Overview of the Different Fields of Law

Legal careers and specialties are as diverse as laws themselves. While some attorneys specialize through work experience, others choose to focus on a field during their Juris Doctor degree or subsequent education.

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There a variety of legal topics in which lawyers can specialize their careers. To prepare for jobs in certain fields of law, they may earn an advanced degree in that area.

Available Degrees and Fields of Study

The legal profession encompasses many specialties, including the following:

  • Criminal law
  • Family law
  • Health law
  • Tax law
  • Civil rights law

In order to practice law, individuals have to attend an accredited Juris Doctor (J.D.) program and pass a state bar examination. Although law students can take elective courses and internships during their J.D., advanced degrees offer an opportunity for in-depth specialization. Some advanced degree options include:

  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Master of Jurisprudence (M.J.)
  • Doctor of Juridical Sciences (S.J.D.)

Criminal Law

Criminal law is an exciting field focusing on activities defined as illegal in the criminal code. The field broadly covers all regulations relating to wrongful conduct deterrence and public safety from criminal activities. It also addresses the relationships between individuals, as well as between individuals and the state.

Course Topics

In criminal law courses, students learn about topics relating to Students examine topics relating to sentencing fairness, policing fairness and incarceration practices. Specific course topics covered during a criminal law specialization include the following:

  • Substantive criminal law
  • Sentencing
  • White-collar crime
  • International criminal law
  • Plea-bargaining
  • Criminal procedure

Hands-on training in criminal law is crucial. Prosecution and public defender offices, where criminal lawyers often work, typically require applicants to have experience prior to being hired. Law schools provide experience through criminal law clinics, internships, and externships.

Job Description

Criminal lawyers are trial lawyers who work as either prosecutors or defense lawyers. Prosecutors represent local, state, or federal governments in cases against individuals who have been charged with violating a law or ordinance. Local- and state-level prosecutors work in the attorney general's office, a city attorney's office, or a county district attorney's office. Prosecutors at the federal level work in U.S. attorney's offices or for the military. Lawyers specializing in this field should be good at working with people from diverse backgrounds and skilled at advocating for their clients.

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Family Law

Family law is the field of law covering all rights, rules and responsibilities relating to the family unit, including relationships between couples and between parents and children. Programs are sometimes called child and family law degrees. This area of the law focuses on family issues, such as divorces, domestic violence cases, and custody decisions.

Course Topics

Courses in family span a wide range of topics, relating to family members of all kinds and of all ages. Both theoretical and practical topics may be covered. Courses in a family law program include the following:

  • Legal research and writing
  • Child law
  • Torts
  • Adoption law
  • Trusts
  • Estates
  • Juvenile justice
  • Elder law

Family law students also learn about real estate law, tax law, and related subjects. Depending on the program, family law students might participate in clinical programs, in which they get the chance to represent clients in real cases. Field placement might include domestic relations or juvenile justice courts.

Job Description

Family lawyers deal with issues including child custody, divorce, child abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Recent legal developments have made it necessary for family lawyers to also focus on new issues, such as same-sex marriage, adoption, and same-sex sexual violence.

Health Law

The field of health law is highly disciplinary, covering topics related to the health of individuals and the public, as well as industry considerations and the financial costs of healthcare delivery. Health lawyers represent clients in the healthcare field, including individuals, hospitals, and medical device companies. Lawyers in this field benefit from having both legal and medical knowledge.

Course Topics

Because health law is such a broad field, students in health law programs may be required to take courses that touch on a variety of subfields. Other than that, students may be able to focus their coursework on one particular area, depending on their interests. At the master's degree level, students can select mentorships or internships as electives. Course topics within health law degree programs include the following:

  • Healthcare regulations
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Medical malpractice
  • Public health law
  • Drug law
  • Biotechnology law

Job Description

Health lawyers work for law firms, hospitals, healthcare organizations, and the government. Health lawyers can specialize in many areas, including regulatory law, intellectual property, and medical ethics. Non-lawyer healthcare professionals who want to understand more about legal issues affecting the healthcare industry can also benefit from studying health law.

Lawyers have a variety of specialization fields to choose from, including criminal law, family law and health law.

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