Whether you just finished law school and are investigating career options, or you have a legal problem and need to hire a lawyer, a common question that arises is ‘how many different fields of law exist?’ The answer is not simple.
Some forums have limited jurisdiction and, as a result, define what issues fall within an area of law. For example, the U.S. Patent Office, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, and most state family courts deal with issues arising under specific statutes. Any legal issues outside those statutes would fall in a different field of law.
Bur for most lawyers, a field of law is defined by whatever interests them. For example, some personal injury lawyers handle defamation cases, while others do not. Similarly, some criminal defense lawyers handle licensing disputes, such as when a medical board seeks to strip doctors of their medical licenses. Other criminal defense practices limit their functions to those of a criminal appeals lawyer.
Moreover, in many fields of law, lawyers might develop very narrow practices to fill a niche and take advantage of particular knowledge, experience, or connections. For example, administrative lawyers deal with government agencies. But a lawyer who spent time working at the Federal Communications Commission might focus solely on telecommunications law rather than representing clients before all regulatory agencies.
With that in mind, here are some of the traditional answers to how many different fields of law lawyers practice.
Bankruptcy law is one of those areas that is defined by the laws they deal with. Bankruptcy courts were created by Congress under authority granted under the U.S. Constitution. Thus, bankruptcy courts are not actually courts within the judicial branch of the U.S. government. Instead, bankruptcy courts are considered federal tribunals.
Bankruptcy courts have limited jurisdiction to handle issues arising under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. So, you will never see a personal injury lawsuit or white collar criminal prosecution in bankruptcy court. Instead, you will only see six types of cases in bankruptcy court. The two most common are:
- Chapter 7: A bankruptcy under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code is a liquidation. This means that all the debtor’s assets are liquidated and used to pay creditors. Once the liquidated assets are gone, the debts are wiped away. This type of bankruptcy is available to individuals or businesses. If a person’s debts are discharged under a chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy will stay on the person’s credit history for ten years.
- Chapter 13: A bankruptcy under chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code is a wage earner’s plan. This allows individuals with regular income to avoid a liquidation of their house and other assets. Instead, the debtor and the chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer develop a repayment plan. This plan proposes changes in the debt structure, such as the minimum payments due and the time to repay the loan. But most creditors receive some repayment and the debtors emerge from bankruptcy with debt they can repay.
Personal Injury Law
To understand how many different fields of law there are, you might start with the highest-profile lawyers. Some of the most visible lawyers practice personal injury law. These lawyers dominate TV and radio ads for lawyers and law firms.
These lawyers provide a valuable service to their clients. Suppose someone has suffered an injury due to the intentional or negligent acts of another person or business. A personal injury lawyer makes sure the responsible party pays fair compensation to the injured person.
Personal injury law covers many types of injuries including:
- Auto accidents: In most states, someone injured in a car accident can seek compensation from the driver who caused the accident. A car accident lawyer first works with the at-fault driver’s insurer to seek compensation under the driver’s insurance policy. But if that policy is too small, or the insurer disputes liability for the accident, the lawyer may need to file a lawsuit.
- Slip-and-fall accidents: People and businesses are responsible for keeping their property reasonably safe for guests and invitees. If a guest or invitee is injured due to a lack of due care, a personal injury lawyer can pursue compensation for the injured person.
- Medical malpractice: When a healthcare provider injures a patient due to negligence, the patient has a claim for medical malpractice. But not all bad outcomes are medical malpractice. The healthcare provider must fail to provide care that is reasonable under the circumstances. So, a known side effect that was discussed and consented to by the patient is not medical malpractice. A missed diagnosis or treatment applied to the wrong body part could be medical malpractice.
Insurance Defense Law
When considering how many different fields of law there are, you should also consider that there are usually at least two sides to every legal dispute. Insurance defense law is the opposite side of the coin from personal injury law. Not all victims of accidents are entitled to compensation for their injuries. An insurance defense lawyer ensures that the insurer only pays claims that fall within the scope of the insurance policy.
For example, if someone accuses their doctor of medical malpractice, the doctor will tender the claim to the doctor’s medical malpractice insurer. The insurer will hire an insurance defense lawyer to deal with the patient’s medical malpractice lawyer.
An insurance defense lawyer might have several defenses to the claim including:
- The person claiming malpractice was not a patient. If a doctor was interviewed on a TV program and someone was injured by following the doctor’s advice, the doctor might be a fool, but the doctor probably did not commit medical malpractice because the viewer was not a patient.
- The doctor was not negligent. If a patient dies during open-heart surgery and the medical staff did everything right, the doctor and hospital are not liable for medical malpractice. The patient’s family is only entitled to compensation for malpractice if the death was caused by negligence.
- The negligence did not cause an injury. Suppose a radiologist mixes up the x-rays for two patients. As a result, the patient with cancer is told the test was clean and a patient who is clean is told they have cancer. If both get a second opinion and receive the correct diagnoses quickly, the insurer will assert there was no injury. The patient with cancer got treatment and the patient without cancer avoided chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Criminal law might come immediately to mind when considering how many different fields of law there are. But criminal law is very broad and can cover many different sub-fields of law. Some of these areas within criminal law include:
- Federal: U.S. law covers some laws that involve interstate or international criminal activity. A federal criminal defense lawyer might help clients accused of drug trafficking, human trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, and interstate fraud.
- Death penalty: Many states require lawyers defending death penalty cases have experience in prior death penalty cases. This minimizes the risk that the defendant can claim ineffective defense of counsel. It also provides the best possible criminal defense for the accused defendant.
- White-collar: White-collar crimes do not involve force. Instead, they use deception, fraud, or trickery. Examples of white-collar crimes include insurance fraud, embezzlement, forgery, insider trading, and counterfeiting.
One area of law is so broad that you could ask, ‘how many different fields of law are in family law?’ A family law attorney will see many different types of cases during their career. A few of the types of cases handled by a family lawyer include:
- Divorce: Divorce will make up the majority of cases a family lawyer will see. A divorce proceeding results in a dissolution of a marriage and returns both spouses to the status of being single and unmarried. Before dissolving the marriage, a court must resolve four main issues — child custody and visitation, child support, property division, and alimony.
- Child custody: Child custody can also come up in cases without a divorce. When a parent is incapable of caring for a child, a court can award temporary custody to someone else or even terminate the parental rights. For example, a parent who is incarcerated, mentally ill, or addicted to drugs or alcohol might have their children taken away and custody awarded to someone else.
- Emancipation: Laws around the emancipation of minors vary from state to state. But generally, a minor can become emancipated if the minor is capable of handling their legal affairs and has made living arrangements independent of the child’s parents.
- Paternity: If a child’s parents are unmarried, the child is entitled to financial support from both parents. A court can order the biological father to pay child support.
- Adoption: A child adoption lawyer can help the adoptive parents ensure the adoption agreement is in order, the child’s biological parents fully waived their parental rights, and a court can approve the adoption.
Employment law is another area that has many sub-practices. How many different fields of law fall within employment law? Here are some examples:
- Discrimination: Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees on the grounds of race, color, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or old age. When an employer takes adverse actions, fires, or hires using any of these classifications, the employee or employment candidate can hire an employment lawyer.
- Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is a special type of discrimination based on gender. When an employer allows harassment of employees of a sexual nature, the employer may be liable for damages in a lawsuit filed by sexual harassment lawyers.
- Disability: Employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. If the employer refuses to accommodate a disabled employee, the employee can hire an employment lawyer to seek legal redress.
Workers’ Compensation Law
When you think about how many fields of law there are, you only need to look at some of the legal systems that are nearly universal in the U.S. Workers’ compensation insurance is required in 49 states, making the workers compensation lawyer essential to the protection of workers’ rights.
Workers’ compensation insurance must pay the medical bills and replace part of a worker’s income after an on-the-job injury. This provides two benefits.
- The worker can receive medical treatment and return to work.
- In return for guaranteed medical benefits, workers are barred from suing their employers. This means employers do not need to worry about lawsuits from their employees.
However, an insurer can deny benefits under some limited circumstances. For example, if the insurer suspects the injuries were faked or exaggerated, the insurer can deny a claim because of fraud. An insurer can also deny a claim if it believes the injury was not work-related. When an insurer denies your claim, you can hire a workers compensation lawyer to challenge the denial.
Wills, Trusts, and Estates
When counting up how many different fields of law there are, keep in mind that some fields of law deal with a particular issue, but provide many different tools to deal with it. Wills, trusts, and estate law deals with one issue — how to transfer property upon death — and provides many different mechanisms to deal with it. Some of these tools include:
- Estate planning: Before choosing a tool to carry out your goals, An estate lawyer must first understand your goals. If you want your son’s inheritance to be delayed until he graduates from college, you must inform the lawyer so the lawyer can make a plan.
- Wills: A will provides legally binding instructions for the disposition of your property upon your death.
- Trusts: A trust is created before you die to contain all the property you want to pass on. When your death happens, the property is disposed of as instructed in the trust instrument.
The law has great breadth. There are many more types of law in addition to the examples listed above. Understanding the breadth of the law will help you find the right lawyer to help with your next legal issue.