Lawyer Types and How To Choose a Specific Law Specialty

lawyer holding law book

If you have strong communication skills and attention to detail, along with a fascination for the legal field, you might consider pursuing a career as a lawyer. Deciding to become a lawyer is only the first decision you’ll need to make, however. There are a variety of types of lawyers out there, and you’ll need to choose an area of focus.

What are the different types of lawyers and which subfield suits your interests best? Explore some of the most popular law subfields here. While you’re learning the answer to the question, What types of lawyers are there? you’ll also get some food for thought as you consider which lawyer types appeal to you most.

In This Article:

What Are the Different Types of Lawyers?

Below, you can explore many of the common lawyer types and reflect upon which career path might be right for you. For all types of lawyers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates job growth to be 10% from 2021 to 2031, faster than average. This indicates that employers expect to hire about 48,700 new lawyers each year through 2031.1

Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal law is often the first subfield that people think of when they hear the word “lawyer.” In the U.S., every accused defendant has the right to legal counsel and is innocent until proven guilty.2 Criminal defense attorneys are tasked with protecting defendants’ rights and defending them in court. They may also negotiate plea bargain agreements with prosecutors, whereby the defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Being a criminal defense lawyer isn’t for the faint of heart. These lawyers must often handle difficult cases, such as those involving violent acts or juvenile victims.

Tax Lawyer

Taxes may not be popular, but they are necessary for everything from funding a local fire department to paying public school educators. However, filing taxes can get quite complicated, and individuals and businesses may sometimes need the help of a tax lawyer to sort through tricky situations. For example, a tax lawyer may represent individuals or businesses that are being audited.

Intellectual Property Lawyer

What are the types of lawyers who work in corporate settings? One answer is intellectual property lawyers. Individuals and companies who invent or create materials have ownership rights under intellectual property law.2 An intellectual property lawyer, or IP lawyer, is a professional who specializes in IP law. These lawyers handle cases involving patents, copyright law, trademarks, licensing agreements and trade secrets.

Employment Lawyer

In the U.S., all employees have certain rights, such as the right not to be harassed in the workplace or discriminated against in hiring, firing or promotion decisions.3 Employment lawyers specialize in employment law. It’s typical for an employment law attorney to specialize either in representing companies or representing individuals, but not both.

Immigration Lawyer

Immigration law in the U.S. is notoriously complex. Far removed from the days of Ellis Island, modern immigration procedures are so complicated and backlogged that more than a quarter of immigrant applicants must wait more than 10 years to get a green card.4 Needless to say, it can be difficult for an aspiring immigrant (particularly one who does not speak English well and is unfamiliar with U.S. law) to navigate the immigration laws and procedures.

This is where immigration lawyers come in. Immigration attorneys are responsible for educating their clients about their legal rights and responsibilities, and for representing them in administrative courts.

Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning lawyer, also known as an estate planner or estate lawyer, is a professional who helps clients make key financial decisions related to their estates. For example, an estate lawyer can draft a legally binding will, set up a trust for a minor child and advise a client on reducing inheritance taxes. Estate lawyers often work with clients who are making their own end-of-life decisions, but they can also work with family members of deceased individuals who need guidance through the probate process.

What Type of Lawyer Should You Become?

Now that you know the answer to the question, What are the types of lawyers? it’s time to think about which subfield of law might suit you best. It’s perfectly fine to arrive at law school without a clearly defined career path in mind. During your first year, you can develop a broad foundation of legal knowledge and take various courses that expose you to all different subfields of the law.

However, beyond your first year, you’ll want to know which type of lawyer you’d like to be so that you can shape your course schedule accordingly and begin applying for relevant internships. There is no right or wrong answer; you should choose a subfield of law that you’re passionate about and that you feel you could remain interested in for many years to come. As you make your decision, think about which of your classes interest you the most and whether you prefer to primarily work out of an office or primarily represent clients in a courtroom.

There are other factors to consider, as well:

  • Criminal law – Choose this niche if the thought of delivering impassioned speeches to juries appeals to you. You should be passionate about either defending the rights of the criminally accused or prosecuting defendants to ensure justice is served.
  • Tax law – Choose tax law if the thought of being privy to details about violent crimes makes you uneasy, but you have good attention to detail. Do note that tax lawyers may also need to make courtroom appearances to defend clients accused of violating the tax code.
  • Estate planning – If you’re interested in both personal finances and the law, then estate planning law could be the right fit for you. Estate lawyers need strong communication skills and a collaborative mindset, as they must often explain complex topics to clients who might not be familiar with structures like trusts.
  • Family law – Choose family law if you like the idea of helping individuals get a fresh start in life via divorce or if you’re passionate about protecting the best interests of children. If you’d like to work directly with children, you might consider becoming a law guardian (a family lawyer who represents and advocates for the best interests of minor children). You’ll need empathy and compassion for this area of the law.
  • Intellectual property law – Do you prefer to spend your days in a corporate office environment working on paperwork? This area of the law might be right for you. You’ll need strong attention to detail.

Pursuing an ABA-Accredited Certification for Different Lawyer Types

Most lawyer types only require a law degree and the successful passing of the Bar exam. However, some areas of the law offer opportunities to acquire additional credentials, which can enhance a lawyer’s qualifications and build stronger competencies in that niche area. The American Bar Association (ABA) has accredited multiple certification programs for certain subfields of the law, including bankruptcy law, privacy law and child welfare.5

After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, completing law school and passing the Bar exam, you may wish to further your credentials by completing one of these ABA-accredited certification programs. Here’s a closer look at what to expect from a few of them:

  • Child Welfare Law Specialist (CWLS) – The CWLS certification is available from the National Association of Counsel for Children. This certification is not intended for professionals who wish to provide representation in private custody/adoption disputes in which the state is not one of the parties. Rather, it covers cases in which the state will be a party. Topics covered may include foster care, emergency custody and guardianship.5
  • Privacy Law Specialist™ (PLS) – This certification is offered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). To apply for this credential, privacy law attorneys must demonstrate that privacy law comprises at least 25% of their practice during the past three years, and that they have undertaken at least 36 hours of continuing education in privacy law.6
  • Estate Planning Law Specialist (EPLS) – The EPLS designation is a board certification offered by the Estate Law Specialist Board, Inc. To obtain board certification as an EPLS, attorneys must demonstrate that they have devoted at least 40% of their full-time practice to estate law and that they have at least five years of experience as an estate lawyer. Aspiring board-certified estate lawyers must also meet continuing education requirements, pass an exam, obtain at least five professional recommendations and obtain professional liability insurance coverage.7

Pursue Your BS in Justice Studies From GCU

If you aspire to attend law school and pursue a career as a lawyer, you could benefit from developing a pre-law foundation. Grand Canyon University’s Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies degree program teaches core competencies in all types of law. Complete the form on this page to learn more about the pre-law degrees available at GCU. 

1Maedot, T. (2021, March 26). Is the Presumption of Innocence in the Constitution? Retrieved July 19, 2023.

2Upcounsel. (n.d.). Ownership Of Intellectual Property: Everything To Know. Retrieved July 19, 2023.

3U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Employee Rights. Retrieved July 19, 2023.

4 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers Retrieved July 19, 2023.

5Contreras, R. (2023, April 6). Axios Explains: Why it's so hard to come to the U.S. legally. Axios. Retrieved April 21, 2023. Retrieved July 19, 2023. 

6ABA Standing Committee on Specialization. (n.d.). Private organizations with ABA accredited lawyer certification programs. American Bar Association. Retrieved April 21, 2023.

7National Association of Counsel for Children. (n.d.). Child welfare specialist certification. Retrieved June 14, 2023.

8International Association of Privacy Professionals. (n.d.). Privacy Law Specialist™. Retrieved June 14, 2023.

9Estate Law Specialist Board, Inc. (n.d.) Our mission. National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. Retrieved June 14, 2023.

Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Aug. 3, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.