When Hiring an Attorney, Look for Specific Practice Areas

A podiatrist is an expert at diagnosing foot-related conditions but won't be of much help if you're trying to determine the cause of an ongoing earache. That's because most doctors – just like lawyers – focus on developing expertise in specific practice areas.

If you're in need of an attorney, you'll want to make sure you find someone who has experience relevant to your needs. Within the field of law exists an array of practice areas; and within each practice area, attorneys may have further specializations. Depending on state laws, attorneys are typically required to complete a certain amount of ongoing legal education every year, especially if they wish to maintain certification as a specialist in any area of the law.

These are some of the most common types of practice areas, along with the types of cases they may include:

• Business Law

Zoning issues, contract review and creation, and employee matters are all types of business law concerns. However, some business law attorneys don't handle tax or zoning laws, because those types of cases may involve a complex network of state, local, and federal laws.

• Criminal Law

Within the field of criminal law, there may be several specializations, such as post-conviction appeals, defense in death-penalty cases, and cases involving federal offenses.

• Family Law

Family law broadly encompasses issues involving divorce, domestic partnership agreements, child custody, adoption, and mediation of family conflicts.

• Personal Injury Law

The term "personal injury" applies to severe or fatal injuries resulting from another party's actions, inactions, negligence, or willfully malicious behavior. These types of cases require a thorough understanding of how to collect and present evidence and testimony, and attorneys may have specialized experience in these areas:

• Vehicle Accidents – This is perhaps the most common type of personal injury case. Attorneys who represent traffic accident victims may have to spend considerable time analyzing the facts surrounding the crash, especially if multiple vehicles were involved. They may interview witnesses and medical experts, and in some cases, they may hire an outside party to create a video reconstruction of the accident that can be shown in a courtroom.

• Medical Malpractice – Cases involving medical malpractice usually begin with a medical panel that reviews the merits of a case before the case can proceed to the courts. Attorneys in these cases must prove to a review panel that the medical error that occurred is one that a similarly trained person would not have committed or that the error was egregious.

• Workplace Injuries – More workers are turning to attorneys these days to help them with legal remedies for on-the-job injuries. In many instances, workers in high-risk occupations like construction are contractors, not actual employees; if they should be hurt on the job, they may not be entitled to insurance benefits, paid time off, or workers' compensation benefits. Attorneys may be able to negotiate insurance settlements on behalf of workers. (Workers' compensation is considered a type of labor law, not personal injury law, so personal injury attorneys may not handle cases that involve workers' comp.)

• Product Liability – A defective product that causes an injury is the basis for most product liability cases. Sometimes, that "defect" could be something as simple as failing to apply a warning label to a potentially harmful product. Occasionally, defective products injure multiple people throughout the country. When several injury victims pursue a product liability case, those individual claims might be consolidated into a single class action suit, to ensure a fair outcome for all injured parties.

Personal injury attorneys may also handle specific types of injury cases, such as those involving traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injuries, or nursing home abuse. Any lawyer or law firm you're considering for your case should be willing to share with you their personal experience handling relevant matters.