There are two main categories of law: criminal and civil. However, it may surprise you to learn that within those two categories are many different types of law. If you plan to earn a law degree and pass the bar exam to become a practicing lawyer, you will need to decide which type of law to focus your practice on. Aspiring paralegals may also choose to specialize in one or two areas of the law.
Criminal Law: Defense
Many lawyers who focus on criminal law go into defense work. Defense lawyers are responsible for protecting the legal rights of their clients who have been accused of violating one or more criminal laws. During any given day, a criminal defense attorney may complete the following job duties:
- Meet with a new client at the local jail to discuss the case
- Argue in favor of bail at a bail hearing
- Negotiate for a plea bargain (lenient sentencing or a reduction of charges in exchange for a guilty plea)
- Prepare for trial for a pending case
- Conduct legal research and draft legal documents
Criminal defense attorneys may handle multiple cases at any given time, so flexibility is important. They must also be excellent written and verbal communicators with strong memory recall.
Some defense attorneys focus their practice on one or two types of cases, such as juvenile defense or violent crimes. Others handle a diverse range of cases, from DUI to domestic violence to white-collar crime. Many defense attorneys work in private practice, while others are public defenders, representing clients who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Criminal Law: Prosecution
If the thought of working with criminal cases appeals to you, but you are reluctant to represent people who may be guilty of a crime, you might thrive in a career as a prosecutor. Prosecutors are civil servants, like public defenders. However, instead of defending the accused, they strive for a conviction.
Prosecuting attorneys represent the local, state or federal government in criminal court. Their tasks overlap with those of defense attorneys and may include the following:
- Interviewing witnesses and victims
- Reviewing police reports and evidence
- Meeting with defense attorneys to discuss plea bargains
- Preparing to prosecute a case in criminal court
Like defense attorneys, prosecutors must have strong communication skills. They must also possess an unwavering commitment to professional ethics and fairness.
Civil Law: Family Law
As the name suggests, family law involves the legal aspects of familial relationships. Family lawyers may work on any of the following types of cases and issues:
- Pre- and postnuptial agreements
- Child support and custody
- Spousal support
In addition, some family lawyers work on juvenile delinquency and guardianship cases. These attorneys may conduct mediation sessions to resolve matters outside of court. They also prepare cases for litigation in court, keeping their client’s best interests in mind.
Family lawyers work with clients during some of the most difficult and stressful times in their lives. As a result, it is crucial for these professionals to possess sensitivity, compassion and empathy while also maintaining professional distance. Family attorneys must frequently deal with situations involving intense emotions, so they also need the ability to keep a cool head and think calmly under pressure.
Civil Law: Personal Injury Law
Personal injury law falls under the category of civil law. Such cases are litigated in civil court systems. Personal injury lawyers represent individuals who have been harmed by the negligent or intentional actions of another person. They sue liable parties (the defendants) to recover damages, or compensation, on behalf of their clients (the plaintiffs). Some types of cases handled by personal injury lawyers include the following:
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home negligence
- Slip and fall
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Product liability
Personal injury lawyers work closely with individuals who have been seriously injured, so it is important for them to possess sensitivity and compassion. They must also be excellent negotiators, as many cases are resolved out of court via negotiated settlement agreements. When a case does reach trial, personal injury lawyers must present their arguments to the jury with confidence.
Unlike many other types of lawyers, personal injury lawyers often do not charge an hourly rate. Instead, they are usually paid on a contingency basis. This means that if they lose a case, they earn nothing for working on it. However, if they win the case or successfully negotiate a settlement, they can earn a substantial fee taken from the settlement or jury award.
Civil Law: Labor Law
Labor law involves the many legal aspects of employment — specifically, the legal relationships between companies and workers. A labor lawyer, or employment lawyer, represents either employers or current or former employees.
Labor attorneys who represent companies typically focus on helping their clients limit liability to avoid lawsuits and labor law violations. They may draft employment contracts and employment policies for their clients.
Labor lawyers who represent employees typically focus on protecting their clients’ rights. For example, they may work on cases involving discrimination, harassment or wrongful termination. Employees may also ask labor lawyers to review their employment contracts before signing them.
Civil Law: Corporate Law
Corporate law governs the conduct and relations of businesses and organizations. It involves laws about the obligations and rights of people who are involved with managing or running a corporation. This kind of law helps corporations operate efficiently and with integrity. It promotes reliability and trust in the interactions among people and corporations.
Civil Law: Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when a health care professional or a doctor within a hospital causes an injury to a patient through acts of negligence. To be considered this kind of malpractice, it must fall into various principles including violating the standard of care, injuries that resulted in large damages or negligence. Here are other examples of medical malpractice that can result in a lawsuit:
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
- Misreading or ignoring laboratory results
- Surgical errors or wrong site surgery
- Improper medication or dosage
- Poor follow-up or aftercare
If you aspire to earn a law degree, you can acquire a solid academic foundation as an undergraduate or graduate student at Grand Canyon University. Our private university offers a range of law degree options to choose from, including the following programs: Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies, Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies and Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin your academic journey at GCU.
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.