Law Professions

learn about law professions

Arbitration / mediation / ADR

Arbitration and mediation are alternatives to litigation. Arbitration is the submission of a dispute to an impartial third party who will deliver a binding decision. Mediation is a process in which a third party facilitates negotiation aimed at a voluntary decision between the disputing parties. Lawyers specializing in ADR represent clients before arbitration panels and mediators.

Associate - law

An Associate is the lowest level lawyer in a firm. He/she normally does not hold an ownership interest in the firm. A summer associate is a current law school student who is generally heading into his/her third year; he/she has not yet passed the bar and is not a lawyer.

Attorney / lawyer

Question: "What do you call 5,000 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean? Answer: "A good start." So the joke goes - one of thousands of wisecracks about a profession that just doesn't get much respect these days. Lawyers are blamed for many of society's problems, particularly of thwarting business growth with an ever-increasing flood of litigation.

Despite their sometimes dismal reputation, lawyers are an essential force in virtually every aspect of modern society. Many lawyers work as associates in large firms, where they engage in corporate transactional work (including mergers & acquisitions) or litigation (typically commercial disputes, with some ‘white collar’ criminal defense). Other lawyers work in smaller firms and may specialize in such areas as divorce or tax law. Many lawyers spend a few years at large firms and move on to work as in-house counsel at corporations, where the pace is slower. Some law school grads elect to work directly in criminal law, where they help defend or prosecute accused criminals. Finally, a sizable contingent of lawyers work at public interest organizations, where the pay is comparatively low but the satisfaction can be high.

Whatever their focus, most lawyers’s careers are arduous. While some big firm lawyers may have sleek offices with beautiful views, they must labor in those offices for an average of 12 to 14 hours a day. Attorneys must also put up with intense stress, a formal dress code (although this is beginning to change in some legal circles), and a culture which values workaholism. Add to this the fact that few young lawyers will make partner, and you have a profession that some view as tedious and disillusioning. Nevertheless, some lawyers are delighted with their chosen field. The financial rewards can be substantial, as partners at top firms make millions of dollars. Even first-year associates at the largest firms enjoy starting salaries of $160,000. Lawyers at the top of the industry also have the opportunity to work on headline-making deals and cases with global implications. For those willing to endure long hours and high stress, law can be a lucrative and intellectually rewarding career choice.

Upon graduating from college, an aspiring lawyer must take the law school entrance exam (the LSAT) and then go through three years of law school, with summers spent in internships or clerkships at law firms. After passing the bar exam, an associate at a law firm might spend up to eight years at a firm, with the ultimate goal of becoming a partner. There are also many legal jobs within government at in the federal, state and local levels. Alternately, a lawyer could aspire to become a judge or law school professor - positions with lower pay but high amounts of prestige. With over 1 million lawyers in the United States alone, there are many different options for those fresh out of law school. Fierce competition for legal talent continues to escalate the starting salary for top firms in major cities. The reality, though, is that those searching for, and getting, the big bucks straight out of law school are usually educated at the elite institutions, i.e., the top 20 or 25 of the 190 accredited U.S. law schools.

The law profession may be the ultimate example of the "golden handcuffs" dilemma. On one hand, law school graduates who work in large firms generally "rake in the cash" and enjoy status "that is second only to physicians." As one contact puts it, "there's a reason why your mom wants you to marry a lawyer." If you want "easy admission to the local country club" and "plenty of expense account dinners," this is the field worth considering. But big bucks, exalted status, and plentiful perks come at a high price. More than a few respondents warn of the "stultifying lifestyle" that involves "endless hours," "monotonous work," and "sinking morale." A few complain about "overweening" partners "who will remind you that you are beneath them" and "who will make sure that you don't leave the office before 10 pm." Says one respondent, "At my firm, they want you to get your work done - and done perfectly. If you don't, they get angry." All of this translates into a profession in which "many of us would be doing something else if we had the chance."

Despite this low morale, however, law schools have no shortage of applicants who see law as a means of "doing some good in the world" or at least "making some fast loot while impressing your neighbors." For those who are "analytical," "willing to take orders," and "anal or at least willing to work with anal people," law may be a good choice. Just "know what you're getting into."

Hours average about 55 per week, increasing for first- and second-year associates. Starting compensation at top NY, SF, LA, Boston and DC law firms falls around $160,000; the median salary for lawyers is $88,280. The requirements for becoming a lawyer are a law degree (JD) from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association and passing the state bar exam.

Banking law

Generally, banking law covers the organization, operation, regulation and liquidation of commercial banks. In the law firm context, the practice of banking law may involve advising lending banks, borrowers, arranging banks or sponsors with respect to finance transactions, restructuring deals and banking regulation.

Bankruptcy / creditors' rights / insolvency / restructuring law

Bankruptcy and restructuring law is dependent on the financial failure of businesses. A business is considered insolvent when its debts exceed its ability to pay them. Bankruptcy is a legal determination of insolvency, and bankruptcy proceedings are governed by federal law. A failed company may dissolve—by selling off pieces to other companies or by simply closing its doors—or restructure; this distinction will dictate the case’s complexity as well as the specific type of legal work required. Firms may fill a number of roles in a company’s bankruptcy, especially if the company is publicly traded. The firm representing the company itself is called the debtor’s counsel; this is typically the most lucrative assignment in a complex restructuring. Other firms represent creditors, as individuals and coalitions, while still others may advise the government. The largest corporate bankruptcies can provide work for dozens of firms and yield hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees.

Barrister / advocate

In the United Kingdom, the legal profession is divided between solicitors and barristers. Barristers have no direct contact with the public, and appear in court when instructed by a solicitor. Barristers argue cases before judges, magistrates and juries, cross-examine witnesses, and try to influence the outcome of a court case. Only barristers (or qualified solicitor advocates) are allowed to represent clients in the higher courts.

To become a barrister, the necessary academic background consists of either a law degree, or a degree in another subject supplemented by a “conversion course,” the CPE. Prospective barristers should ensure that they have a background in the following subjects: constitutional and administrative law, criminal law, law of contract , land law, equity and trusts , law of tort and EU law. The vocational stage includes a one-year course, the Bar Vocational Course (BVC). Traditionally, the BVC was available at only one institution, the four Inns of Court School of Law in London; these days it is also offered by a few other select institutions. Applications for the BVC are processed through a clearing system known as the Centralised Applications and Clearing House (CACH), and BVC courses can be completed on a full or part-time basis.

This vocational stage might include moot court or mock trials, debating, work for legal aid societies, court attendance, and marshalling (shadowing a judge). Upon successful completion of the BVC, student barristers are “called” to the bar by their respective Inns and given the title of “Barrister-at-law.” The next phase, pupillage, generally takes one year and is divided into six-month periods, or “sixes”; first and second sixes can be completed at two different sets of chambers, rather than one. Pupils are assigned to experienced barristers who organise training and assess performance. The first six generally consists of observing and assisting with research, document writing and document review. At the end of a satisfactory first six, barristers receive a certificate enabling them to take on their own work. In the second six, candidates manage their own cases, clients and court appearances.

The Bar Council also requires pupils to attend two compulsory courses, which offer further training in advocacy as well as practical advice for running a practice. Following successful completion of the pupillage, most barristers then join a set of chambers – a group of counsel who share office-related costs while remaining self-employed. However, completion of first and second sixes does not guarantee that barristers-in-training will obtain a tenancy (a permanent place in chambers). “Third sixes”, undertaken by those who fail to become tenants after a year of pupillage, are becoming increasingly commonplace.

The routes to becoming a barrister or solicitor differ somewhat in Scotland and Northern Ireland, though they do still comprise similar proportions of academic and vocational training. In Scotland, prospective solicitors and advocates (barristers) both undertake the one-year Diploma in Legal Practice (DLP), followed by a two-year traineeship to qualify as a solicitor. Intending advocates (known as “devils”) then follow a ten-month period of unpaid advocacy skills training (“devilling”) before undertaking further exams and qualifying as a self-employed advocate. Non-law graduates in Scotland can enter into a three-year pre-diploma training contract with a Scottish solicitor and study for the Society’s professional exams. Then they obtain the DLP, followed by the two-year traineeship, like those with Bachelor of Law degrees. In Northern Ireland, the vocational course and supervised training actually overlap. Trainee barristers spend four weeks working in a Citizens’ Advice Bureau or law centre, one week shadowing a practicing barrister, and then start the Certificate in Professional Legal Studies. This is followed by a 12-month pupillage. Non-law graduates enroll in the two-year law degree at Queen’s University Belfast then follow the routes above.

Commercial law

Commercial law (a/k/a ‘business law’) governs commerce—encompassing the rules for sale and distribution of goods and the procedures for payment in such transactions. Commercial lawyers represent businesses and consumers in all manner of commercial transactions, including sales, leases, licenses, asset-based lending, and structured finance. Commercial lawyers are frequently called upon to represent the parties in contract disputes.

Contracts administration

Contract administrators monitor contract performance to ensure compliance and fulfillment of the contract conditions. Of course, the nature of contract administration varies depending on the contract and the specific industry the contract encompasses. Bachelor’s degree is required and, because familiarity with contractual law is essential, paralegal certification is a plus.

Corporate / business and finance law

Corporate lawyers advise businesses on their legal obligations, rights and responsibilities. Corporate lawyers structure transactions, draft documents, review agreements, attend meetings, and negotiate deals. While some corporate attorneys provide day-to-day advice to their clients, most of their work, especially in larger firms, is transactional in nature.

Court reporter

Court reporters are as much a fixture in a trial as the judge and jury. Court reporters record on their stenotype machines all statements made in an official proceeding. Many reporters freelance their skills outside of the courtroom, recording out-of-court depositions for attorneys or proceedings of meetings and conventions. Court reporters are also hired by government agencies (such as the U.S. Congress) to take notes for the record. Because the court reporter's transcript is often the only record of testimony given in a trial, accuracy and speed are essential. Court reporters use stenotype machines that print shorthand symbols on paper and record them on computer disks. The disks are then loaded into a computer that translates and displays the symbols in English, a process known as computer-aided transcription.

Highly-skilled court reporters can work from home and an increasing number of them are choosing to set up their offices as subcontractors for law firms, hospitals and transcription services. Nearly one-fifth of the more than 100,000 court reporters in the U.S. are self-employed freelancers or work part-time. Of those who are salaried, one-third work for federal and state governments. On the inside Stenographers are privy to privileged information in their day-to-day activities. Because of this, court reporters must be scrupulous as well as hyper-efficient. Court reporters are the proverbial "flies on the wall," especially when they are assigned to high-profile cases (like the O.J. Simpson and Oklahoma City bombing trials). The press relies on their hundred-page-a-day reports to fill them in on the latest courtroom dramas from which they are barred. This kind of privileged access is given to the best in the field - court reporters whose typing exceeds 225 words a minute with nary a typo.

Court reporters and other stenographers must also be well-versed in legal jargon and other technical terms of any other fields they are working for. The pay can be quite rewarding to reporters who build strong reputations, and the benefits of flexible schedules keep people in the profession. Not all fun and games There are downsides to the position, though. So much importance is placed on the word-for-word accuracy of legal transcripts that the pressure and stress can take its toll on a court reporter. He or she must be able to work consistently for up to 10 hours straight without letting his or her concentration lapse. Other hazards of the position include work-related physical strains, the worst of which is carpal tunnel syndrome, an often debilitating inflammation of the tendons. Also, court reporters work alone, so camaraderie among colleagues is rarely an option.

Stenography skills are taught in high schools, vocational schools and community colleges, so a college degree is not required to become a court reporter. For stenographer jobs, employers prefer to hire high school graduates and seldom have a preference among the many different shorthand methods. Although requirements vary in private firms, applicants with the best speed and accuracy usually receive first consideration in hiring. For those who aspire to a court reporter position in the federal government, stenographers must be able to take diction at a minimum of 80 words per minute and type at least 40 words per minute. For court reporter jobs, most employers require knowledge of stenotype, not because it increases reporters' writing speed but because it facilitates a computer's ability to read notes for high-speed transcription.

Over 300 schools offer two- to four-year training programs in court reporting, but only 110 of them are accredited. Most court reporters complete one of these programs before they begin their careers. Some states require court reporters who stenotype depositions to be notary publics and 18 states require each court reporter to be a Certified Court Reporter (CCR). A certification test is administered by a board of examiners in each state that has CCR laws. The National Court Reporters Association confers the designation Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) upon those who pass a two-part examination and participate in continuing education programs. Although voluntary, the RPR designation is recognized as a mark of distinction in the profession.

Contacts tell us that a court reporter's hours are "long;" the days can seem to "never end." Court reporters in the litigation field spend "lots of time on the job and little else." One reporter says that his travel keeps him on the road "300 days a year." Dress for court reporters is "business-like," while transcribers are "as casual as you can get." One reporter complains that "people are being replaced with machines," which break down often. In those cases, reporters are made to "run around like crazy" when they are on break to "cover the machine's duties." "Except when they are in court," reporters' "typing time" is "their own," and they are not "tied down to a 9 to 5 schedule." One contact explains that court reporting is a field that "a person with a good liberal arts background would find challenging and rewarding." Because reporters take testimony of "people from all walks of life," reporters "had better be versed in popular culture, medical terminology, and technical terms." Practice is the key to advancement, "just like a musician." Respondents confirm that "going behind the scenes" is a major perk of the job, since they "hear what few get to hear, and schmooze a bit with notable people, if they're chatty." And, as one contact put it, they are "there when history is being made."

Criminal defense / public defender

A criminal defense lawyer represents clients accused of having committed a crime. Defense lawyers may depose witnesses, file motions, analyze potential plea agreements, argue before a judge and try cases, among other duties. A public defender is a government-paid attorney who represents criminal defendants that cannot afford to hire a private attorney; public defenders are often overwhelmed with cases, especially in urban court systems with a high volume of cases.

Criminal justice

Criminal lawyers fall into one of two general categories: government-employed prosecutors and private or public defense attorneys. Local prosecutors typically work for the county and represent the state in a criminal action against a private citizen. Federal prosecutors work for the U.S. attorney’s office in a particular federal district. The public defender is the government’s counterpart to the state or local prosecutor and work defending those who cannot afford to retain their own counsel (i.e. the cases no one else wants). It is possible, although rare, to become a private criminal defense attorney straight out of law school. Most successful criminal defense lawyers come from either the prosecutor’s or the public defender’s office.

Entertainment law

Entertainment lawyers can be divided into two groups: transactional attorneys and litigators. Transactional entertainment matters include acquiring or selling film or television right, copyright administration, production work, private and public debt and equity financings. Litigation cases in the entertainment realm concern such issues as trademark, copyright, idea submission, defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, profit participation, royalty payments, vertical integration claims, and the interpretation of recording, film, distribution, and talent contracts.

Environmental law

Lawyers who sue polluters and those who defend accused polluters both call themselves “environmental lawyers.” The practice of environmental law touches on such issues such as sustainable development, global warming, environmental and energy law and policy, and environmental taxation. Environmental lawyers also evaluate the environmental impacts and liabilities associated with real estate and business transactions, including drafting indemnification and other contractual terms to protect against the impact of environmental and toxic tort liabilities.

Family law

Practitioners in family law help clients navigate some of the most delicate and stressful events in their lives. Thus, family law attorneys must combine the skills of a litigator, counselor and negotiator. Family lawyers handle such matters as adoption, divorce, custody, alternative families, and elder law.

General counsel

A general counsel heads a corporation’s legal department. Essentially, a general counsel’s client is the company. The GC’s role combines elements of advocacy and, increasingly in this era of Sarbanes-Oxley, internal watchdog.

Government contracts law

Government contracts law covers agreements made between governmental bodies and private companies over the deliverance of goods or services. For example, the federal government—the nation’s largest provider of contracts—spends billions of dollars on such products as food and weapons. Government contracts lawyers may advise clients on the drafting and submission of proposals and bids as well as on compliance with various aspects of contracts already secured.

Government regulation

Government regulation law revolves around the need for companies to comply with federal, state and local laws. Attorneys in this field may counsel private-sector clients who wish to bring their company’s operations into compliance; they may also help clients contest the legality of a particular governmental regulation by appealing through regulatory bodies and/or the judicial system. Attorneys may work with governmental bodies and businesses in a wide range of industries, including antitrust, food and drugs, labor and employment, energy, environment, health care, securities, telecommunications and trade.

Insurance law

Insurance law encompasses any legal matter arising from the issuance or modification of insurance policies, or from the payout (or lack thereof) of a policy in the event of a holder’s claim. An insurance attorney may represent the policy holder, the insurance company, a competing insurance company or a reinsurer. Legal services provided by insurance lawyers may include advice as to coverage, transactional and regulatory issues, as well as representation in litigation or arbitration.


A judge presides over a court of law. There are a wide variety of types of courts and judges, ranging from elected local magistrates to Presidentially-appointed Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Labor law / employment law / ERISA

“Management side” labor lawyers counsel client companies regarding their employment and human resources policies and practices, as well as advise corporate attorneys on employment-related aspects of mergers and acquisitions and other transactions. During an economic downturn, employment litigation heats up as workers bring claims (represented by ‘plaintiffs side’ attorneys) against former employers.

Law clerk

A law clerk works with a judge to research issues, analyze findings and help write opinions in court cases. Many law clerks are freshly-minted law school grads and utilize the position as a career stepping-stone. Unlike court clerks, they are not part of the court’s administration.The term “law clerk” is also sometimes used to refer to law school graduates who are employed by a law firm pending admission to the bar; because they have not yet been admitted to practice, they cannot yet refer to themselves as “attorneys”.

Law enforcement

Bad boys! Bad boys! Whatchugonnado! Police officers are charged with, among other things, keeping the peace, apprehending criminals, and investigating crimes. Applicants to local/municipal police departments usually must have at least a high school education, and some departments require 1 or 2 years of college coursework or, in some cases, a college degree. Educational qualifications for the vast array of federal law enforcement agencies vary widely. The list of such agencies includes such diverse entities as the United States Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Marshal Service.

Law librarian

Law librarians are affiliated with a wide range of institutions: law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; courts; and local, state and federal government agencies. In the law firm context, law librarians direct the daily operations of the reference desk to meet the needs of the legal staff and supervise the interlibrary loan program. In academic settings, law librarians perform legal research andreference and teach legal research to students. For both schools and firms, a Master's in Library Science is typically required.

Legal secretary

Legal secretaries perform a range of clerical and administrative functions in support of lawyers, including word processing, preparation of legal documents, drafting of correspondence, and the maintenance of complex docket systems. Legal secretaries must have excellent computer and organizational skills. Formal training is not required, though many 1-2 year certification programs are available.


Not all litigators are trial lawyers, but most have to plan for trial and draft the necessary paperwork of pleadings, pre-trial motions, and legal briefs.Even if they never get to court—and many litigators do not—their job centers on the possibility of court and trial.

Litigation consulting

The growth of the profession of litigation consulting reflects the increasing complexity of litigation. Litigation consultants support lawyers and law firms involved in high-stakes cases by analyzing trial strategies and tactics, developing courtroom exhibits, and facilitating expert testimony. Litigation consultants come from a variety of backgrounds but typically have strong quantitative backgrounds or advanced degrees in economics, finance, or accounting.

Mergers and acquisitions law

A merger is when two corporations or organizations join together to form a single, larger entity. In an acquisition, one corporation or organization buys or takes over the assets of another (sometimes called a takeover or buyout). Lawyers who practice in mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) may represent one of a number of parties to the transaction, such as the merging companies, the acquiring company or target business, a private equity firm, investment bank or other entity providing financing for the deal. M&A attorneys counsel companies involved in corporate takeovers and mergers of all stripes: A lawyer in this field may help a company’s leaders negotiate the sale or purchase of all or part of a company, help a newly-merged company reduce the risk of employee lawsuits as it cuts jobs with redundant responsibilities, and, in major deals, advocate for approval of a merger of acquisition before regulatory agencies.


A mixed lot From freshly graduated English BA's to document-drafting veterans with training and certification, paralegals are really something of a mixed lot. Some have formal training, while others do not. Some have one of many certifications, while others have none. Paralegals, or legal assistants as they are sometimes called, come from a great variety of backgrounds and perform a wide range of tasks. As a result, compensation and working conditions vary to a large degree. Further complicating matters is that, while some legal assistants find they enjoy their paralegal careers, for others it is a stepping stone to a law degree.

Generally speaking, much of what paralegals do involves the large mounds of paperwork generated by large scale commercial litigation and corporate transactions. Legal assistants may find themselves sifting through these documents, organizing them, analyzing them, or even drafting them. In addition, paralegals perform research and prepare reports based upon their findings. To do this, paralegals must have a good understanding of legal terminology and good research skills. When permitted by law, paralegals involved with community service sometimes even represent clients at administrative hearings. In short, paralegals can do everything a lawyer does, except the "practice of law": presenting cases in court, setting legal fees and giving legal advice. Paralegals are free to do just about anything else, which is good if it involves using the brain, but possibly tedious if it involves rote clerical work.

Pay for legal assistants reflects the great variety of the work performed. Entry-level workers do not enjoy high salaries, but with increased experience and education, compensation becomes healthier. Paralegals in major metropolitan areas tend to earn more money than those in smaller locales. Similarly, working for a large law firm means higher pay. Major firms may also have perks in the way of bonuses, extra vacation time, and tickets to sports events and the like. At any rate, paralegals can almost always count on boosting their salaries with hefty overtime hours at the rate of time and a half. Some feel that obtaining a certification or a degree in paralegal studies can lead to greater compensation and responsibility.

Two certifications are available to those in the profession, the Certified Legal Assistant exam (CLA) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). The two-day CLA exam is offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants three times a year. The PACE exam is affiliated with the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and is administered throughout the year by an independent agency. Once either of these certifications has been obtained, a paralegal may use the title Registered Paralegal (RP). In addition to certification exams, many paralegal training programs are available (some are run through colleges and universities, while others are independent). Most of these degrees are either two- or four-year programs. Correspondence courses, which have grown increasingly popular due to the Internet, are also an option. Degrees recognized by the American Bar Association and the American Association for Paralegal Education tend to be the most reputable.

There are various opportunities for paralegals, besides just the standard law firm. The legal departments in large corporations are in need of legal assistants, as well as departments in the U.S. government; not surprisingly, the Department of Justice is the biggest employer of paralegals. Once hired, paralegals are expected to follow the ethical guidelines standardized by the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Generally, though, for the first two years, a paralegal is a clerical functionary, preparing files and photocopying research materials. After about five years, a paralegal usually specializes in a particular field and is largely unsupervised. For some, becoming a paralegal is a way of testing the waters without getting soaked.

Many young graduates decide to do paralegal work for a year or two before making a decision about whether to undergo the financial burden of paying for law school. Legal assistant jobs allow these people to see the inner workings of a law firm on a day-to-day basis. These interim legal assistants frequently do not bother with certification or formal training, as their plans are short-term. Others move onto related fields such as law enforcement or public health regulation agencies. For still others, the paralegal trade is the law career that they seek. Paralegals can, and do, perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. Furthermore, as companies look to reduce costs, paralegals can expect to do more and more of the non-essential work normally allotted to attorneys.

“I think becoming a paralegal is a great choice for those who like the law but who do not want to become married to it," says one paralegal from New York. Paralegals perform "grunt work, pure and simple," but as they gain tenure, "the casework is fascinating" and they "begin to feel needed and more respected." Much of a good experience lies in being lucky enough to stumble upon attorneys who care about their paralegals. More than a few respondents warn of the "stultifying lifestyle" that involves "ludicrous hours," "monotonous work," and "sinking morale." A few warn of "overweening" partners "who will remind you that you are beneath them," and "who will make sure that you don't leave the office before 10 p.m." Says one respondent, "At my firm, they want you to get your work done—and do it perfectly. If you don't, they get angry." All of this translates into a profession in which "many of us would be doing something else if we had the chance."

Despite this angst, however, a position as a paralegal is, for some, the best entry to the more lucrative life of a lawyer. Notes a paralegal from New York, "You will see what it is like to work at a law firm on a day to day basis, and in turn, see if this is a career for you. In addition, if you choose to go to law school, it will help you immensely in getting through your first year." For people with families, "the flexible hours are worth a mint." For those who are "analytical," "willing to take orders," and "anal, or at least willing to work with anal people," paralegal work may be a good choice. Hours•Averages about 60 per weekSalary•Average salary: $38,000• Average bonus: $2,400Skills To Acquire•Bachelor's degree or American Bar Association• Paralegal training program certification

Personal injury law

“You might be entitled to a large cash award.” And your personal injury lawyer would be then be entitled to one-third! Personal injuries typically occur when someone suffers either physical or psychological damage as the result of an accident or negligence. Many personal injury attorneys develop narrow specialties in such areas as asbestos mesothelioma, brain injury, construction accidents, defective products, toxic mold, and workplace injuries.

Product liability law

Product liability law is a subset of tort law involving consumer lawsuits over allegedly defective or mislabeled products. Product liability lawyers may represent the consumers or the parties that produced, distributed and/or promoted said products. Such suits typically stem from physical, emotional or financial damages the plaintiff asserts were caused by the product and which were not clearly identified at the time of purchase as risks associated with the product. Small plaintiffs’ firms often specialize in a certain niche area of products liability law—asbestos litigation, for example—while defendants often turn to larger firms with torts defense prowess.

Project finance law

Project finance lawyers advise clients on legal matters related to development, financing, mergers and acquisitions in the oil and gas, power, infrastructure and other project sectors. These specialists help clients finance and develop infrastructure projects, weighing in on local business conditions, including labor practices, regulatory climate, political terrain and economic value. Lawyers also assist in negotiations, craft financial agreements to protect their clients’ assets and investments, and address other challenges that occur in the development and financing of such projects.

Prosecutor / district attorney

If Law & Order is "ripped from the headlines," then the work of real-life D.A.s is the headlines. Local prosecutors typically work for the county and represent the state in a criminal action against a private citizen. Federal prosecutors work for the U.S. attorney’s office in a particular federal district.

Public finance law

Public finance specialists act for various governmental and public sector institutions and organizations. Frequently, these specialists function as bond, disclosure and general counsel to such entities as states and territories, counties and municipalities, higher education facilities, health care institutions or environmental organizations, to name but a few.

Public utilities law

Public utilities law practitioners counsel clients in the electric, natural gas, water, and telecommunications industries. Clients include investor-owned public utility companies, merchant generators of electricity, energy marketers and governmental entities. Public utilities are to be distinguished from the private ‘utilities’ which are governed by communications and transportation statutes.

Real estate law

Real estate lawyers specialize in the sale and transfer of real property. They draft documents such as deeds, mortgages, and leases. At larger firms, real estate lawyers may work on complex matters such as syndications and sale-leaseback transactions, as well as development, construction and real estate management for clients such as financial institutions and developers. Real estate lawyers also represent clients in workouts, foreclosures, evictions and other real estate-related litigation.

Securities law

Securities lawyers can be divided into two groups: transactional attorneys and litigators. Transactional securities lawyers work on initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions, mutual funds. These attorneys are deeply familiar with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York Stock Exchange, the National Association of Securities Dealers, and various state and federal securities laws. Their colleagues in litigation are busy in the criminal and civil arenas, working on civil securities fraud cases or criminal enforcement actions.

Tax law

Tax law is the body of law concerned with taxation. Practices deal with those laws covering various aspects of federal, state and international tax planning and litigation. Primary issues include taxation of income and wealth (or estates); capital gains; retirement pensions and social security contributions; inheritance; consumption (sales tax); corporations, LLCs and partnerships. Tax lawyers advise clients on all sorts of matters rooted in tax code and enforcement, from IRS audits to questions surrounding estate inheritance; they may also participate in tax-related litigation. The tax code, aka, "The Code" is said to be the largest piece of U.S. legislation - to say there were specialties in tax law would be an understatement of equal proportion.

White collar / internal investigations law

White-collar crime is a broad label for crimes that don’t involve violence. These include insider trading, price fixing, identity theft, computer fraud, bribery and embezzlement. As the name implies, people with financial or political wealth are often implicated in such cases. Lawyers who work on internal investigations are retained by organizations to investigate the entity’s own employees for potential wrongdoing; such suspected crimes can range from theft of trade secrets to embezzlement of property to quid pro quo between vendors and marketing personnel. Internal investigations units are often stocked with former government prosecutors and investigators.

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