Types of Law Practice: Which is Right for You?

Written by Lauren Erdelyi10 minutes well spent
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Books with different areas of law practice making up the pillars of a building

If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in law, you’ll find an incredibly promising job outlook awaits. Lawyer employment is expected to grow an impressive 8% in the next decade—which is faster than the average rate for all occupations. Law is also an incredibly diverse field, which means you won’t have any trouble finding a practice area that aligns with your unique interests, goals, and skills.

Whether you’re an aspiring lawyer or looking to change legal practice areas, it’s helpful to know about the career paths you can take. This guide offers a snapshot of the various types of law practice, equipping you with insights that can help determine which one is right for you.

Types of law practice

There are many different types of law practice to specialize in. To help you zero in on your ideal role, we’ve provided a round-up of the different types of law practice below. We’ve also developed a practice area quiz for good measure, which can point you in the right direction based on the challenges you’re eager to tackle, the work that motivates you, and more.

Bankruptcy law

Bankruptcy law refers to the system of rules that govern the rights of debtors (people or companies facing financial insolvency) and creditors (those to whom money is owed). No matter which side you represent, you can expect to:

  • Offer counsel on the bankruptcy process 
  • Draft legal documents
  • Prepare court filings
  • Represent clients in hearings 

As you’ll be responsible for securing the best possible results for your clients, you’ll need a strategic mindset and strong negotiation skills to excel in this type of law practice.

Civil rights law

If you’re passionate about civil justice, a career in civil rights law could be for you. Civil rights law is focused on ensuring that all people receive equal and fair treatment, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, religion, age, or other characteristics. As a civil rights lawyer, you’ll help defend individuals who have had their rights violated. Responsibilities include:

  • Preparing legal documents 
  • Filing lawsuits 
  • Arguing cases in court

Commercial law

Commercial law is a practice area that governs legal issues related to business activities and transactions. As a commercial lawyer, you can expect to provide counsel on commercial transactions and resolve any disputes that arise. 

Typically, commercial lawyers focus on a specific industry (such as banking or technology) or a practice area (like property law or intellectual property). It’s a constantly evolving field, making it a captivating space for aspiring lawyers.

Corporate law

Corporate lawyers work on legal issues that surround owning, operating, and managing a business. For example, they:

  • Advise clients on their legal rights 
  • Facilitate transactions like mergers and acquisitions 
  • Draft and negotiate contracts 

Corporate law is a fantastic career choice for those who want to merge the worlds of business and law—not to mention one with high earning potential. That said, a career in corporate law can come with notoriously long hours and high-stress situations. 

Learn more about becoming a corporate lawyer.

Criminal law

One of the most well-known legal practices, criminal law deals with behaviors considered harmful and dangerous to individuals or society—and prescribes legal consequences for these offenses. The work of a criminal attorney ranges from factual investigation to inspecting crime scenes and representing clients in court. Lawyers are drawn to this dramatic, fast-paced type of law practice, as they can advocate for clients who have been accused of crimes.

Learn more about becoming a criminal lawyer.

Defense law

A defense attorney represents criminal or civil defendants in legal proceedings (as opposed to advancing a claim against a party). Their ultimate goal: to reduce the likelihood of civil or criminal penalties. Naturally, defense lawyers spend a great deal of time in the courtroom, which means that communication and public speaking are vital skills in this type of law practice.

Learn more about becoming a defense lawyer.

Environmental law

Windmill on grassy land in front of mountains

From fighting climate change to preserving natural habitats, environmental lawyers play a crucial role in protecting the environment. Environmental lawyers work across settings that span from nonprofit organizations to government agencies—with duties that range from providing legal advice on sustainability issues to drafting policies. While it isn’t essential, having a science or engineering background can be advantageous.

Environmental law is a high-stakes practice area, and this can result in long hours and significant workloads. Yet, this level of responsibility and the chance to make a real difference also makes environmental law an appealing career. With a proliferation of regulations and growing awareness of the human impact on the environment, environmental lawyers are highly sought after.

Learn more about becoming an environmental lawyer.

Estate law

Estate lawyers are legal professionals who help clients manage their assets during their lifetime and create a distribution plan after their death. This includes their property, investments, vehicles, personal belongings, and savings. Many find estate law to be a rewarding career path because it offers the chance to help clients plan for their financial legacy.

When it comes to their day-to-day responsibilities, estate lawyers:

  • Draft legal documents like wills and trusts 
  • Mediate and resolve disputes among beneficiaries 
  • Provide counsel on retirement planning 

While there aren’t any specific educational requirements, degrees in accounting, business, and finance can all be major assets for this type of law practice.

Learn more about becoming an estate lawyer.

Family law

Family law deals with legal matters related to family relationships, including divorce, child support, and guardianship. The responsibilities of a family lawyer are incredibly varied. For instance, they may: 

  • Offer legal advice to clients to resolve a dispute
  • Prepare prenuptial agreements or other legal documents 
  • Represent clients in the courtroom for cases like property settlements

Since it deals with sensitive issues surrounding family relationships, this is an emotionally demanding type of law practice. As a result, good people skills, strong communication, and an empathetic approach are a must. Although the nature of work can be difficult, many legal professionals find it to be an extremely gratifying career. After all, they can successfully guide clients through some of their biggest life changes.

Learn more about becoming a family lawyer.

Health law

From malpractice claims to insurance, health law is a type of law practice focused on the rules and regulations governing the healthcare industry. Health lawyers in this space may work on cases related to access to care, insurance coverage, or regulatory compliance. This is a highly complex area to work in—with laws and regulations changing frequently. This makes strong research skills and attention to detail important to have. 

Immigration law

Immigration law focuses on the rules and regulations around entering a country, including work visas, citizenship, and refugee claims. Among their responsibilities, immigration lawyers:

  • Advise on laws and regulations 
  • Represent clients in court proceedings 
  • Research statutes and case 
  • Prepare applications and fight appeals 

Aspiring lawyers are attracted to the field of immigration law for the chance to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life by helping them escape conflict, reunite with family members, or chase major career opportunities.

Learn more about becoming an immigration lawyer.

International law

International law defines the agreements, treaties, and practices that countries follow when interacting with each other on the world stage. Some of the issues encompassed in this type of legal practice are:

  • Diplomacy 
  • Trade 
  • Human rights 
  • Environmental justice

If you’re interested in a career in international law, it’s helpful to get your foot in the door early on. Summer internships at economic development agencies, international nonprofits, and human rights organizations can go a long way in helping you stand out. Speaking a foreign language can also be a major advantage for international lawyers—as are skills like cultural competence.

Intellectual property law

Intellectual property law protects the rights of creators and inventors, which can span from writing and music to design and beyond. There are three areas that fall under intellectual property—patent law, trademark law, and copyright law. Responsibilities range from drafting patents to enforcing trademarks in court. 

This highly stimulating type of law practice has seen tremendous growth in recent years, resulting in a heightened demand for lawyers who specialize in it. It’s also a lucrative field to be in, with an average salary of roughly $194,000, according to PayScale

Labor law

Labor law deals with the legal rights relating to workers and unions. Lawyers who work in labor law focus on aspects that include employment contracts, wages, and workplace safety. As labor lawyers can spend much of their time resolving disputes, it’s important to have top-notch negotiating skills.

Patent law

Patent lawyers help clients safeguard their intellectual property and navigate any legal issues surrounding it. A patent lawyer’s responsibilities can include:

  • Drafting and filing patent applications 
  • Conducting patent searches 
  • Advising clients on the originality of their ideas 
  • Defending intellectual property against infringement

Patent lawyers must have a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering, and pass the patent licensing exam to register with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Personal injury law

Personal injury law, also called tort law, protects the rights of individuals who have been hurt or injured due to the negligence of a person or company. Those who work in this type of law practice help clients receive compensation for harm caused by situations like automobile accidents, medical malpractice, or defamation. As personal injury lawyers are responsible for collecting evidence and building cases, it’s beneficial to have stellar investigative skills.

Learn about Clio for personal injury.

Real estate law

House keys in front of a model house

The rights, use, and transactions related to real property—which includes land and anything attached to it, fall under real estate law. Real estate lawyers can be involved in a variety of areas, such as land use planning, property disputes, and the transfer of property. Legal professionals in this type of law practice spend a significant amount of time researching and preparing legal documents, including purchase agreements and mortgage contracts.

Tax law

Tax attorneys handle the rules and regulations governing the tax process. They can work in a number of settings, such as:

  •  Law firms 
  • Accounting firms 
  • Government agencies 
  • Solo practitioners

Ultimately, their primary responsibility is to guide clients through the intricate world of tax laws and regulations.

Some ways to set yourself up for success as a tax lawyer? Attend a law school with a well-recognized tax law program, opt for tax law courses as electives, or you could even consider a Master of Laws degree in taxation.

Learn more about how to become a tax attorney.

How much do lawyers make in different practice areas?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers was $135,740, as of May 2022. However, the amount that lawyers make varies based on a range of factors. The type of law practice is a significant one—while a lawyer’s experience, location, and the size of a law firm all come into play as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about legal salaries, check out our articles on first year lawyer salaries and lawyer rates.

Path to becoming a lawyer

The typical path to becoming a lawyer involves obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree, attending a three-year law school program, and passing the bar exam—to put it succinctly. In addition to this, there can be specific educational requirements based on the practice area you choose to pursue. You can read about the requirements for the many types of law practices in our comprehensive guide.

Final thoughts on types of law practices

One of the many advantages of a career in law is that there is a diversity of paths to take. From helping families navigate complex matters, to protecting the creative works of inventors, to safeguarding the environment, choice abounds for aspiring attorneys.

No matter which path you take, technology can play a vital role in your future success. The most successful lawyers are experts at using legal technology to work more effectively and deliver exceptional client service. As it often goes, the best way to hone this skill is to start early. That’s why Clio launched the Academic Access Program, which offers law and paralegal students, instructors, and legal clinics free access to our industry-leading legal practice management and client intake software.

Nick Slonosky, Supervising Lawyer at the L. Kerry Vickar Business Law Clinic at the University of Manitoba, is one legal professional who has experienced its tremendous benefits.

“Clio bridges the gap between studying law and practicing law,” he said. “We use Clio to train students to be the best lawyers of tomorrow and serve pro bono clients who cannot afford legal assistance remotely. Thank you, Clio, for everything you do to make the legal industry better.”

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