There are different types of lawyers for basically every industry out there. Some people know exactly what type of law they want to practice before entering law school, while others aren’t so sure. When you first start questioning what kind of attorney you should be, there are generally two directions you can go in: litigation and transactional.
Litigation practice involves defending the rights of and resolving disputes between opposing parties. As a litigator, you will handle numerous cases from fact investigation all the way through trial, settlement or appeals. Litigators do a lot of legal research and writing, so if you enjoyed your 1L legal writing class, litigation might be for you. Litigators must also advocate for their clients, so you may want to think about what types of clients you want to advocate for.
If you’re interested in representing clients in areas like landlord/tenant cases, divorce, personal injury claims, medical malpractice, toxic torts, or real estate disputes, then civil litigation is for you. This list of areas is not exhaustive, and most law firms handle several areas of civil litigation. A subset of civil litigation is commercial litigation, which usually involves lawsuits between businesses. Commercial litigators handle disputes like breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition, intellectual property infringement, shareholder issues and fraud.
If you’re more interested in criminal law, you could work as a prosecutor, representing the state or federal government in cases involving white-collar crime, drug offenses, sex crimes, misdemeanors, juvenile crimes, criminal appeals and capital defense. You could also be a defense attorney, representing the rights of defendants as a public defender or in private practice.
Public interest litigation might interest you if you want to represent rights for the public at large. Public interest litigation practice areas include environmental law, civil rights, disability rights, animal welfare and public health concerns.
If litigation doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, transactional law involves researching, counseling clients and drafting and negotiating contracts. If you’re detail oriented and want to draft, interpret and negotiate contracts and deals, consider a career in transactional law. As with litigation, there are plenty of practice areas that fall under transactional law: corporate law, commercial law, real estate, banking law, entertainment law, bankruptcy, tax, technology transactions and intellectual property licensing.
Above is a very broad overview of the types of law you can get into. Litigation comes up in other areas and transactional work is needed in other industries. Employment lawyers, for example, advise employers on legal standards and represent employees in sexual harassment or unfair labor law cases. Estate planning lawyers draft wills, set up trusts and handle probate cases. Immigration attorneys defend clients at immigration hearings and advise clients on obtaining visas.
Maybe you don’t want to on focus on either litigation or transactional law. If you’re drawn to legislation and policy work, you can practice regulatory law. Regulatory/administrative attorneys counsel clients in complying with government agency rules and regulations.
If you’ve applied to law school, you’ve probably given some thought to what type of attorney you should be. What were your motivations when you applied? Have those motivations changed since navigating law school? Do you want to practice a specific type of law? Or would you rather practice more than one type of law? What was your favorite class during 1L? What classes have you taken since 1L? What activities beyond classes are you involved in?
If you still find yourself wondering “What type of lawyer should I be?” or “What type of law should I practice?” this ABA quiz is a good starting point. The beauty of law practice is that there are so many options based on what you’re passionate about and what skill set you have.