What is a “Practice Area,” and Why Does it Matter?

When you find that you need legal help, it is natural to think first of lawyers who are personal acquaintances. However, often these individuals will not have the expertise or ability to help with your specific circumstances. This is because lawyers typically choose areas of expertise called "practice areas." These practice areas are narrow by design; they allow lawyers to develop deep knowledge of one or two types of law in order to provide the best possible counsel for their clients.

What are some common practice areas for law?

Legal practice areas are diverse; what one lawyer's day looks like will be very different from another's. For instance, a lawyer in estate planning or contract law may rarely see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, they will spend their time working out legal agreements and documents for their clients. A criminal lawyer, by contrast, will be dedicated to either the prosecution or the defense of people who have been charged with crimes. A personal injury lawyer will work to help pursue an individual's interests when they are injured by the actions or inaction of another. Their work can involve significant investigation, hiring of experts, locating evidence and then possible out-of-court negotiations, filing a civil suit against the responsible parties and arguing a case before a jury if negotiations are unsuccessful.

Many attorneys focus their practice on specific case types within a larger practice area. For example, a personal injury attorney might primarily handle cases that involve catastrophic injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or death cases.

Why are practice areas important?

Law is complex. Statutory law, which includes laws voted in by a location's legislature, have relevance on a specific case. These laws can be difficult for a layperson to understand and require the interpretation and knowledge of an expert. Legal cases can also depend on what is known as case law. These are previous legal precedents that can be called on to support an argument in a specific case.

Having dedicated practice areas also allows lawyers to become familiar with the courts and the legal issues that may dramatically affect a person’s interest. They'll learn about the laws of different States and how they may impact a specific claim. They will get to know other legal professionals in their field, not just in their home county but throughout the State or even the Country.  This familiarity can help tremendously in providing proper advice to clients.

How do I find a lawyer in the practice area I need?

While a lawyer friend may not be able to represent you because your case is outside their practice area, that doesn't mean they can't help. They may know a reputable lawyer whose practice area is relevant to your specific circumstances. Talking to lawyer friends can help you get recommendations for where to start your search.

Many larger legal firms may also have lawyers from a range of practice areas. If you or a friend or relative have needed legal representation in the past, the practice you used may be a good place to start when hunting for a new lawyer. While it is likely that you will not work with the same lawyer again, they will be able to recommend someone else from their firm whose practice area is relevant to you.

Finally, legal referral services and online directories can help. It can be helpful to talk to a few lawyers before making a decision. Take some time to get a feel for a specific lawyer's experience and skill. By choosing the right person to represent you, you can significantly affect the chances of having your legal issue work out in the best way possible for you.

While it can be a little intimidating to deal with someone who is currently unknown to you, finding a lawyer in the practice area that you need is vital to your case's success. Taking the time now to find someone with the right experience can make all the difference.


From the Author: Law Practice Areas