There are a wide range of legal practice areas that lawyers can choose to specialise in once qualified. The area of specialism chosen can have an influence over the type of company for which you could work, the sorts of people you could deal with on a day to day basis, the hours you could be expected to work, and the sorts of tasks you would be expected to undertake. Below is a brief outline of the main legal practice areas.
Competition deals with trading and shipping of goods. Contravening UK or EU competition laws have financial repercussions upon companies, so they must be aware of legal restrictions. A competition lawyer will advise on the best way to handle trading and shipping, ensuring that the company does not breech any competition laws while also ensuring its own interests are served (i.e. by keeping prices as low as legally possible) and keeping its place in the trade market secure.
In the case of companies partaking of a 'cartel' (an agreement between a company and a supplier, for example, that sets fixed prices and limits competitions from other companies), competition lawyers would be involved in advising their clients on the way to proceed and any resulting litigation.
Corporate law deals with large transactions carried out by various companies. Corporate lawyers are therefore required to offer thier clients legal advice at every step of the way to ensure the company's interests are protected at all times and that such transactions are carried out fairly. Such transactions that a corporate lawyer would be required to advise on would be mergers and acquisitions, the sale of shares on the stock markets and joint ventures (where two companies jointly run a separate business venture).
Unsurprisingly, Criminal Law deals with the perpetrators of crimes, from small crimes like vandalism or petty theft all the way up to murder or bank heists. A criminal lawyer then is one who specialises in keeping up to date with any changes to the law and court precedents pertaining to criminal law. Criminal law barristers represent clients in court, usually individuals but it can be companies, and advocate to get a conviction (if the prosecution lawyer) or to convince the court of the innocence or lack of liability on their client's behalf (if the defence lawyer). Criminal law solicitors are usually the first contact for people that have committed an offence, and are the lawyers who will sit with people during interviews at the police station. They also act as briefs for barristers before they go to court, preparing relevant legal documentation.
Dispute resolution lawyers work to bring about a settlement without the necessity of going to court. Two such methods are arbitration and mitigation, which are quicker and cheaper than going to court. Settlements that come about in this way, though less legaly binding, are usually more of a compromise and thus better for both parties involved. Litigation cases still go to court after conferences between the parties, their representatives and a judge.
The work undertaken by a litigation and dispute resolution lawyer is likely to involve meetings with clients and opposing parties, drafting arguments and briefing barristers for court, appearing in court for your client and researching relevant laws/statutes etc. Since these disputes can range across a wide variety of legal issues, it is important to have good judgement, negotiation skills and analytical skills.
Employment lawyers are involved in all aspects of employment law. This can range from working for a particular company - advising on changes to employmeny law, employee contracts, an employee's rights, or internal restructuring, to working with individual clients - advising them on their rights in the work place, their employment contracts and how to challenge discrimination or unfair dismissals, etc. Should their clients be involved in a case that goes to court, they will be involved with the preparation of documents, in court litigation, and negotiation of settlements. Employment law has become a much more prominent area since equality in the workplace laws have been reaffirmed.
Family lawyers deal with disputes relating to (unsurprisingly) family issues. For example, a family lawyer could represent a client involved in divorce proceedings, another client, who as part of an unmarried couple, may not have as strong a legal challenge to shared assets, or a client negotiating a prenuptial agreement before marriage. A family lawyer therefore is likely to deal with a wide range of people and circumstances, and can expect to be involved in meetings and negotiation with the opposing lawyer (including, for example, negotiating financial settlements or visiting rights), drafting and preparing documents (either for negotiation stages or for court proceedings), breifing barristers on cases (if a solicitor) or advocating in court (if a barrister). They are also likely to offer advice to people seeking legal support in family disputes or looking to understand their legal rights before deciding on whether to proceed with a legal challenge. Since all circumstances are unique, specialists in family law will find themselves constantly abreast of new developments.
Lawyers specialising in Banking and Finance will usually be employed by companies and corporations, and will deal with the financial aspects of the business. This can mean resolving any legal issues that arise during the company's dealings, for example, with loans (whether lender or borrower), assets, acquisitions (buying out smaller companies), restructuring or project finance. Banking and Finance lawyers will negotiate and help draft the legal documentation necessary to complete business transactions, aiming to protect their client's interests along the way.
Insolvency is where a company or an individual goes bankrupt. Insolvency lawyers therefore, work to help their clients avoid going into insolvency, perhaps advising against certain business ventures of high-interest loans. Where this is not achievable, an insolvency lawyer will help his client with the resultant legal wrangling. In cases of a company, an insolvency lawyer would advise on the correct procedure to take, aiding in negotiations relating to potential take-over bids or mergers, and dealing with legal charges that may be brought against the company or its employees (i.e. if fraud or embezzlement has occurred). For individuals, an insolvency lawyer would likewise offer legal advise and representation in order to try to come to a plausibly achievable outcome.
IP, Technology and Media
IP stands for intellectual property; this is anything new that is created, invented or thought-up that can then be copyrighted, patented etc.
IP, Technology and Media lawyers will therefore be involved in advising clients, generally the owners of such copyrights and patents, on the ownership of their designs or ideas, or ensuring their clients are follwing legal processes when using and distributing other people's copyrighted material. When these ownership rights are breached, an IP, technology and media lawyer would be involved in legal proceedings against those infringing copyrights. For example, if a musician sampled another artist in their work without permission of the copyright owner, the owner of the copyright could pursue legal action against the musician in question. This scenario could be applied to literature, designs for inventions (such as cars, hoovers, computers etc), tv shows, etc. IP, tech and media lawyers therefore must be knowledgeable about a large section of laws and statutes, especially as different countries have different laws to enforce and often such breeches of copyright can be on a global scale.
A private injury lawyer is one who represents people in court that have had accidents at work or in public places (such as a supermarket) and are seeking compensation for their injuries, or a means of regaining their previous way of life. The core role of a private injury lawyer then is to convince a court that their client was not at fault in their accident and to secure a legal victory for their client. In order to do this they will have to undertake the research into necessary laws and case history, prepare files and documents for court and develop the argument. They are also likely to be involved in advising people who contact their practice/employer as to whether or not they have a strong enough case to seek legal representation.
A private client lawyer is one employed by an individual, usually a financially prolific one, and works very closely with the individual and their family. In such cases, the lawyer can be involved in advising on a range of matters, such as dealing with wills and probate and tax and finance plans. It is also likely that a private client lawyer would deal with any other legal issues that may arise with regards to their client. As such, a private client lawyer would need to have knowledge of a large number of areas of law, such as estate planning, financial and family.
Projects and Infrastructure
Projects and infrastructure lawyers deal with the legal aspects of large industrial projects or developments that are privately funded. They advise their clients on legal issues that could impact on their plans, ensure that the funding for these projects is carried out legitimately and that all necessary permissions are obtained in order for their clients to begin work on their projects. The kinds of projects that could come under this category vary hugely, from power stations to laboratories, from prisons and schools to sport stadia and even road and rail networks. The drafting of documents, negotiation of contracts and settling agreements will be vital aspects of the work carried out by projects and infrastructure lawyers.
Public and Regulatory
Lawyers working in the public sector are likely to be involved in the legal aspects of planning, authorisation and implementation of projects pertaining to public safety, development or 'public interest'. They will advise their clients on all aspects of the law that could inpinge upon their plans and offer solutions to get around these problems. Examples of projects that public and regulatory lawyers will have been involved in are the Olympic 2012 bid, and the London Crossrail train system, large projects that will have a lasting effect. On a smaller scale, they can be involved in local government plans to redevelop public transport, or ensuring that independent agencies, for example, the Highways Agency or housing associations, are carrying out their duties to the required standard and resolving any legal issues that may arise as a result of mismanagement.
Real Estate basically refers to property - buildings and plots of land. And a property lawyer won't only be called in for buying and selling; there is also the case of leasing property to other people, or redevelopment programmes on land you already own, which often needs planning permission from local councils. It is the job of a property lawyer then, to advise his clients about all aspects of property law; to negotiate with buyers, sellers and developers; to help them conduct property transfers following legal protocol; or to set in motion the applications process for obtaining legal permission to go ahead with developments or building work. Drafting and negotiating contracts with lawyers for the other party/parties involved in a deal will feature heavily in the day to day life of a real estate lawyer, as will site visits and client meetings.