Once you’re in law school, you’ll start thinking about the kind of law in which you’d like to specialize. There are countless law specialties, but they typically fall into two broad categories: criminal law and civil law.
Criminal law deals with people who have been accused of committing a crime. Lawyers work on both sides: as prosecutors who are trying to bring a criminal to justice and as defense attorneys who protect the rights of the accused and ensure a fair trial.
There are three main types of criminal lawyers: prosecutors, public defense attorneys and private defense attorneys.
Prosecutors work for federal, state, county and city governments. They are assigned to prosecute suspects who are accused of crimes. Prosecutors research cases, work closely with law enforcement and offer plea bargains or take cases to trial.
Public defense attorneys also work for federal, state, county and city governments. They are assigned to clients who cannot afford a private defense lawyer. These attorneys work closely with their client and argue for the client’s innocence. In the case of a plea bargain, they negotiate the best terms for their client.
Private defense attorneys do the same work as public defenders, but with larger salaries and lower case loads.
Civil law covers all matters that do not involve crime. This category of the law is very broad, with dozens of specializations. Here are a few main areas of civil law:
Corporate lawyers typically specialize in fields of interest to companies such as:
Corporate lawyers work closely with their corporate clients to ensure that every part of the clients’ businesses are operating legally. They negotiate contracts for their clients and help structure the best practices for the highest profits.
When one party brings a lawsuit against another in order to win a judgement or settlement, civil litigation attorneys represent the clients on both sides. For instance, a woman who is hit by a drunk driver may take the driver to civil litigation court to ask for an award to pay medical bills and compensate her for the pain she suffered.
Civil litigation suits sometimes occur after criminal trials but can also be brought by any party who wishes to sue another. Civil law suits may involve long trials, or may be resolved with a quick settlement agreement. Either way, each lawyer is looking out for his client’s best interest, whether as defense or plaintiff.
Family lawyers handle divorces, adoptions and custody issues. They work to achieve the best settlement deal for their client, argue for or against custody in family court, or complete legal paperwork for adoptions. Family lawyers work closely with clients. They may attend mediation or settlement hearings to avoid court, or may accompany clients into the courtroom for trials.