The legal profession can be carved up into many different territories. There is a broad range of law-centric careers in everything from academia to the healthcare industry. Of course, most people associate law with lawyers.
According to the latest statistics, there were 1.33 million lawyers in the US alone. Among this vast array of legal minds are diverse types of lawyers who work across several categories of the law business. The following article covers a dozen different jobs for lawyers that can serve as a useful starting point to anyone searching for a legal practice.
Lawyer vs. attorney - what is the difference?
These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between lawyers and attorneys. Although both have a law degree, lawyers and attorneys don’t do the same jobs. In other words, it’s one thing to secure the so-called Juris Doctor degree - a graduate-entry professional degree in law - and another to pass the bar exam and practice law. So before we examine what the most interesting types of attorneys and lawyers are, it’s important to point out the difference between the two terms. An attorney is a lawyer, but a lawyer isn’t necessarily an attorney.
An attorney has a law degree and practices law in court, for instance. The word attorney has its origins in the French language and is used to describe a person who acts on behalf of others.
Unlike attorneys, lawyers don’t necessarily practice in court after finishing law school and passing the bar exam. They choose different career paths and practice law outside the courtroom, often acting as legal advisors and consultants.
What types of lawyers are there?
There are plenty of job opportunities for lawyers, but after finishing law school, it can be hard to decide what type of law practice you want to pursue. There are numerous career paths that you can choose based on your plans, ambitions, and perhaps most importantly, your interests.
For example, some graduates see themselves as future legal experts for adoption and child rights and search for jobs in institutions where they can practice family law. Others are more focused on the types of lawyer careers with fat paychecks, like tax and business lawyers.
Although there are so many types of laws to study and practice, we narrowed down our list to the 12 most common careers, which will help you make a decision about your future. Our list is created based on the most common legal problems that US citizens face.
26 Different types of lawyers
1. Business lawyer
Business lawyers or corporate lawyers ensure that all operations of an individual company are conducted within the legal framework of local, state, and federal laws. A business lawyer is involved in everything from liability and intellectual property disputes to mergers and revising all sorts of legal documentation.
To become a business lawyer, you’ll need a J.D. But many law students also acquire a business law certificate. After that, all you need to do is pass the bar exam, and you can start working for a company.
2. Bankruptcy lawyer
For certain types of law careers, you need to be an expert on very specific laws. As a bankruptcy lawyer, you’ll need to know everything about the US Bankruptcy Code. There are two types of bankruptcy lawyers - those that are experts in consumer bankruptcy and those who know everything about commercial bankruptcy.
3. Tax lawyer
Tax lawyers are experts in the US tax system. They help businesses and individuals understand complex tax rules and regulations and enable them to stay compliant with local, state, and federal tax laws.
Since the US tax system is complex and subject to frequent changes, tax lawyers must be up to date with all IRS regulations and any amendments to the tax law.
4. Defense lawyer
There are two main types of criminal lawyers - criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors. Criminal defense lawyers defend individuals who are accused of committing a crime. In other words, these criminal lawyers protect the rights of the defendant.
Defense lawyers can work as either public defenders or private attorneys. Regardless of what you choose, criminal defense lawyers generally spend more time in court than some of their counterparts. Criminal law can also be split into multiple categories, giving you the option to work as a drug crime lawyer, violent crime lawyer, or homicide lawyer.
5. Constitutional lawyer
As the title implies, a constitutional lawyer is an expert in the US Constitution. Constitutional lawyers ensure that there is a lawful balance between the interests of their clients and those of government institutions. There are different kinds of lawyers who are experts in interpreting the US Constitution. For example, there are constitutional lawyers whose job involves investigating the constitutionality of certain laws. Some of them can work as constitutional lawyers at universities or federal government agencies. Constitutional lawyers must be capable of understanding all possible interpretations of the country’s founding document. If you’re detail-oriented and ready to think outside the box, this is the right lawyer occupation for you.
6. Family lawyer
Family lawyers are well versed in all laws concerning domestic relations and family-related issues. When people think of family lawyers, they usually think about divorce. But there are so many other kinds of lawyers that handle everything from child adoption and surrogacy to child delinquency and domestic violence.
If you want to practice family law, some states will offer you various training options, allowing you to secure certificates in different areas of family law.
7. Labor lawyer
Labor and employment lawyers focus on matters concerning the relationship between employers, employees, and unions. They provide legal advice on different employment laws that cover salaries, working hours, discrimination in the workplace, safety, and other issues. All types of lawyers are familiar with labor laws, but a labor lawyer further specializes in the field and works on creating and reviewing company policies.
If you want to obtain a certificate in this area, many law schools offer courses that are focused exclusively on labor laws.
8. Estate planning lawyer
Estate planning lawyers handle wills, trusts, and property rights. Their legal advice to clients ensures that all matters related to the passing of assets are properly addressed. As an estate planning lawyer, you can also create questionnaires to help clients evaluate their assets. This makes it easier to draw up the will.
The types of lawyers who choose this line of work are experts in the complexities of estate planning - from creating estate plans to ensuring that their client’s wishes are respected after they pass away.
9. Immigration lawyer
Immigration lawyers deal with individuals and entire families who are trying to acquire US citizenship. They provide advice on how to live and work in America legally. Immigration lawyers also work with political refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, many employers and employees use immigration lawyers to help them obtain work visas. While this isn’t one of the highest-paid types of lawyers, helping people find a better life in the US can be fulfilling work.
As an immigration lawyer, you can work in many different places. For example, there are companies that provide specialized immigration services. Also, you can work for nonprofits and government agencies.
10. Personal injury lawyer
There are a few more key professions that we need to cover when trying to answer that fundamental question: what are the different types of lawyers? For starters, personal injury lawyers are primarily focused on civil litigations and representing individuals who sustained an injury either at work or through poor medical practices.
As a personal injury lawyer, you’ll be responsible for collecting evidence, documenting injuries, calculating expenses, and talking with witnesses.
11. Intellectual property lawyer
Intellectual property or IP lawyers work with clients who need to protect their intellectual capital - ideas, inventions, or patents. They help both individuals (artists and inventors) and businesses with disputes over trademarks, copyright, distribution, etc. IP lawyers also help clients secure licenses and understand trademark laws. In addition, they provide advice concerning new regulations and rules that protect patents.
12. Entertainment Lawyer
The list of different types of lawyers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning entertainment lawyers. They work with actors, musicians, athletes, and other individuals or brands that have media exposure. The main responsibility of entertainment lawyers is to help their clients protect their intellectual property, including songs, paintings, and performances. Entertainment lawyers also work on contracts, fee agreements, and talent releases.
13. Medical Malpractice Lawyer
People who hire medical malpractice lawyers have most often suffered a personal injury due to an error made by a medical professional. Any harm caused by inappropriate treatment, negligence, botched surgery, or misdiagnosis falls under the practice of these types of attorneys. A malpractice lawyer can also represent health professionals when charges are brought against them, and they are usually employed directly by the medical facility where said professional works.
14. Contract Lawyer
Contract lawyers specialize in assisting clients in drafting and enforcing legally binding documents. They are often hired for breach-of-contract litigation, contract dispute consulting, advice, or leading contract negotiations.
15. Social-Security Disability Lawyer
The social security disability system is complex to navigate at the best of times. Luckily, disability law is one of the more charitable attorney specialties, and these lawyers assist clients in navigating this compensation and assistance system by ensuring their customers are eligible for aid, appealing in case benefits are denied, or handling benefit termination or reduction cases.
16. Government Lawyer
Lawyers working for a branch of the US government - local, county, state, or federal - are government lawyers. They usually focus on the legal aspects of the governing domain of the agency they work for. A lawyer in the government’s employ may work on cases that involve wrongful death, harassment, tax, tort law, eminent domain, and many other types of cases.
17. Military Lawyer
A military lawyer, also referred to as a Judge Advocate General (JAG), is similar to a general practice attorney, as they can represent military personnel in criminal and civil cases. They deal with the military, civilian, and even international law. Furthermore, they prepare their clients for trial, draft documentation, maintain military handbooks, and deal with the technical writing for those handbooks.
18. Mergers and Acquisitions Lawyer
Mergers and acquisitions lawyers are specialized corporate or business lawyers that work exclusively as counsel during acquisitions. Purchasing and selling large companies requires in-depth knowledge of securities, tax, and finance laws. These types of lawyers and what they do pertains to highly specialized matters, but they still need to be familiar with several legal fields and business practices, to boot. The most important task for such lawyers is agreement drafting. These contracts between two organizations have to contain all the necessary clauses, like non-compete, employee, and confidentiality.
19. Environmental Lawyer
With the growing need for preservation initiatives due to global warming, an increasing number of lawyers are specializing in environmental law. The expertise of these law professionals includes in-depth knowledge of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and policies. While these are not the types of lawyers that make the most money, most professionals in the field enjoy doing their part to save the planet. These lawyers work with various government organizations, citizens, and businesses to help them avoid further environmental damage in their actions, or pursue justice for the harm that has already been inflicted.
20. Real Estate or Property Lawyer
Lawyers working with real estate often have agents, homeowners, and buyers as clients. These lawyers’ expert knowledge allows them to navigate buying a home or advise construction companies on various zoning laws. Furthermore, they also handle evictions and foreclosures, representing tenants and property owners alike. Negotiation skills are essential for real estate lawyers, as they often act as intermediaries between the parties in dispute.
21. Toxic Tort Lawyer
One of the most specific branches of lawyers is toxic tort lawyers. They specialize in lawsuits and settlements over personal injuries caused by poisonous and hazardous materials. Exposure to toxic pharmaceuticals, chemicals, products, or environmental factors may cause serious health issues; the most common toxic tort cases deal with asbestos exposure or class-action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. To practice law in this field, lawyers need to pass the bar exam to represent their clients in court.
22. Video Game Lawyer
Lawyers in the video game industry represent the players and fans, as well as the studios developing the games. While these are some of the most interesting types of lawyers, they require comprehensive industry knowledge to succeed in this field. Clients for these law professionals are game developers, publishing companies, tournament organizers, even players. Video game lawyers offer legal advice, handle contracts, and employ their negotiation skills to resolve conflicts and achieve settlements. Good knowledge of copyright laws, consumer compliance, data protection, the GDPR, licensing, and drafting agreements are advantages for professionals in this industry.
23. Public-Interest Lawyer
Nonprofit organizations or government agencies often employ public-interest lawyers. They offer their legal services to clients for free, or at a significantly reduced rate. Obviously, this stops them from becoming the highest-paid types of lawyers, but they have a pivotal role in helping people overcome social injustice. They are often involved in healthcare, disability, and environmental causes, and represent their clients in court.
24. Digital Media and Internet Lawyer
Law professionals dealing with cases related to digital media or internet-related technology are digital media and internet lawyers. These lawyers mainly handle litigation related to copyright, piracy, internet privacy, protecting children from online predators, and drafting terms and conditions pages for websites.
25. Finance and Securities Lawyer
Individuals or business entities that need assistance with cases involving the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) or SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) often employ finance and securities lawyers. These agencies serve to prevent fraud, market manipulation, or insider trading. Hiring these types of lawyers is in demand for cases involving stock trading, banking, or the treasury, and may help your organization stay compliant with government regulations.
26. Civil Rights Lawyer
Civil rights lawyers handle civil rights violations perpetrated against their clients by the government, its agencies, or any other form of authority. Plaintiffs are often discriminated against based on gender, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or other reasons. These lawyers have a crucial role in preserving their clients’ constitutional rights, such as the right to privacy, voting rights, freedom of speech, expression, religion, press, and many others.
In our article, we introduced and described some of the most common law professions. Of course, the complete list of different types of law practices is much longer. Even the law professions we introduced have different specializations. For example, those who start working as personal injury lawyers can specialize as medical lawyers. Other careers include environmental lawyers, military lawyers, and contract lawyers.
As you can see, a law degree opens many career paths, allowing you to work in different environments and choose different lifestyles. Aside from your personal traits, finances can also have a significant impact on which law career you choose. Generally, a law career guarantees financial stability.
An average salary for a lawyer was $122,960 in 2019, but those who belong to the best paid 25% had an annual income of $186,350. Of course, some legal jobs are better paid than others. We compared different types of lawyers and their salaries and found that medical lawyers earn the most. The average annual salary of a medical lawyer is over $150,800.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, lawyers who work in the private sector earn more than those in the public sector. Of course, there are significant differences in salaries between lawyers who work in big cities and those in rural areas. According to the latest statistics, the cities with the highest paid lawyer jobs are San Jose (CA), San Francisco (CA), Washington D.C, Los Angeles (CA), and Bridgeport (CA).
But don’t expect to start earning a six-figure salary right out of law school. Take a look at some junior positions for your desired legal job to help you acquire the experience you need to achieve your broader career goal.