With so many types of law to choose from, picking an area to specialise in isn't easy. The choice you make will likely shape your career so read up on popular legal practice areas to help you make an informed decision
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
ADR is quicker and cheaper than litigation and involves settling civil disputes between consumers and traders without going to court.
The most common forms of ADR are arbitration, where an independent third party considers the facts and makes a final decision, and mediation, where an independent third party helps disputing parties reach an acceptable outcome themselves.
You'd suit ADR if you have good negotiation skills, are understanding and can act quickly.
This area of law covers the full spectrum of finance, from personal bank loans to complex business transactions.
Lawyers specialise in property, acquisition, capital markets or Islamic finance, and work on behalf of the borrower or the lender. They assist with negotiations, due diligence and the structuring of deals, ensuring legal compliance throughout. They're also involved in analysis and prediction of future trends.
An analytical mind, great attention to detail and a good head for numbers are needed in banking law.
Advising companies and governments on business-related issues is what this type of law is all about.
Lawyers handle a range of corporate deals and standalone transactions, and are responsible for negotiating and creating contracts regarding, for example, the supply of goods and services.
If you have good people management skills, commercial awareness and the ability to pick out important facts then this could be for you.
This core area of law governs the operation of political communities, most notably the state.
It revolves around the concept of the state protecting fundamental rights of the individual, though legislation sometimes originates from non-national sources - the European Union (EU), for example.
Indeed, the protection of individual rights is increasingly the concern of supranational institutions such as the EU.
This involves both contentious and non-contentious work. The former includes early dispute resolution, and the latter, tasks such as the procurement of resources and advising on insurance matters.
Construction lawyer's work with finance and property development professionals on projects ranging from the infrastructural, such as roads, prisons and hospitals, to the industry-specific, such as those related to gas production.
You'd suit this type of law if you're creative, think laterally and have technical knowledge in a related field like engineering.
A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties regarding the sale of goods, provision of services or exchange of interests or ownership.
Contract law centres on the relationship, content and validity of these agreements. If disagreements arise, the blame and solutions can be identified by referring to the contract, or the laws that govern the contract.
Lawyers work on articles of association, directors' and shareholders' rights, and the incorporation, public listing or delisting of companies.
Clients come from all industries, and can include multinational corporations, investment banks, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), regulatory bodies and governments.
If you thrive on challenges, want a high salary and have an excellent academic background then you'll suit this area of law.
Covers criminal behaviour, regardless of scale or severity, meaning lawyers work on crimes as serious as rape, murder or robbery.
Private practitioners represent the defence, while public practitioners work for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or the Public Defender Service (PDS). Criminal lawyers cover the entire case, from the initial investigation to potential appeal.
This area of law can also require involvement in international relations and understanding laws from multiple jurisdictions, particularly when concerning issues such as terrorism, extradition and money-laundering.
Regulates the relationship between employers and their employees. This includes judging what employers can ask of and expect from their workforce, and what rights individuals have in the workplace.
Legislative focus is on areas such as discrimination, working hours, data protection, and recruitment, redundancy and dismissal.
You'll need to be friendly, professional, adaptable and have great communication skills to succeed.
This area of law seeks to protect the environment, granting rights across a variety of issues from local noise pollution to worldwide climate change.
The UK's environmental regulatory bodies include local authorities, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.
Scientific knowledge and good analytical skills are needed.
Equity and trusts
Regulates situations where one person places trust in another to look after their affairs.
Most lawyers working within equity deal with trust law. Equity and trusts specialists often ensure that charities are spending funds appropriately or help to resolve conflicts between family members. The latter often involves the scrutiny of wills, meaning that professionals must deal with sensitive situations well.
This overrules the national law of all member countries if any conflict between the two arises. It involves a range of different matters from agriculture to competition, and exists to ensure populations within all member states are treated equally.
Lawyers work on disputes involving national law systems, and can work either for or against the state. While government lawyers protect the interests of the state, others work for private individuals and companies to ensure that member states don't abuse their powers.
This type of law covers numerous areas including same-sex parenting, parental responsibility, domestic violence and abuse, and finances and property upon divorce.
You need to have effective communication skills and be able to empathise with your clients to succeed.
Human rights law
In the UK, this type of law centres on the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
It covers equality, discrimination, freedom of speech and prisoners' rights, plus sanctions against regimes that have committed gross human rights violations, or persecuted individuals or societies.
Good advocacy skills, knowledge of the regulations and a patient approach are needed in human rights law.
There are numerous sub-specialisms of insurance, including property, professional indemnity and maritime. Insurance policies mitigate financial loss caused by, for example, human error, accidents and natural disasters.
Lawyers are required when disputes arise between the insured policyholder and the insurer, or the insured plus the insurer and another party. However, some specialise in the transactional aspects, advising on elements such as tax and regulations.
Intellectual property (IP) law
IP refers to creations of the mind, such as names, designs, inventions, images and artistic works. These are protected in law by patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from their creations.
The ability to discuss complex ideas in a simple way, flexibility and good organisation are required if you want to succeed as an IP lawyer.
For more information on what IP involves, see how to start a business.
Part of the wider sphere of property law, this specialism governs the land and anything within or attached to it, such as trees, buildings, treasure or oil.
Lawyers fight or defend disputes over land matters, such as rights of way and boundary issues. They can work on behalf of landowners, companies, investors, private individuals or the state, and specialise in areas including property finance, mortgage lending and social housing.
Also known as dispute resolution, litigation involves assisting with civil disputes and claims that arise following a commercial deal or transaction, either between different companies, or between companies and individuals.
Issues include fraud, regulation, unpaid bills, defective products, corporate management, contractual matters, and mergers and acquisitions.
If you present facts in a persuasive manner, have commercial awareness and good negotiation skills then this could be the area of law for you.
This broad type of law covers advertising, broadcasting, digital media, film, marketing, music, publishing and television. Lawyers deal with contentious and non-contentious issues such as contracts, intellectual property, copyright disputes, defamation, libel and privacy.
You'll need to keep up-to-date with the industry and possess solid commercial awareness. An outgoing, engaging personality is also essential.
Private client law
Lawyers manage the affairs of individuals; plan all aspects of their finances including wills, trusts, investments, estates and taxation. Their main objective is to help preserve and build wealth.
Private clients are usually rich celebrities or entrepreneurs, landowners who own a huge portfolio of properties, or individuals with inherited wealth.
A probate lawyer deals with the estate of someone who has passed away. They help family members to settle debts and organise and distribute the deceased's assets, property, finances and possessions in accordance with their will.
As well as tact and diplomacy you'll need excellent organisational and people skills.
Working on commercial or residential cases you'll work on behalf of individuals, companies, developers or public bodies.
The majority deal in the buying or selling of property, although related areas include construction and planning law.
If you're a great multitasker with the ability to negotiate and build good relationships then this area of law may be for you.
This governs the exercise of power by public bodies in the UK. The most important process in public law is judicial review: the Administrative Court may order that any decision made unlawfully be overturned or reconsidered, often on the basis of the Human Rights Act 1998. Bodies that most often appear as respondents include local authorities, government departments, the prison service and the National Health Service (NHS).
Combining different areas, primarily commercial contracts, employment contracts, litigation and tax issues, lawyers represent players, clubs, sports agents, governing bodies or sponsorship companies.
Trained in one particular discipline litigators get involved with disciplinary and regulatory issues, such as governance and anti-doping; employment lawyers deal with athletes' contracts; and commercial contract lawyers handle brand management, media rights and sponsorship deals.
The ability to network and knowledge of the sport you're working in are needed.
Public sector tax lawyers are primarily employed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to provide advice and assistance regarding regulations, but they also work on the investigation and prosecution of tax evaders.
Private sector lawyers ensure that clients take advantage of legal tax loopholes when structuring their business deals, assets and operations. They may also represent someone litigating against HMRC.
This area of law would suit those with qualifications in accounting and good attention to detail.
In civil law, a tort is a wrongdoing by one private party against another. There are three general types: intentional, negligence and strict liability, with types of grievance including injury, slander, trespass, noise pollution and false imprisonment.
Successful cases usually result in monetary compensation for the claiming party.
Find out more
- Read about the different law careers on offer.
- Take a look at the reality of working in law.
- Learn more about the 7 skills you need for a successful law career.
- Discover how much lawyers earn.