Although all lawyers follow a similar educational path and must pass a state bar exam to become licensed, legal issues are extremely complex. Today’s lawyers typically specialize in a particular area of the law. Some lawyers spend little to no time in a courtroom, while others spend the bulk of their career in court. Lawyers can also practice a sub-specialty within a particular area.
All law students complete general education in the law. The first year of law school typically focuses on issues such as common law, legal writing, legal analysis, research, client interviewing and counseling. During the second and third year of law school, students may begin to choose courses that will help them in a specialty field. Some lawyers prefer to obtain a generalized education and develop specialty skills after graduation by choosing a law firm in their preferred specialty, finding a mentor with experience in their chosen area of practice or attending specialized training.
The American Bar Association has specialty groups for 21 different types of law practice. These include related areas, such as antitrust, business, labor and employment law. Other lawyers work in the fields of criminal law, such as criminal justice and general litigation. Family law, including divorce and child custody issues, and health law, including medical malpractice, are two other major areas of the law. Environmental law includes not only that specialty but the related specialties of energy and resources. Property, trust and estate law is another specialty group. Some lawyers focus on broad topics, such as public contract law, public utility, communications and transportation law, state and local government law, or international law.
Specialized areas of law require knowledge beyond that of the average lawyer. Maritime or admiralty lawyers, for example, must understand issues related to navigation, marine trade and other aspects of water-based transportation. Civil rights lawyers need specialized knowledge about discrimination and unfair practices in housing, employment and education. Entertainment law is a sub-specialty of intellectual property law focused on rights and royalties related to various types of media. The rapid expansion of social media has led to constant change in this field.
Out of the Courtroom
Some lawyers use their legal skills and training to perform tasks that people might not consider the practice of law. Law schools employ lawyers to teach law students. Other lawyers become mediators, whose focus is on helping to resolve disputes between two parties. Mediators may also work with both parties in a lawsuit to find common ground, which can allow a resolution and settlement to avoid the time and cost of a trial. Lawyers might also give legal advice to help prevent legal action, such as drawing up a prenuptial agreement.
2016 Salary Information for Lawyers
Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.