One of the most interesting and consequential questions a law student must answer is, what field of law should I practice? The answer to this question is consequential because most lawyers stick with a practice area throughout their careers and never change fields of law.
However, the answer is interesting because it gets at more than just your interests. Choosing a field of law gets at the heart of what makes you passionate about the career. If you’re wondering, what field of law should I practice? then keep reading. Here are some of the fields of law that you have to choose from and what to expect if you practice within them.
Help Families During Difficult Times As a Family Lawyer
Family law covers handle many different legal issues. But all of them involve legal relationships within families. Some of the issues that family lawyers handle include:
- Divorce: Divorce is the first issue many people think of when they hear the title of a family lawyer. Divorce happens when a court dissolves a legally recognized marriage and returns both spouses to the status of single and unmarried. In the process, the court divides their property, allocates the couple’s debts, determines child custody and visitation, and sets child support. The court also analyzes whether either spouse is entitled to alimony and, if so, the amount.
- Guardianship: If a parent is unable to care for their children, a court can step in and order that someone else take care of them. For example, if a parent has a substance abuse problem, a mental health issue, or is incarcerated, legal guardianship of the children might be awarded to an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or sibling.
- Adoption: An adoption attorney helps parents in two respects. First, the adoption attorney draws up the paperwork between the adoptive parents and the agency or biological parent who is placing the child up for adoption. Second, the lawyer guides the adoptive parents through the process of having the adoption awarded by the courts. This could include home inspections and interviews from the state’s child services department and an adoption hearing before a judge.
What field of law should I practice? Throughout any of these processes, a family lawyer must be passionate about protecting many interests besides winning. Therefore, if you’re passionate about helping people, this might be a good field for you. Family lawyers must persuade reluctant parents to do what is the best interests of their children. They must help angry spouses see that compromise is often the easiest way to move on from a broken marriage. They must help tame the passions of people who are rightly upset.
Provide Financial Relief As a Bankruptcy Lawyer
Bankruptcy law encompasses just one set of laws, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, and one forum, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts. In most cases, a bankruptcy lawyer can only represent one of two parties: the debtor or the creditor.
Creditors are owed money by the debtor. Although creditors are often made out to be the bad guy in a bankruptcy case, they invested in the debtor and will lose money without a bankruptcy process that allows them to work out a repayment schedule. Without bankruptcy, creditors could never afford to loan money or provide services on credit.
The debtor is underwater financially. In most cases, these financial problems are not due to fraud or mismanagement by the debtor. In fact, fraud can be used to throw out a bankruptcy case, or at least the fraudulent debts. Rather, about two-thirds of all bankruptcy cases are medical. That is, the debtor or the debtor’s family member experienced a medical problem and the debtor became overextended paying for healthcare.
Understanding that bankruptcy is not a bad guy against a good guy battle allows bankruptcy attorneys to approach their cases with a clearer understanding of what must be done. In most cases, the debtor works with the creditors to create a plan. Under this plan, the creditors often reduce the amount owed and extend the time to repay. The debtor can then make sure all the outstanding debts are paid, but on a schedule that allows the debtor to pay living expenses.
If you have a passion for finance and are good at negotiation and compromise, you should consider bankruptcy law as the answer to the question, what field of law should I practice?
Help People Seek Compensation As a Personal Injury Lawyer
In law school, you took a course called torts. Once you left law school, you never heard about anyone practicing tort law. Instead, people who understood and enjoyed tort law become personal injury lawyers. A personal injury (PI) lawyer spends most of their days on three tasks:
- Meeting clients: PI attorneys spend a lot of time with clients. They need to understand their clients’ injuries and how they got them. Whether the cause of the injuries was a slip and fall accident, auto accident, or dog bite while jogging in the park, the PI lawyer must understand who was responsible and how the injuries happened.
- Negotiating: If you think you will spend most of your time as a PI lawyer in court, think again. By some counts, 95% of PI cases settle before trial. Most accidents fall within the scope of an insurance policy. For example, a slip and fall or a dog bite are covered by the homeowner’s policy of the person responsible for the location or animal that caused the accident. Likewise, auto accidents fall within the scope of the auto insurance policy for the at-fault driver. Insurers prefer not to spend money on lawyers if they cannot win the case. As a result, the insurer will usually make an effort to negotiate a fair compensation package with the injured person.
- Litigating: If a settlement cannot be reached, a PI lawyer will end up litigating against the at-fault party and their insurance company. This does not often happen, but a PI lawyer must be prepared to spend at least some time in court for hearings and a trial.
Are you wondering, what field of law should I practice? Well, to be a PI lawyer, you must have a passion for fighting for your client. You must be skilled at persuasion because insurance companies will fight tooth and nail to avoid overpaying a claim. You cannot be intimidated by battling in court if you cannot reach a settlement.
Help the Accused As a Criminal Law Attorney
In our system of justice, everyone deserves the opportunity to defend themselves against criminal charges. The outcome of a criminal case carries the most severe penalties our society allows: loss of freedom or even life. To ensure that these penalties are only imposed on those who have failed to uphold the law, a criminal defense attorney tests every part of the substance and procedure used by the government against the accused.
If you’re thinking, what field of law should I practice? then here are some ways a criminal lawyer protects the accused.
- Constitutional defects: A criminal lawyer must challenge anything the police or prosecutors did that violated the U.S. Constitution. The arrest must be supported by probable cause. Any searches or surveillance must have been justified by the circumstances or supported by a warrant. Any confessions must have been obtained without coercion. These constitutional protections are for everyone, regardless of what they did, because they protect citizens from an overzealous police force.
- Evidence: A criminal lawyer must ensure that all evidence was obtained legally and was not corrupted or created by anyone. The lawyer will challenge evidence that is ambiguous to make sure that the jury knows both sides of the story. This keeps the criminal justice system honest and forces them to find evidence to support their allegations rather than mere innuendo.
- Charges: Prosecutors are notorious for overcharging defendants. A criminal lawyer’s task is to hold the prosecution’s feet to the fire and force them to prove every allegation they made. This keeps prosecutors honest rather than allowing them to mislead a jury into convicting based on stereotypes or biases.
To be a criminal lawyer, you must have a passion for the criminal justice system. You have to be passionate about making the criminal justice system work for everyone – even groups that are targeted for who they are rather than what they did.
Help Businesses As a Business Lawyer
When you are wondering, what field of law should I practice? you might not jump immediately to business law. However, many corporate lawyers have a role to play in society to not only help their clients but to also serve the greater good.
Our system of laws is complicated. Without lawyers to guide businesses, they could be hopelessly mired in the laws and regulations that cover them. By assisting businesses, a business law firm helps companies create jobs, bring products and services to the market, and improve consumers’ standard of living.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress authorized and funded a program called the Paycheck Protection Plan through a federal agency called the Small Business Administration. This program was intended to help businesses meet their payroll expenses during the pandemic. Although the program’s concept was simple, businesses had a maze of regulations to get a loan and receive loan forgiveness so that it would not have to be repaid. Business lawyers were key to helping many businesses, both large and small, to survive the pandemic.
To be a business lawyer, you must have a passion for the role of businesses in the U.S. economy and society. You must have the good judgment to help businesses find and follow the right path. You must be willing to put in long hours when your clients need you to help them through crises.
Help the Elderly Plan Their Estates
As the baby boomer generation has aged, their experiences have highlighted the need for estate planning. People live longer after retirement, but they also spend massive amounts of money on healthcare in the waning years of their lives. This means that careful planning is necessary for most of us regardless of our ages.
Estate planning crosses over many fields of law, including property law, wills and trust, litigation, and family law. A probate law attorney will spend a great deal of time in court fighting to carry out a client’s final wishes in a will. Before that happens, however, an estate lawyer must understand the client’s needs and wishes for their family, prepare the will or trust to carry that out, and move the property into the right places so the client’s wishes can be carried out.
What field of law should I practice? Well, to be an estate lawyer, you need to have an eye for detail. One misplaced word in a will or trust can create years of litigation. You must have good communication skills to understand the client’s wishes and put them into writing.
Fight for the Little Guy As a Public Interest Lawyer
Public interest law has grown into one of the most important fields of law. Public interest groups perform many services in our legal system. If you’re wondering, what field of law should I practice? then look to this handy list of public interest law fields.
- Environmental law: Finding polluters and holding state and federal agencies to account when they do not stop polluters.
- Poverty law: Ensuring that the poor have access to legal services, whether it be to fight an unfair eviction from apartment rentals or regain custody of children taken to foster care.
- Elder law: Advocate for policies to help the elderly, such as including Alzheimer care in Medicare.
- Civil rights law: Fight for vulnerable groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or age to ensure equal treatment under the law.
- Ethics law: Hold government officials accountable for official acts and corruption.
Most of the public is concerned about these issues but does not have the time and energy to devote to them. A public interest lawyer acts on the public’s behalf to improve the law and how it is enforced.
What field of law should I practice? It’s the burning question for law school students. Choose a field that matches up with your values and interests. You will avoid burnout and feel like you have contributed to society through your legal skills and knowledge.