It wouldn’t be uncommon to find yourself in a situation where you know you need a lawyer, but you’re not sure what kind. Unless you’ve already worked with the lawyer in the past, you may not even realize they practice different areas of the law.
For example, you can’t go to a personal injury attorney and expect they’re going to be able to handle your divorce.
Understanding the different types of law a professional practices can be helpful if you need legal help, and the following are things to know as you figure out which type you might need, based on some of the most common situations people face.
A crime is something that’s prohibited by state or federal law and punishable by fines, probation, and possibly jail time. A crime is usually characterized as a misdemeanor or felony.
There are also criminal law cases that relate to minor traffic violations or violations of local ordinances. In these cases, the offenses come with a punishment of just a fine. These cases are simple, and people can even handle them without the help of a lawyer if they prefer.
In some cases, a traffic violation could lead to more significant punishments, such as the loss of your driver’s license, in which case it’s likely best to hire an attorney.
A criminal lawyer is also known as a defense attorney. These lawyers are either appointed by the court to represent a defendant, or they’re hired directly by the defendant.
Criminal law is different from civil law. Civil law is a broad term that can describe nearly every matter that’s non-criminal. If you’re suing another person, or you’re dealing with a business transaction issue, for example, this is civil law.
There’s no determination made in a civil case of guilt or innocence, unlike a criminal case. The parties may recover monetary damages, or there could be an injunction issued in some civil disputes. An injunction is a court order preventing someone from doing something.
Personal injury falls into the larger category of civil law.
In personal injury cases, someone is hurt, mentally or physically, or perhaps in both ways. They are hurt due to an accident, an act or failure to act by someone else, or a defective product. The court might award someone who’s a plaintiff in a personal injury case financial damages for their injury.
There are a lot of court rules that have to be followed, which can make a civil law case fairly complex. Without an experienced attorney in these cases, there could be a dismissal.
If you’re sued by someone, then you might need to hire a civil attorney. Sometimes you’ll hear these professionals referred to as civil litigation lawyers.
Civil litigation most often specifically involves class action lawsuits, contract disputes, property disputes, and complaints filed against a governmental body.
Within the larger category of civil law is also medical malpractice. A personal injury lawyer can help clients who have been harmed by a medical professional as they seek compensation for the harm. The most common cases of medical malpractice involve medical negligence, inaccurate treatment, and misdiagnosis.
Real Estate Law
A real estate attorney is someone who can help you if you’re buying or selling property.
They might work on a purchase agreement, transfer documents, or title documents. Real estate lawyers can have different roles in each step of the mortgage process.
Family law is an area of legal practice that focuses on relationships, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and adoption. An attorney who practices this type of law might represent a client if they’re in negotiations or court proceedings relating to a familial relationship.
Family lawyers can also draft documents like property agreements or court petitions.
Sometimes a family lawyer will specialize in an area like adoption or paternity, or something not related to divorce or child custody.
These types of legal professionals can also help people before they get married by drafting documents like a prenuptial agreement.
Immigration law is a set of rules the federal government establishes for determining who can come into the country and how long they can stay. Immigration law governs the naturalization process for people who are working to become U.S. citizens.
If someone who’s a foreign national enters the country without permission or overstays their visit, they may have to work with an immigration lawyer.
Most people from other countries get permission to come to the U.S. through a visa approval process. There are visas that are for immigrants who want to work in the U.S., and then there are non-immigrant visas for people who are in the U.S. temporarily.
Immigration regulations change often, and there are a lot of complex rules set forth by the federal government, which is why people seeking permanent U.S. residency often need to work with an experienced immigration lawyer.
Intellectual property or IP law requires attorneys to work to help people protect the inventions or materials they create.
There’s patent law. A patent protects the rights to an inventory, technology, or something else. There’s copyright law that covers authors’ rights and dictates who can use a property. Trademark law protects things like business names, logos, and slogans.
Licensing lets someone aside from a property owner use something for a particular fee.
Trade secret law protects companies from owning certain means of production or formulas, and unfair competition laws make sure companies are producing and trading goods fairly.
An estate plan is how you prepare for what happens to your property and assets after you pass away or can’t care for yourself anymore. An estate planning attorney can help you create a plan, and they provide legal counseling on wills, trusts, and the probate process in your local area.
These certainly aren’t all the areas of the law, but they are some of the major ones that people most commonly need help within their daily lives