Common Types of Attorneys

Lawyers commonly choose a specific type of law to practice. Discover several common types of attorneys and what areas they specialize in.

Attorney is one of the highest paying career fields in the United States, in no small part because of how challenging it is to become a lawyer. Lawyers need numerous skills, including the ability to perform deep research on topics, pay attention to minute details and remain organized. They must also be able to arrange meetings and interview witnesses and experts, as well as present their case in a reasonable and easy to understand fashion before a judge or jury. It takes years of study and passing a specialized state test, the Bar Exam, just to practice law. Many lawyers spend several additional years working in firms and building up experience before becoming full-fledged attorneys.  

In addition to these general skills, many attorneys choose a specialization. There are numerous specializations to choose from, such as family, environmental or business law. Specialized lawyers are experts in their fields, with some specializations requiring different skills or responsibilities from general law practitioners. While some types of attorneys can be found through different resources, all practicing attorneys can be found through the ABA directory.

Criminal Lawyer

Criminal lawyers are one of the most common types of specializations. When most individuals hear the term lawyer, they typically envision a criminal lawyer. Criminal lawyers represent clients who are charged with a crime, either acting as the defense or the prosecution. Criminal lawyers must understand not only federal laws, but also state and local laws. There are several additional subcategories of criminal lawyers. For example, some criminal attorneys exclusively work DUI cases. Public defenders are also classified as criminal attorneys.

Business Lawyer

Another common specialization is business. Business attorneys are informally known as corporate lawyers. They specialize in cases where a company is accused of breaking a local, state or federal business law. They are also brought in to oversee more complex business issues, such as company mergers and acquisitions. Some business lawyers pick an additional area to focus in, such as patent law or intellectual property disputes. Many business lawyers work as part of a law firm, representing multiple clients. Others are hired directly by a business. These lawyers often act as legal guides, keeping the company above legal issues to avoid ever having to go to court. They may also be consulted before firing employees to make sure the firing is for valid reasons or ask for assistance drafting up a contract for new hires.

Immigration Attorney

Immigration law may seem like a niche specialty but each year there are thousands of cases. Immigration attorneys are in high demand because of the growing number of cases, with some of the larger states having between 150 to 200 thousand pending cases. Even smaller states frequently have between 10 to 50 thousand pending cases. These lawyers work closely with clients in any area relating to immigration law, including obtaining a green card, claiming refugee status, getting a student or work visa or deportation cases.

Many immigration cases involve individual clients, but there are also larger businesses and corporations that require immigration attorneys. Setting up businesses overseas or hiring immigrant workers requires certain licenses and permits, many of which have lengthy and complex paperwork. Even among other attorneys, immigration law is considered complex and requires a great deal of focus to understand. While some lawyers choose multiple specializations, immigration lawyers are rarely able to focus on other cases. Some lawyers work with firms, but many are contacted directly by clients who used federal resources to find an attorney.

Constitutional Attorney

Constitutional lawyers specialize in cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution. Some attorneys work outside of the court room, either teaching at a university or being brought in as an expert witness to interoperate constitutional law. Other lawyers represent clients who had their constitutional rights violated. Most constitutional law cases are discrimination based. In larger cases, a constitutional attorney may be brought in to argue a case before the state supreme courts. If the issue is still unresolved, it goes before the U.S. Supreme Court. Many constitutional attorneys work with government institutions, acting as advisors. Lawyers who want to represent clients often partner with a nonprofit group, helping discriminated clients who normally lack the resources to hire a law firm.

Family Attorney

Family law is much different from other types of law. The biggest difference is family attorneys rarely take their cases before a judge. Family attorneys handle cases involving divorces, annulments, and prenuptial agreements. They are also brought in for child custody or support cases, as well as alimony disputes. Some family lawyers are hired to represent a specific client, while others are brought in to act as a neutral party for both clients. Interpersonal skills are equally as important as legal knowledge for family attorneys. The goal is rarely to prove that one side committed a legal infraction, but to come up with a fair agreement both sides are happy with.

Environmental Attorney

Environmental attorneys handle any cases revolving around sustainability and environmental laws and regulations. While some businesses hire an environmental attorney to act as a consultant, many are hired by private clients to challenge industrial projects. Because of this, environmental attorneys often make less than other lawyers. Many environmental attorneys’ partner with nonprofit groups instead of traditional law firms. Some environmental lawyers also represent Native American clients in matters of land use and project approvals.

Tax Attorney

Tax law is complex, especially since there are differing laws and regulations based on how you file your taxes. Most tax attorneys specialize in all forms of tax law, but others narrow it down further, such as working for businesses or nonprofit organizations. There are also tax attorneys with government positions who are brought in whenever there are filing irregularities. 

The most common job for a tax attorney is helping to prepare taxes for the year. Tax attorneys use their knowledge to advise clients about what reductions are available, as well as how to set up payment plans. If there are any issues filing, a tax attorney can explain the charges or challenge them in court. When tax attorneys aren’t working with clients, they are studying changes and addition to the existing tax laws. These laws change much more frequently than other areas, so research is even more important for tax attorneys.