguments, with the end goal of avoiding foreclosure on their property.
- Landlord-Tenant – Landlord-tenant lawyers deal with the relationship, and issues that arise from it, between a property owner and renter.
- Neighbors-Property attorneys may also handle a variety of disputes that property owners have with neighbors.
A public interest lawyer may offer services to clients through working for government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Many work through the ABA’s Center for Public Interest Law. Public interest lawyers usually provide services at a reduced cost, or no cost.
- Pro Bono– A pro bono lawyer is a type of public interest lawyer who provides legal services for clients free of charge.
- Disability Rights-Disability lawyers provide services for clients who are disabled or elderly, protecting their rights, usually at reduced fees or for free.
- Health Justice-Public interest lawyers may also work in health justice, obtaining equal rights and fighting for advocacy for all in the health care system.
- Environmental Justice-Public interest attorneys may also work in environmental justice, which is the fair and meaningful treatment of all with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
A tax lawyer specializes in representing the interests of clients, who may be individuals or organizations, in handling taxes. Their work involves filing paperwork as well as representing clients in court. Issues with which they work include (but are not limited to) appeals, audits, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, corporate tax, and real estate tax.
Toxic tort lawyers represent clients who have been exposed to toxic chemicals. This can occur in the workplace, through consumer products or in the environment. Topics which toxic tort lawyers handle include:
- Asbestos-Mesothelioma-Toxic tort lawyers may specialize in clients who have been exposed to asbestos which has resulted in the lung disease mesothelioma.
- Drug Recalls-Toxic tort attorneys also handle cases for clients who have suffered injuries or illnesses as the result of a medication that was recalled.
- Toxic Mold-Toxic tort lawyers also handle cases in which clients were exposed to toxic mold, resulting in illness or injury which can even be life-threatening.
A trial lawyer litigates civil and criminal cases in the courtroom. They also spend much time outside of the courtroom on administrative procedures like reviewing files, drafting documents to file in court, and interviewing people involved in cases. One of the most popular associations for trial lawyers is the National Trial Lawyers Association.
Do All Lawyers Go to Court?
Not all lawyers appear in court. Some, like litigation attorneys, spend a lot of time in courtrooms as they represent clients in disputes. However, many others rarely, if ever, see the inside of a courtroom. For instance, transactional lawyers, working in contract or real estate law areas, often negotiate deals and draft documents rather than arguing cases in court. Similarly, tax or intellectual property lawyers spend more time providing legal advice and assistance related to their specific field than litigating.
Lawyers specializing in environmental law, estate planning, or corporate law may also spend more time researching and preparing legal documents than appearing in court. While court appearances are essential to certain legal specializations, many lawyers work mainly behind the scenes, focusing on negotiation, research, and paperwork. It’s worth noting that irrespective of their field, all lawyers play a vital role in the legal system, ensuring it operates smoothly and effectively.
Do All Lawyers Have the Same Licensing?
While every lawyer must pass a bar exam to practice law, the specific licensing requirements can vary by state. Each state in the U.S. has its bar association and, thus, its own rules and regulations for becoming a licensed attorney. Upon graduation from an American Bar Association-accredited law school, aspiring attorneys must pass their state’s bar exam, a rigorous test of knowledge and understanding of the law. The National Conference of Bar Examiners administers the bar exam and is a central part of the licensing process along with the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
However, it’s important to note that passing the bar exam does not automatically confer the ability to practice all types of law. Some areas of law require additional certification or specialization. For instance, patent attorneys must pass the United States Patent and Trademark Office‘s registration and bar exams. Similarly, some states require family lawyers to be certified as specialists in family law.
Do All Lawyers Make the Same Salary?
Lawyers’ salaries can vary significantly, primarily depending on their area of specialization, geographic location, years of experience, and the size of the firm or organization they work for. Generally, corporate lawyers tend to earn more than other specializations due to the complex nature of corporate law and the high-stakes transactions involved. On the other hand, public interest lawyers, such as those working for nonprofits or government agencies, often have lower salaries than their private practice counterparts.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers was $127,990 in May 2021. However, the top 10% of lawyers earned more than $208,000. Lawyers working for the federal government command the highest pay, with a median pay of $152,590, while those employed by state and local governments, excluding hospitals and education, earned about $100,330 and $100,240, respectively.
The diverse types of lawyers play a significant role in the legal system, offering their expertise in various fields. Whether safeguarding civil liberties, handling family disputes, or advising corporations, lawyers carry out crucial duties that uphold the principles of justice and fairness in our society. With various licensing requirements and salary levels, the legal profession offers rich potential for those passionate about serving justice and their fellow human.