What can you do with a law degree?
Prospective attorneys who assess their career goals before applying to law school can make a better-informed decision about which school to attend. Researching different types of law will help applicants figure out which legal jobs they are most interested in. From there, they can determine which J.D. programs will best prepare them for a particular area of law. Here are some career paths that future attorneys might consider.
Attorneys in this field ensure that product and service ads comply with legal prohibitions against defrauding, deceiving or misleading consumers. Lawyers who specialize in advertising law also advise companies about how to make persuasive sales pitches that obey consumer protection laws and regulations. They also have expertise in preventing and managing advertising-related lawsuits.
Administrative or regulatory attorney
These attorneys are experts on complex areas of law with many technical rules such as securities law. They often work as government regulators, which involves designing smart regulations, ensuring that people obey regulations or both. These lawyers also sometimes represent companies in highly regulated industries such as insurance.
Admiralty and maritime lawyer
Attorneys with expertise in admiralty and maritime law address legal disputes that involve boats, ships and other water vessels, and they may also get involved with litigation relating to offshore drilling. The cases that these lawyers handle often involve disasters, crashes or environmental contamination, and they sometimes tackle class-action lawsuits.
Experts in antitrust law understand the nuances of government rules that are designed to prevent unfair business practices that might reduce competition, artificially raise prices and hurt consumers. These attorneys may represent corporations or work as public servants, and they typically provide advice to companies on how to abide by antitrust rules. Government antitrust lawyers often have enforcement powers, meaning that they can investigate possible legal violations and impose penalties on wrongdoers. Some antitrust lawyers specialize in litigation work, and some of these attorneys handle criminal cases – instances where alleged antitrust lawbreaking is so severe that it warrants criminal charges.
This type of attorney represents individuals whose trial court decision has been appealed. Prospective law students interested in appellate practice should look for law schools with faculty members who have experience in this field and strong legal writing courses, according to appellate attorneys.
Arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution attorney
Lawyers with expertise in arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution are capable of settling cases and controversies that would otherwise necessitate court trials. The goal of this area of law is to avoid lengthy and costly trials in cases where the parties can make amends in other ways.
Attorneys who specialize in banking law can either work as government regulators who enforce the consumer protection rules and other laws that banks must follow, or they can provide legal advice and representation to banks themselves.
When individuals, families or companies have unmanageable debt burdens and realize they can’t pay their bills, they will often attempt to negotiate with their creditors, and they may declare bankruptcy. People and organizations in financial distress often seek advice and support from bankruptcy attorneys, and so do lenders whose clients have defaulted on loans. The mission of bankruptcy law is to balance the interests of debtors and creditors in an equitable way that promotes accountability but also grants mercy.
Compliance law specialists work to ensure that companies and their employees obey the legal and regulatory requirements that apply to different industries. These attorneys might also monitor the implementation of a company’s policies regarding personal conduct, ethics and risk reduction. Lawyers in the compliance field also aim to prevent potential legal problems for organizations.
Attorneys who are experts in corporate law may either work at law firms with commercial clients or as in-house counsel for businesses. Experts on corporate law say people who intend to work in this field should seek a law school that has a solid track record of training accomplished corporate lawyers.
Criminal prosecutor or criminal defense attorney
Lawyers who handle criminal cases, either as prosecutors or defense lawyers, have highly stressful and emotional jobs in which nearly every case has high stakes. A criminal court’s verdict determines whether someone accused of a crime will be punished or exonerated.
Data security and privacy lawyer
The constant threat of hacking and surveillance makes it difficult to protect the confidentiality of personal information. Data security and privacy lawyers are experts on the many government regulations that are designed to protect people from having their personal information and data exposed to strangers without their consent. They sometimes advise companies on how to comply with laws in this area, and they can also represent people who are unhappy about the exposure or use of their private data.
Attorneys who focus on education law are experts on laws affecting academic institutions, including both public and private schools. These lawyers may address legal disputes in preschools, K-12 schools, colleges and universities. They often concentrate on questions surrounding student rights, including the rights of those with disabilities and those enrolled in special education programs.
Elder law attorney
Lawyers who specialize in elder law work with older clients or clients with disabilities and their families. As baby boomers age, an increasing number of people are looking for legal guidance about estate planning, medical directives and issues related to long-term care.
Attorneys in this field have a sophisticated understanding of the laws and regulations that impact the energy industry, which includes oil and gas companies, nuclear power plants and renewable energy companies. They can regulate energy businesses or advocate on behalf of these businesses.
An environmental attorney has legal expertise in interpreting environmental laws and regulations. A lawyer who specializes in environmental law can work for environment-related government agencies, environmental nonprofit organizations or companies affected by environmental laws.
Family lawyer or divorce attorney
Lawyers who specialize in family law or divorce law usually represent clients who have significant problems with romantic partners, children or other family members. They frequently help clients navigate divorces, child custody disputes and negotiations over alimony or child support. Family lawyers also may deal with issues such as surrogacy.
Health care lawyer
Because the health care sector is highly complex and thoroughly regulated, attorneys who specialize in health care law have difficult jobs. They could represent hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, outpatient clinics or any other health care organization. Health care lawyers often advise clients on patient privacy and insurance reimbursement issues.
Human rights or civil rights lawyer
Some lawyers specialize in representing clients with human rights or civil rights cases. Attorneys who represent clients whose rights have been violated by employers or other organizations say this work can be highly stressful but emotionally rewarding.
Immigration lawyers help their clients navigate the many rules of the immigration process. They also occasionally provide legal advice to employers affected by immigration laws. Some immigration lawyers help the government interpret and enforce immigration law.
Intellectual property lawyer
Lawyers who help protect creative ideas, inventions, works of art or trade secrets from theft are known as intellectual property attorneys. One category of intellectual property law is patent law, which focuses on assisting inventors who want to secure a patent and who want to prevent others from copying and selling the technology they develop.
Attorneys with expertise in international law provide clients with guidance on the rules and jurisdictions of various intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, the European Union and the World Trade Organization. They also can help clients interpret the rulings of international courts and tribunals, and they may represent clients with international legal disputes.
Judge advocate in the U.S. military
Law school grads who want to serve their country can become military attorneys. Each branch of the U.S. armed forces has legal professionals who work to resolve military justice issues. These officers are called judge advocates, or JAGs.
Though becoming a judge typically requires extensive and impressive legal work experience, recent law grads may serve as judicial clerks who assist judges by conducting legal research and submitting legal writing.
Labor and employment lawyer
These lawyers are experts on the legal rights of workers in the workplace and have an intricate understanding of the laws and regulations that influence the relationship between employees and their employers. Labor and employment lawyers may represent individual workers, coalitions of workers or labor unions, and can defend businesses accused of labor law violations.
Media or entertainment lawyer
Some lawyers specialize in serving the needs of media companies, including news organizations, while others cater to entertainment companies, including music and movie corporations. These lawyers not only shield the copyrights of their clients but also review potentially problematic content to ensure that it does not defame anybody or invade someone’s privacy. A media lawyer might protect a reporter from a subpoena that asks him or her to reveal an anonymous source, while entertainment lawyers may negotiate recording contracts.
Mergers and acquisitions lawyer
When companies combine or when one company buys another, executives often enlist the assistance of mergers and acquisitions attorneys. These lawyers are knowledgeable about the many rules that apply to these types of transactions, which are designed to guard against theft from anyone affected by the deal, including a company’s shareholders. Such attorneys often strike bargains, and they can advise corporations and investors on whether to pursue a friendly or hostile takeover of a company they want to buy.
Nonprofit or charities lawyer
Charities and nonprofit organizations are obligated to abide by certain laws and regulations, which differ from the rules that govern for-profit companies, if they wish to avoid paying taxes and want to be able to accept tax-deductible donations. Charity and nonprofit attorneys specialize in advising government-recognized charities and nonprofits on their legal rights and responsibilities, and they occasionally represent these groups in court.
Political lawyer or policy attorney
Law school can prepare graduates for a range of policy careers and political positions. It also may lead to a career as a lawyer for election campaigns, political parties or political action committees. Attorneys who specialize in election and political law often provide guidance to political organizations on how to comply with campaign finance laws and regulations and other rules that govern the political process.
Real estate lawyer
The logistics of buying and selling property are complex, especially when prices for land and buildings become volatile and unpredictable, which can be confusing and distressing for both buyers and sellers in the marketplace. Real estate lawyers often write legal documents that relate to property transactions, such as sales, rentals and development projects. Litigating, negotiating and resolving property disputes is a key aspect of real estate law.
Attorneys with expertise in taxation law can advise clients on how to comply with tax regulations while minimizing their tax burden, and they often help businesses structure deals in ways that can minimize taxes. Tax lawyers frequently assist clients with tax troubles and may even get involved with tax litigation against the government. Some tax attorneys work for the government as regulators. Because tax codes are intricate and often difficult to understand, it is common for tax lawyers to pursue an LL.M. degree in tax law, which supplements the knowledge gained via a J.D.
Attorneys who are skilled public speakers often excel as trial lawyers, regardless of whether they are criminal prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers or civil litigators. The ability to captivate and convince judges and juries is necessary for success in this field of law.
Explore legal jobs and law-related professions for J.D. grads.
Law careers you can pursue with a J.D. degree:
- Advertising lawyer.
- Administrative or regulatory attorney.
- Admiralty and maritime lawyer.
- Antitrust lawyer.
- Appellate lawyer.
- Arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution attorney.
- Banking lawyer.
- Bankruptcy lawyer.
- Compliance attorney.
- Corporate lawyer.
- Criminal prosecutor or criminal defense attorney.
- Data security and privacy lawyer.
- Education lawyer.
- Elder law attorney.
- Energy lawyer.
- Environmental lawyer.
- Family lawyer or divorce attorney.
- Health care lawyer.
- Human rights or civil rights lawyer.
- Immigration attorney.
- Intellectual property lawyer.
- International lawyer.
- Judge advocate in the U.S. military.
- Judicial clerk.
- Labor and employment lawyer.
- Media or entertainment lawyer.
- Mergers and acquisitions lawyer.
- Nonprofit or charities lawyer.
- Political lawyer or policy attorney.
- Real estate lawyer.
- Tax lawyer.
- Trial lawyer.
Updated on March 8, 2022: This story has been updated with new information.