How many times have we dreamed of being the next great lawyer, like Clarence Darrow or the fictional Harvey Specter? Growing up, many of us envisioned standing in a courtroom and getting our man to admit his guilt through a series of chess moves or finding the real killer and letting your client leave a free man – the power of the imagination.
The justice system isn’t all about sending away drug dealers, rapists and kidnappers to prison with 20-year life sentences, though. It also entails defending intellectual property, protecting corporations from frivolous lawsuits and ensuring the right family member gets grandpa’s collection of vintage drachmas and Deutschmarks. Put simply, there are many types of law to practise.
As you search for a new career, you need to analyze the different types and then determine which one of these branches suits your skills and interests. Do numbers tickle your funny bone or does sticking it to unscrupulous employers give you pleasure?
If you can’t decide, we’re here to help. We’ve taken the time to list 35 different types of lawyers — including their salaries — and we’ve evaluated what each specialization entails so you can decide for yourself which area is right for you.
1. General practice lawyer
Average annual salary: $108,320
The general practice lawyer is, in essence, the jack of all trades when it comes to lawyers. General practice lawyers are competent in many areas of law and can assist with routine legal services in family law, leases, real estate, minor criminal justice cases, personal injury cases, and neighbor disputes, just to name a few.
Some see this as a great way to start out in the legal field until they find that area that really draws them in.
2. Business lawyer
Average annual salary: $116,690
A business lawyer is your go-to as a corporation dealing with a legal matter — that's their bread and butter. These attorneys help business owners find and protect themselves against current problems, but also help find and avoid problems for the future.
Business lawyers are comfortable reviewing contracts, negotiating deals, court litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and compliance and risk management in order to support the business entirely.
3. Criminal defense lawyer
Average annual salary: $81,490
Make no mistake, being a criminal defense lawyer is tough and they play a critical role in the justice of our society. In this specialty, the lawyer is responsible for defending a client (who is being charged with a crime) by analyzing evidence and trying to negotiate deals on their client’s behalf. They are the defendant’s protector, confidant, guide and ally during the case.
Average annual salary: $66,400
Contrary to a criminal defense lawyer, the prosecutor charges and tries the case on behalf of the victim. Prosecutors will often work with other law enforcement to screen criminals, handle appeals and prepare cases for trial, ensuring that all criminals are punished fairly.
When it comes to practicing law, this may be the image we all have in our head of attorneys, as the prosecutor is the one in the courtroom putting away the criminal!
5. Human rights lawyer
Average annual salary: $122,250
A lawyer that provides legal counsel and advice to individuals who were victims of human rights violations is, coincidentally, a human rights lawyer. These lawyers focus on defending the basic human rights of individuals and may assist in establishing legislation to uphold those rights for the future.
If you choose to become a human rights lawyer, your time will be spent upholding equality for all.
6. Intellectual property lawyer
Average annual salary: $128,670
If the idea of working with patents, licensing and copyrights excites you, perhaps you’re cut out to be an intellectual property lawyer. These lawyers do exactly what their title suggests — they protect intellectual property for their client (if necessary) in court.
These lawyers also consult on new ways to increase the value of those intellectual property portfolios, all while maintaining compliance with rules and regulations.
7. Tax lawyer
Average annual salary: $100,140
One thing is for sure, if you want some job security, look into becoming a tax lawyer! They focus on tax disputes, tax liabilities, and representation during litigation, if necessary. Tax lawyers focus less on the tax calculations and more on ensuring their clients’ taxes are in accordance with their country of origin. If you enjoy filing your taxes, tax law might be for you!
8. Contract lawyer
Average annual salary: $94,900
Contracts come in all shapes and sizes: job offers, leases, mortgages, car purchases, business deals, and personal loans, and the practice of contract law focuses on ensuring that the parties involved in the contracts honor the commitments detailed inside them.
A contract lawyer can not only draft the contract but also represent clients in contract disputes in court if necessary.
9. Financial lawyer
Average annual salary: $112,440
If evaluating future trends that may influence a transaction, fact-checking, and keeping up with financial laws and regulations sounds like your dream job, check out this legal specialty.
A financial lawyer will work with financial agreements, negotiations, and adhering to financial compliance laws. These lawyers may work privately with the borrower or in an organization for the lender. Either way, financial law is technically complex and constantly evolving.
10. Medical malpractice lawyer
Average annual salary: $95,000
If you long to right the injustice for patients wronged by a provider, medical malpractice law is for you.
These lawyers focus on determining professional misconduct from the medical professional due to surgical errors, traumas from birth, delays in treatment leading to decreased conditions, medical misdiagnoses, or failure to receive consent. Ultimately, they fight for their client to receive the necessary compensation.
11. Family lawyer
Average annual salary: $75,100
Family law may be one of the most difficult areas of law to practice, due to family — one of the most important things in life — being the specialty. This area of law will continually focus on matters with families, such as divorce, adoption and child custody. These lawyers work through wills, prenuptial agreements, custody agreements, divorce papers, and litigation.
These lawyers must be proficient in all areas affecting a family and utilize strong interpersonal skills in order to navigate this difficult time.
12. Immigration lawyer
Average annual salary: $120,350
An area of law that may be particularly fulfilling is immigration law. In this field, you analyze the complexity of immigration laws in order to assist those attempting to become citizens. As an immigration lawyer, responsibilities don’t just include interpreting immigration law, but preparing paperwork, gathering documentation, proposing strategies, preparing testimony statements, and anticipating the next move of the applicable government to ensure your client receives citizenship the right way.
13. Employment lawyer
Average annual salary: $88,800
This lawyer will face wrongful terminations, sexual harassment, contract violations, whistleblower protection, and discrimination in the workforce. These areas all fall under the scope of work for an employment lawyer. Employment lawyers can work for businesses, handling any Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) violations or helping any employees who feel they have been targeted.
14. Workers’ compensation lawyer
Average annual salary: $67,040
This lawyer, if representing a business, works with the insurance company to mitigate liability in workers' compensation cases. If representing the injured worker, they try to obtain benefits owed due to injuries at work.
A day in the life of this lawyer may have similar aspects to a medical malpractice attorney, including gathering medical evidence, deposing those involved, drafting motions or briefs, and litigating cases if needed.
15. Social security disability lawyer
Average annual salary: $118,210
These lawyers deal with the SSA application process, filing appeals, communicating on behalf of the client, and representing the client at hearings. A social security disability lawyer will speak the language of the SSA and will be comfortable becoming the middleman for the client.
16. Personal injury lawyer
Average annual salary: $50,000
One area of law that may prove fulfilling is personal injury law, as most of your time is spent advocating for your clients who were physically or psychologically injured as the result of negligence or malice from another individual.
These lawyers will oversee the entirety of the lawsuit, as they collect evidence regarding injuries, calculate incurred expenses and investigate witnesses surrounding the case.
17. Real estate lawyer
Average annual salary: $83,390
Reviewing and preparing documents, ensuring a clear title and facilitating the funds transfer are all duties of a real estate lawyer. These lawyers can work for the seller of the real estate property or the buyer, so duties may adjust according to the job, but the premise is the same.
In this specialty, you’ll focus on real estate transactions and ensuring these are handled correctly.
18. Bankruptcy lawyer
Average annual salary: $75,500
Perhaps you feel you’re a really good negotiator? If so, bankruptcy law might be a perfect fit.
These lawyers will evaluate all evidence to potentially avoid their clients filing for bankruptcy through negotiations with those the client owes money to. Bankruptcy lawyers analyze the likelihood of a settlement being offered on behalf of the client and then file paperwork, facilitate and oversee all negotiations and settlements throughout the entire process.
19. Mergers and acquisitions lawyer
Average annual salary: $117,450
These lawyers dive into contract law as they draft and negotiate contracts for businesses, as well as a bit of financial law, as they provide advice around the financing involved with mergers and acquisitions. Typical duties of this specialty include identifying and advising on legal issues surrounding the merger or acquisition, creating a plan, conducting due diligence, negotiating agreements and ensuring completion of the merger or acquisition.
20. Entertainment lawyer
Average annual salary: $106,000
As you peruse this list of legal specialties, you can’t get away from evaluating contracts, and entertainment law is no exception.
In this specialty, you’ll prepare and negotiate contracts specific to production deals, evaluate financial agreements and loan documentation while ensuring clients’ rights are upheld and valued. These lawyers will focus on the entertainment industry, including those in film, television, theater, music and publishing.
21. Tort lawyer
Average annual salary: $89,550
A tort lawyer is going to assist a client with regard to assault, battery, damage to personal property, and emotion distress. Basically, injury that insights physical or emotional harm will fall to a tort lawyer. These lawyers are skilled in all areas of law, but are particularly highly skilled trial lawyers, ensuring their clients receive fair compensation.
22. Public interest lawyer
Average annual salary: $68,630
Potentially the broadest area of law is public interest, as their job can span across a wide array of specialties. These lawyers support civil rights and social justices by working on behalf of poorer families, sometimes through a public defender or legal aid office.
23. Constitutional lawyer
Average annual salary: $76,350
Upholding the state and federal constitution is a quick way to define what a constitutional lawyer does. These lawyers will specialize in the laws, relationships, and rights of their clients that are given to them by the governing constitution and will spend their career taking cases to continually uphold those rights.
24. Civil rights lawyer
Average annual salary: $88,580
A civil rights lawyer will focus on equal treatment for individuals, similar to human rights lawyers, but different in a few areas. These lawyers focus on prohibiting discrimination in education, employment, housing, and even voting, ensuring that their client doesn't undergo cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable search and seizures or job loss due to discrimination.
25. Securities lawyer
Average annual salary: $228,910
The highest paid lawyer on this list? A securities lawyer. They focus on counseling clients trying to gain capital or advising investors who think were misled during the investment process. Basically, financial investments and the laws and regulations surrounding them fall into this specialty. These lawyers will spend their time gathering documents to stay in compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission SEC.
26. Estate planning lawyer
Average annual salary: $81,370
A lawyer that helps with evaluating, inventorying, valuing, dispersing and taxing an estate (after death) is an estate planning lawyer. These lawyers spend their time deeming how the individual assets of their client will be preserved, managed and distributed after death.
27. Government lawyer
Average annual salary: $126,300
If you have a passion for your government, perhaps representing them in court as a government lawyer is for you! These lawyers may work in different branches of the government, handling all legal issues that affect the state, city or federal government they are representing.
28. Military lawyer
Average annual salary: $76,480
Military lawyers are faced with different laws and regulations than civilian lawyers, as their job is to provide a defense for the service member or spouse facing legal action. These cases are typically handled within a military court, making them quite specialized in nature.
29. Maritime lawyer
Average annual salary: $75,130
Boating accidents or injuries occurring on open water would fall to a maritime lawyer. Maintaining proficiency in understanding the international rules and regulations of the oceans and seas, or the Law of the Sea, is what will keep this lawyer in business.
30. Aviation lawyer
Average annual salary: $89,680
When it comes to operating an aircraft, such as ground facilities, hangars and airports, these would all fall to an aviation lawyer. These lawyers typically represent pilots, airlines, manufacturers and consumers, and can act in both civil and criminal cases.
31. Civil litigation lawyer
Average annual salary: $76,240
A civil litigation lawyer is charged with handling disputes where individuals are seeking monetary damages when the case does not include criminal accusations. While the scope can be broad for this area of law, the differentiating factor for these lawyers is that any of their legal proceedings do not involve criminal charges or penalties.
32. Traffic lawyer
Average annual salary: $70,780
Attorneys who spend their time studying traffic litigation, defending citations or any other traffic violations for their clients would be referred to as a traffic lawyer. If a client chooses to fight a citation outside of traffic court, these lawyers may be called upon.
33. Environmental lawyer
Average annual salary: $59,530
Areas such as water quality, proper hazardous waste disposal, preservation of lands, improved energy sources and clean energy, climate change laws and better waste management systems are just a few of the items that would fall to an environmental lawyer, as their job is to advocate for the environment. These lawyers spend their time protecting our natural environments at every turn.
34. Gaming lawyer
Average annual salary: $62,130
Gaming lawyers work with those involved in gaming operations, like lottery operators and casino owners, ensuring compliance with applicable regulations and laws. These lawyers would represent their clients in court but also before state and local gaming regulatory bodies as needed.
35. Digital media and internet lawyer
Average annual salary: $51,040
These are lawyers who handle intellectual property issues, copyright issues, the creation and maintenance of websites, libel and defamation with regard to what can be published and broadcasted. While this is a broad area of law, they focus on broadcasting, publishing, music, film and television, social media, advertising, marketing and theater.
At the end of the day, whichever legal specialty you choose, you’re spending your time upholding the law to some extent, so you can't really go wrong! As you take the time to find which specialty speaks to you, remember these key points:
- There’s no wrong choice.
- Each legal field will fill your desire to practice law in some way.
- Go with your gut!
While a law degree isn’t for everyone, if it's for you, pick the specialty that will simultaneously challenge you and empower you every day. If you do that, you can't go wrong. Who knows, you could even end up working in one of the highest-paying countries for lawyers, too. Winner!
Which are of law interests you? Are you thinking of going into one of these specialties? Let us know in the comments below!
This article is an updated version of an article originally published on 18 August 2019 and contains contributions by Andrew Moran.