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what are the different types of attorneys

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Kevin T.’s Answer

Hi JaNiya,

Thanks for the question. Glad to see that you are thinking about a career in the legal profession.

In short, there are as many different types of attorneys as there are different businesses in the world today. For example, there are lawyers who specialize in the Internet, there are lawyers who specialize in medical issues, there are lawyers who specialize in real estate, there are lawyers who specialize in criminal law, and on and on and on ....

Having said that, I would say that the practice of law generally breaks down into three different real activities, including transactional work, counseling, and litigation. Many clients need help doing a deal, such as buying a house, establishing a business, registering a trademark, or obtaining a patent. In that situation, you are going to be working on a transaction or a contract. Alternatively, clients also need help understanding an issue and trying to determine what course of conduct to choose. For example, your client might be a newspaper journalist and they want to know what things they can say in an article they are writing and you would have to give them guidance on that. That is counseling work. Last, clients often get in disputes with other people and they need help in resolving those disputes. Take the journalist as an example. If that journalist ignores your advice and prints false information in an article, then the subject of the story might sue them for libel. In that situation, your journalist client is going to need help resolving that dispute, and that type of activity is generally going to involve litigation. It might include going to court and defending them in a lawsuit, or it might include settling the dispute in a way that is acceptable to both parties.

In general, I think that people are motivated by doing the activities they want to be doing and for the causes that they find interesting and are passionate about.

So, in deciding what type of lawyer you might want to be, I have several suggestions for you. First, find an industry that you like and see what type of lawyers they need. If you like social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, look at their job postings and see what type of lawyers they are looking for. If you like children, find a charitable organization that advocates for children's rights and protections and see what type of lawyers they need. Second, analyze what type of activities that you like to do. Do you like to stand up and speak in a public setting? If so, then maybe being a litigator might be a good choice for you. Are you good at managing details? If so, then maybe focusing on transactions is the right way for you to go. Do you like talking to people and giving them advice? If so, then maybe you want to find an area of law where you can give advice to clients without having to litigate or draft contracts. Third, find a local lawyer and talk to him or her about their profession. For example, you can go to a local courthouse and watch a trial and talk to the lawyers afterwards (not before as they will be busy preparing). Fourth, decide what type of atmosphere and environment you want to work in. Do you want to work in a large organization with lots of resources and different types of people? Or do you want to work mostly by yourself? Do you want to establish an expertise in one area or do you want to do a lot of different things? If the latter, then maybe find a way to be a generalist instead of a specialist.

There are a ton of different ways that you can go about doing some independent research on this, and I encourage you to do that research and get a good feel for all of your options.

Happy to answer any follow-up questions on this.

Kevin T. recommends the following next steps:

Find a business or a cause that interests you.
Analyze what types of activities play to your strengths.
Talk to a local lawyer about what they do ... maybe even visit a courthouse and watch lawyers in action.
Analyze the type of environment you want to be in ... large or small organization, dressed in formal business attire or in t-shirts and jeans?

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Fiona’s Answer

There are many many different types of law you can practice. It often also depends where you are located. I practice in Hong Kong, and have been for the last 10 years, although I did my studies in New Zealand.

Here, the system is split up between solicitors and barristers (usually court work). Solicitors at the international firms would often specialise in corporate finance given Hong Kong is an international finance centre. This will involve e.g. mergers and acquisition deals, syndicated loan deals, debt market bond deals, initial public offerings etc. The local (smaller) firms may specialise in commercial, family, conveyancing matters etc.

They are vastly different in both the work nature and culture of the work place.