With so many different practice areas of law, it’s sometimes difficult to know which one you want to work in. We look at some of the biggest law firm practice areas and alternative law degree career options here.
Firstly, we’ll discuss the core modules of the UK LLB degree, and then we will list and explain all other areas of law in the alphabetical order.
Core Degree Areas
- Constitutional and Administrative Law
Constitutional or administrative law is arguably the most important law in existence; without it there could be no laws (legal order) and the state would not be able to perform its functions.
As a lawyer in this area, you will be working to ensure that government bodies and agencies are acting in the public interest and intra vires (within their powers). Your job will be to spot the ultra-vires decisions of the public authorities, made in contravention of the obligations under either national or international law and clearly not in the interests of the public.
You may be dealing with high-profile cases or smaller local issues, but either way you will have to deal with lots of paper work and keep yourself up-to-date with such a dynamic area of law, especially in the periods of political changes in the country.
- Contract law
There are few areas of law that require as much attention to detail as contract law.
We enter in to contracts every day, whether we are shopping, having a drink or buying a bus ticket. It is all about terms and conditions (warranties, conditions, innominate terms) of sale of goods, supply of services, rent agreements, loan agreements and receipts.
Contract law is an essential part of the vast majority of legal practices. It lays the foundations for commercial, shipping, land, corporate, insurance, even Intellectual Property law and others.
- Criminal law
Criminal law is not just the area of law, but a whole culture, covering some of the most serious issues in society, such as murder, rape or robbery. Opportunities are available for criminal lawyers in both private and public practice. In private practice you can work as a defence lawyer for those accused of criminal offences. In public practice, you will be working for either Crown Prosecution Service or for the Public Defender Service (PDS).
Unlike many other legal practitioners, criminal lawyers will usually work on the case from the beginning to the end. This will usually involve the filing of a case, investigation, visiting police stations and prisons, taking witness statements, going through medical reports, filing pleas and motions before the court and eventually defending the case in court.
To be a criminal lawyer, you should be not only good in research, public speaking, have confidence and stamina to negotiate in sensitive situations, but also be street-smart, quick on your feet and have a thorough understanding of judicial system and procedures.
- Equity and Trusts
Equity is all about the fairness, but its complexity is just not fair. Trust law is a set of rules that have been established to regulate situations, where one person places trust in another person to look after their affairs. This includes the way the charities are run or the way that money left to somebody in a will is governed.
Equity stretches across all areas of law. If you specialise in equity and trusts, you may find yourself a specialist on charities and inheritance law. In terms of clients, you will be dealing with people often going through difficult periods in their lives.
There is a great amount of uncertainty in this area, so as a professional you may find yourself unravelling the mists of old common law. Going through this challenge makes you a good well-rounded lawyer in the same way jurisprudence makes a good well-rounded law student.
- European Union law
EU law is a system of law that is specific to the 28 member states and overrules their national law, if there is a conflict between them. EU legal practice relates to a wide range of different areas from sale of goods to competition law.
In this area of law, you will either be working for, or against the state. Knowledge of the EU law is absolutely essential to any lawyer, practising within the EU, as it is brings a “must have” perspective to any other area of law, you specialize in.
This is one of the most interesting and challenging areas for postgraduate academic studies. If you are interested in International law, then EU law will offer you plenty of scope for career development. Additional language skills can be useful.
As a practitioner, you might find yourself in an international company, government service, EU Commission/Parliament or even European Court of Justice, but this is ambitious of course.
- Land and Estate law
Land law is the set of rules that govern the land (easements, covenants, mortgages) and anything that is attached to it (trees, buildings). It also regulates the use of land (tenancies, sales, possession, building permissions, etc).
People who work in this area of law have the task of fighting or defending disputes over land matters, such as rights of way and boundary issues. These cases may involve matters which involve landowners, private individuals or the state.
Although the subject is challenging and sometimes boring, due to its complexity and technicality, it is extremely rewarding. It will assist you throughout your life and career either in private or corporate practice, as well as save you lots of your money.
As an LPC student, trainee, legal practitioner and even as a civil partner you will be expected to know the technicalities of land law, so it is better learn it early and flourish, than do so late and struggle.
- Tort law
The law of tort is probably one of the most peculiar to the UK and common law jurisdictions generally. There is no separate law of tort in civil law jurisdictions. Tort is a wrong committed by one individual against another, so that to allow the wronged individual to claim against the other any losses he/she has suffered as a result of the wrongdoer’s action.
Law of tort encompasses such wrongs as defamation, nuisance, negligence and others, as well as extends the liability from the employee to the employer via the concept of vicarious liability. Thus, Tort law encompasses a range of issues in the society and offers a number of different career opportunities.
Lawyers working in this area usually work with either private individuals or employers. Their task is to ascertain whether there has been a loss, what type of loss it is (its nature and remoteness) and convince the court to side with their client.
- Banking and Finance law
The financial world has been under increased scrutiny since the crash and the world of banking regulations and rules is getting ever more complex. The law in this area is becoming increasingly important to the industry as a whole, it is a fast paced area of the law and that translates to hard work and long hours.
The majority of work in banking and finance is transactional by nature. You will complete your part in the transaction and move on to the next. A return to a completed transaction becomes necessary when disputes arise. This constitutes the contentious element of banking lawyer’s work. As a lawyer in this field, you can choose to specialise in a particular class of financing. These might include: project, acquisition, asset, property, securitisation, derivatives, capital markets and Islamic finance.
Project finance normally involves making loans for various projects, whilst acquisition finance focuses on the lending of money to companies to purchase other entities. Asset finance, likewise, focuses on loans; however, it specifically relates to the purchase or leasing of big-ticket items. Securitisation involves transactions, where a lender offloads its loan portfolio to another company, whilst derivatives focus on the fixing of currency rates during a transaction. Capital markets is where a borrowing entity issues bonds to investors and another huge area is Islamic finance, which involves transactions or loans that comply with Sharia principles.
- Corporate law
Corporate law is at the top of the legal world and corporate lawyers make up the elite. Corporate lawyers are always wanted due to the work they do: incorporation of companies, directors’ and shareholders’ rights, liability for breach, articles of association, board meetings, secretarial matters, public listing or delisting of companies and much more. There is big money in the corporate world and that requires a lot of hard work and some very late nights in the office.
Clients range from international corporations, investment banks to small private companies, regulatory bodies and governments. Skills and mind-set of the corporate lawyer is an asset too. Commercial awareness and understanding of the client’s business needs is an inherent part of the corporate lawyer’s job. As well as commercial lawyers, corporate lawyers need familiarity with corporate and business law in other jurisdictions where the clients have operations or are looking to invest. Good corporate lawyers have excellent academic merit, exceptional analytical skills and meticulous attention to detail.
The work of corporate lawyers involves due diligence in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), restructuring of corporate entities and the hiving-off of unprofitable sections.
- Charity law
Charity law can mean a variety of different things. The most common is essentially a sector of trusts law, which deals with trusts that are established for a charitable purpose.
There is great deal of variety within this field and the work can be both inspiring and rewarding. Charities are used not only by private individuals and families, but by international businesses and organisations too in their own ways.
- Commercial law
Commercial law is an extremely broad area, encompassing such institutions as principal and agent; carriage by land and sea; merchant shipping; guarantee; marine, fire, life, and accident insurance; bills of exchange, partnership, etc. It is often seen as an extension of contract and tort law, as it elaborates on them to regulate specific commercial relationships.
Commercial lawyers work on a broad spectrum of transactions, from substantial outsourcing, joint ventures and project development agreements to day-to-day manufacture, logistics/warehousing and advertising arrangements. The common element with all of these transactions for a commercial lawyer is the drafting and negotiating of contracts, whether in their own right or as part of complex mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and financing transactions.
The types of clients include small start-up businesses, local authorities, medium-sized enterprises and big well-known companies in a range of markets. Commercial lawyers gain a real understanding of a client’s business, how it works, current and future strategies and its relationships with customers, suppliers and partners.
- Competition law
Competition law is known as antitrust law in the United States and anti-monopoly law in China and Russia. Its overriding objective is a protection of consumer welfare and fair competition in the market economy.
There are different levels of competition law: national, EU and International, all of which have their own uniquely drafted regulations and principles in place, despite the hierarchy. The UK’s and EU’s competition law is one of the toughest in the world and as a result it is a large practice area in the UK.
Competition lawyers can be exposed to various types of work and be employed by either large corporations or by governments, the EU or organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.
- Family law
A popular area of the law for many students, family law is a diverse area that deals with issues like marriage, civil partnerships, divorce, financial claims, children and adoption. Probably the area of the law that gets the most attention outside of the industry, there a hundreds of firms across the country that concentrate on family issues. There are many firms that deal with standard small scale divorces and on the other end of the scale there are huge multi million pound divorce proceedings. Clients come from all over the world to our courts to fight for the proceeds of their marriages. This can be a very rewarding area of law but you may have to deal with quite distressing situations that tend to occur when families break down.
- Intellectual Property law
Intellectual property law governs the ownership and protection of the expression of ideas and concepts. The most commonly known are patents, trademarks, design rights and copyright.
IP lawyers get the opportunity to deal with fascinating yet technically complex subject-matters. As a result, it’s important to be up-to-date with business and innovation trends and appreciate creativity.
Much of an IP lawyer’s activity will involve providing legal advice on usage, commercial viability, marketing and distribution mechanisms, infringement or duplication, vesting of ownership and usage rights for any product or matter which falls within the ambit of IP. Like most other areas of law, IP also has contentious and non-contentious components.
IP legal practice requires lawyers to be very flexible in his/her working style, as you will be exposed to simultaneous work on several projects. Furthermore, it is a great academic area to do research on and the high paced IT environment adds its unique element to it.
- Insurance law
Insurance law is the practice of law surrounding insurance, including insurance policies and claims. It can be broadly broken into three categories – regulation of the business of insurance; regulation of the content of insurance policies, especially with regard to consumer policies; and regulation of claim handling. Insurance is an integral part of the commercial world and underpins most corporate and commercial transactions.
An insurance lawyer’s job is to determine whether the client is liable for damages and eligible for insurance under the terms of the relevant contracts. Their job is quite complicated on the points of both law and fact. Good grasp of commercial, corporate and contract law is an absolute necessity. Since these days pretty much anything can be insured, clients can be very different: both individuals and global corporations.
- Litigation/Dispute resolution
This area of law involves assisting with disputes that arise in the course of commercial deals between either companies or individuals.
A good litigator will be a great negotiator and stay calm under pressure. If you have done debating at school or college and enjoyed mooting at the University level and achieved some good results, this area of legal practice will suit you.
You do not need to be a barrister to do litigation work. After several years of practice you can become a solicitor advocate and represent clients in the same matters as barrister does.
The job of a litigator is extremely rewarding, but requires a lot of natural qualities, which have to be matured over time. So if you want to become one, it is better to start today and right now, as the competition is immense.
- Private Client
Private client lawyers work for specific individuals and families and manage all aspects of their estate. They will be involved with property, tax, wills, trusts and a lot of other issues. The clients are often very wealthy and own a lot of assets or property.
A good private client lawyer would be an excellent communicator and have excellent management skills. You have to be prepared to jet around the world to deal with your clients’ needs and interact with them a lot. So it helps to be likeable and personable.
- Shipping law
Shipping law deals with the movement of goods and passengers by sea. It’s actually divided into ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping. Wet shipping refers to incidents or issues which come up during the actual voyage; whereas dry shipping refers to all other matters such as contracts, charter agreements, construction and funding for ships, port and harbour infrastructure.
Shipping law is a very specific area of law, but its foundations are based on areas of law such as sale of goods, contract, tort, property, insurance, insolvency, commercial as well as exposure to commodity markets. Thus, trainee lawyers in shipping law will typically work on larger cases, whilst the smaller cases require the specialist knowledge of a partner or senior associate.
- Tax Law
Tax law involves contentious and non-contentious aspects. Although the job of the lawyer is not that of the chartered accountant, the knowledge of commercial law and exposure to running the business is absolutely vital.
Tax lawyers are required in both private and public domains. Whilst private tax lawyers always focus on the best way to structure the assets, optimize tax liability from trade, provision of services, takeovers, etc., public tax lawyers combat the efforts of private ones to avoid tax liability and look for the ways to increase the amounts due from the tax payers. Although the work of both private and tax lawyers is rooted into the paperwork, there is always something romantic about either coming up with a new tax-avoidance scheme or exposing it and making the corporation pay for the losses.
Tax law has very wide implications in the corporate practice and there are plenty of reasons for that. You can always discover them yourself, as this information is not in the public domain.