A law degree can open the door to a wide variety of careers. Lawyers play an important role in society through the practice of law, which encompasses a multitude of activities. A strong education in law school also provides the ability to pursue employment opportunities outside of the legal profession in areas such as politics and business.
Types of Legal Practice
The practice of law takes several forms. The ways in which lawyers apply their expertise can be broadly categorized into the following practice types:
- Private Practice: involves working alone or with partners in a firm to provide legal services to clients (individuals or corporations); some lawyers specialize in one or more practice areas while others engage in general practice.
- Public Interest Law: serves low-income individuals, marginalized groups and social causes; practitioners may work for advocacy groups, legal aid clinics and other organizations with the goal of advancing an interest of the public.
- Government Counsel: governments hire lawyers for legal advice and representation; lawyers directly employed by the government may work for ministries, government agencies and crown corporations.
- Corporate Counsel: corporations can employ lawyers as in-house counsel; an in-house counsel works for a single company to advise on legal matters related to its business activities.
Practice Areas (Specializations)
The law impacts our lives in numerous ways, so naturally the legal profession covers many fields and allows for a variety of law careers. There are many types of lawyers – some practice in all areas of the law, while others choose to specialize. Here are some areas of specialization in law:
- Administrative: branch of public law dealing with the relationship between individuals and the government; regulates the power of governmental administrative agencies and ensures fair implementation and administration of laws.
- Civil Litigation: involves a lawsuit resulting from a dispute between private parties (individuals or corporations); civil litigation is concerned with matters such as breach of contract, debt collection, malpractice and personal injury.
- Constitutional: branch of public law dealing with powers of the federal government and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments; constitutional lawyers handle issues such as equality rights, freedom of expression, security and democratic governance.
- Corporate and Commercial: deals with the formation and maintenance of businesses; corporate and commercial lawyers handle contracts, liability, mergers, structured financings and other business matters.
- Criminal: governs crimes against the public and members of the public (as opposed to civil litigation which deals with private disputes); a criminal lawyer may work for the government as a prosecutor or represent the accused person as a defense lawyer.
- Environmental: legislation and regulations relating to the interaction of humans with the environment; environmental lawyers deal with matters such as air pollution, wilderness preservation and waste disposal.
- Family: applies to legal relationships between family members; issues in family law include marriage contracts, divorce, child custody, adoption, wills and estate planning.
- Immigration: federal laws control the entry of non-citizens into the country; immigration lawyers assist clients in applying for entry, residing in the country and becoming citizens.
- Intellectual Property: intellectual property refers to the ownership rights to certain kinds of creative endeavors; intellectual property law protects ownership through copyrights, patents, trademarks and industrial design registrations.
- International: governs the interactions and relationships between nations; international lawyers may be hired by national governments and international organizations, or work in the private sector focusing on the interpretation of treaties and related laws.
- Labor and Employment: defines the rights and obligations of employers, workers and union members; lawyers may advise management, labor or government on issues such as employment standards, workplace health and safety, and industrial relations.
- Real Estate: deals with the purchase, sale, financing and development of land and buildings; real estate lawyers may work for developers, tenants, investors, banks or corporations on matters relating to residential or commercial real estate.
- Securities: regulates the purchase and sale of securities (financial instruments such as stocks and bonds); securities lawyers typically work in law firms providing services to corporations and financial institutions or for governmental commissions focusing on regulatory compliance.
- Tax: deals with the taxes levied by different levels of government; tax lawyers may advise corporations on tax strategies and implications of business transactions, or counsel individuals on matters such as legal wills and estate planning.
- Other Areas: in addition to the practice areas list above, there are many other fields of specialization in the legal profession (antitrust, entertainment, health, municipal, sports, etc.).
Other Career Opportunities
The skills required for a law career can also be successfully employed in other professions. Law school education is very versatile and some students decide to pursue alternative careers upon graduation. Even lawyers who have been practicing for several years sometimes transition into other careers.
A law degree can enable entry into many careers outside of the legal profession, including the following: