Let’s say you’ve just launched you IPO (initial public offering) because you’re taking your startup company public.
Naturally, you consulted with the right attorney to see if you’ve covered all of the relevant laws!
Or maybe you’re in law school right now, trying to decide what type of law you’d like to practice: you have plenty of choices!
You could become a corporate lawyer, an injury lawyer, an immigration lawyer...
What if you, as a new business owner, need to familiarise yourself with the laws regarding waste and emissions, as well as tax law: what types of attorney would you talk to?
Note: your tax lawyers may not be qualified to function as an employment lawyer!
The practice of law is such an overarching, complex topic that, these days, one must consult with the right lawyer in order to get the answers one seeks.
In this article, your Superprof aims to outline critical specialities in the law so that you will know right off to retain the counsel you need for the job at hand.
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A Basic Distinction
As a student of law in the UK, your primary question should be: do you want to be a barrister or a solicitor? And if you will need a law scholarship or not.
People sometimes think the two are interchangeable but each fulfils specific functions within our legal system.
A barrister has three major functions: to appear in court (and litigate, of course!), give legal advice in writing or in person, and draft documents for the courts.
At that, within the barrister’s scope of work lie two fundamental distinctions: a criminal barrister will have little time to prepare before heading to court – where s/he will spend most of his working time.
A commercial barrister’s work happens mostly in chambers, advising on the intricacies of the law and writing opinion papers.
That’s not as easy as it sounds!
One important distinction between solicitors and barristers is in the type of law they practise.
For example, a barrister might specialise in Admiralty and Shipping law, areas that concern themselves with disputes over bills of lading (dry shipping) and legal issues over the ship itself – collision and/or salvage (wet shipping).
A solicitor would not handle such matters; nevertheless, those attorneys have a much broader scope in the legal fields.
Solicitors work directly with the public and their clients could be individuals or corporations.
They may defend criminal cases or assist in estate planning; draft a will or manage multi-million-pound company mergers.
Check out our legal term glossary to not get confused in this lawyers mumbo jumbo.
You may think of solicitors as case managers.
Whatever your case may be – buying real property or settling a dispute, a solicitor would first advise, and then see the situation through to its conclusion.
Should your case particulars call for a specialist in any given aspect of the law, expert legal advice would be obtained from a barrister.
We’ll discuss those areas of specialisation momentarily.
Rest assured that your solicitor won’t turn you away; instead s/he’ll seek out the barrister on your behalf.
There are far more solicitors than barristers currently in practice in the UK, and there are advantages and disadvantages to becoming either type of lawyer.
More legal education and more stringent standards versus more freedom to practise law independently and having employment benefits, just to name a few.
Now that you have food for thought on whether you will be a barrister or solicitor, we’ll take a look at the type of law you might specialise in.
You may also want to know where you can find law tutors in London...
Areas of Speciality for Barristers and Solicitors
The following list includes types of representation and proceeding that both practitioners may engage in.
Administrative and Public Law is a blanket term that covers anything addressing the government’s relationship with the people.
Public Law addresses anyone denied social programme benefits, from education to care for the elderly and the disabled. Anyone believing they have been disenfranchised would seek legal representation from such a lawyer.
Conversely, Administrative lawyers advise government entities, such as the Water Board or Department for Transportation on pertinent laws regarding infrastructure and social programmes such as education.
This type of law practice may further delve into more exacting specialities, such as waste disposal, energy usage and allocation of resources.
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Banking and Finance law, both on the global and national scale, has been at the forefront of the evolution in banking reform ever since the 2008 economic downturn.
Barristers tend to address large-scale issues, such as a regulatory investigation into a bank’s loans or operating practices.
Solicitors manage more delicate international financing arrangements, maybe working across multiple jurisdictions.
Let’s say a company headquartered in London wishes to expand into Europe or America.
A solicitor may advise their client on relevant laws regarding finance in those countries and undertake correspondence regarding such matters for them.
A solicitor would also manage your bankruptcy, should you ever need to file!
Professional Negligence implies that someone in a given profession has failed to provide the level of care or expertise required/expected of them.
Clinical negligence, a subset of professional negligence law, indicates a healthcare provider not providing quality care. Usually, doctors see this type of lawsuit filed against them.
Negligence claims can be relatively low-scale, in the thousands of pounds (perhaps a financial advisor who gave bad advice), or astronomical: a catastrophic situation such as a building collapse or payout for widespread, chronic injury in a workplace.
Other areas of law that both barristers and solicitor practise, albeit handling different aspects of, are:
aviation and aerospace
civil cases and human rights
personal injury law
intellectual property law
Of course, both types of lawyers specialize in litigation within their jurisdiction.
Naturally, there are some areas of the law that only barristers handle; we’ve listed them in this convenient table.
Now we put solicitors in the dock: what types of law do they practice that barristers don’t?
Legal Services Provided by Solicitors
If you’re training to become a lawyer and are leaning towards being a solicitor, you will have much more diversity in your choice of cases – including diversity cases!
For example, you might choose to become an environmental lawyer – a particularly hot topic just now.
From the health and safety of workers to drafting renewable energy proposals and property transactions: anything to do with risk management – said risk being financial or remediation of contaminated land, such solicitors are on the case!
If you’re working toward your law degree with the intent of handling legal matters for an NGO (non-governmental organization), becoming a solicitor is the way to go.
Some of the big law firms that represent charities are hiring lawyers to represent clients in commercial matters, who have specialized in wills and trust, and who are knowledgeable in real estate law.
If your penchant is for advocacy of humanitarian groups, being employed by such agencies may prove to be a dream come true! You will get to work on a lot of pro-bono cases but still get paid.
Many solicitors find Entertainment law particularly fascinating and lucrative.
It may seem quite a glamorous field but, in reality, such legal work consists predominantly of writing and revising contracts: with agents, managers and other representatives; you may also negotiate celebrity endorsement contracts.
You may choose to focus on a specific aspect of law with regard to entertainment; perhaps you may become an intellectual property lawyer.
That means that you might handle legal matters that can be contentious – copyright infringement, or transactional: registering a copyright.
Becoming a lawyer at solicitor level means a wide range of specialization to choose from:
Personal injury lawyer
criminal lawyer (criminal defence lawyer)
bankruptcy lawyer and more!
You may engage in mediation or negotiating on clients’ behalf and, depending on the type of law you practise, you may even get to do some pro bono work!
Indeed, barristers and solicitors handle all types of law, but there is a third option to working in a law firm without becoming a member of the Bar association.
Paralegals: the Unsung Heroes of Any Law Firm
A paralegal is a person who has undergone training in certain facets of the law, such as legal writing and legal research, but has not (necessarily) attended or graduated from law school.
Such a professional would perform that work, either in law offices or independently – provided they are registered through the National Association of Paralegals.
For example, if your hypothetical divorce is non-contentious, meaning you and your partner have agreed to split amicably, you may engage a registered NALP paralegal instead of a divorce lawyer to draft your settlement.
Furthermore, a paralegal retained by a solicitor may work in a courtroom, but may only function as an assistant to a solicitor or barrister.
As a paralegal, you may also work as a Police Station Representative, giving advice to people in police custody – again, provided you are properly accredited.
The field of law is far-reaching and ever-changing, and all lawyers must be endowed with sharp analytical skills, an extensive memory (to recall legal precedents, among other reasons), and have impeccable ethics.
If that is you, let Lady Justice be your employer: as a barrister, solicitor or paralegal, society will always need those who practice law.
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