What Are The Types Of Lawyers?
United States lawyers or attorneys practice in many areas such as insurance defense, consumer issues, elder law, social security, admiralty, estate planning, bankruptcy, tax, business entities, criminal, health law, military, divorce, adoption, probate, immigration, government related and many other areas. As a guess there are probably more than forty or so practice areas. Additionally, beyond the Juris Doctorate (JD) degree or older LL.B (Bachelor of Laws), attorneys may seek a Master of Laws (LLM) specialization degree such as in tax, elder law, etc. But even beyond the LLM, attorneys may seek a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.S.D), Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.), Doctor of Comparative Law (D.C.L.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) which may be useful in an academic or scholarship type position.
Generally, I suppose lawyers fall into four major groups, which is purely just my opinion. There are litigators, transactional attorneys, appellate attorneys and members of the judiciary.
Litigators fall on both the plaintiff and defense sides of civil litigation and on the prosecution and defense sides of criminal matters. Litigators I think experience the highest stress levels and are subjects of numerous movies, television shows and books. The perception of litigators can be very exciting. Certainly you will recall the attorneys that defended OJ Simpson (his legal dream team) but you may remember little about the prosecution. The job of OJ’s defense team was to make the prosecution prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that OJ had murdered his wife and her companion. No matter what your feeling was about OJ’s innocence or guilt, the legal defense team succeeded with the jury. With the threshold lower in the civil matter, the plaintiff attorneys were successful in obtaining a judgment against OJ. More recently there have been cases concerning Jodi Arias and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The public follow these trials even though the names of the attorneys are not as popular as OJ’s team. Litigators that go to trial go through considerable preparation to prove their point. While most of the success is aligned with building the better case and having the truth on your side, some attorneys are very quick with quips and may compel the jury to choose whatever position that attorney has taken for his or her client. I think that many of my friends that litigate do not enjoy it but certainly do what is necessary to represent their client in whatever matter.
The class that I am more closely aligned with are transactional lawyers. Transactional attorneys may litigate or attend hearings from time to time but the majority of their practice is providing the proper legal documents and proper wording for their client’s issues. This may include the preparation of a Last Will and Testament, a Trust, a contract, real estate closing documents, Medicaid applications, powers of attorney, etc. Certainly the stress is not as great as litigation, but for instance I find Medicaid applications stressful. Thinking about it, you guide your client until they have less than $2,000.00 plus excludables. If you do something that causes the client to be turned down, then you may have a very ill client who has no ability to pay for skilled nursing home care and a family that cannot give proper care. Just as with physicians who make life and death health decisions, so do lawyers make decisions that may not be reversed.
I am calling the third group, appellate attorneys. These attorneys, while often participating as litigators may have a majority appellate practice. Appeals may be in the form of a submitted appellate brief either for the appellant or appellee (respondent) and they may require oral arguments before the various appellate courts. An appellant in an appeal court is the loser at the trial or lower appellate level (they could have originally been the plaintiff, defense or prosecutor). The appellate courts are typically thought of as State appellate courts (Civil Court of Appeals, Criminal Court of Appeals and Supreme Court) and the various Federal appeal courts both Federal Circuit and District Courts with impanelled justices that may hear civil and/or criminal appeals and of course the United States Supreme Court which is the supreme law of the land. Even though an attorney may be admitted to a State Court system, each attorney must gain admission to practice before the various appellate courts. While it is rather easy to be admitted to practice before the Federal District Courts of a State after being admitted to the State Bar, there is a higher level required to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
The final class I will call the judiciary. These of course are our judges of all courts probate, district, circuit appellate, Federal levels and the justices of the United States Supreme Court. They are proven in their knowledge of the law and while their earnings may be less than that of very successful litigators, their prestige and respect are a pinnacle of their careers. Finally as a note of interest Alabama Probate Judges do not have to be an attorney but have the ability to rely on their staff attorneys, clerks and educational opportunities to become very competent at what they do.
If you ask another attorney they may divide the active lawyers into a greater or lesser number of groups, this is just my grouping.
This article is informative only and not meant to be all inclusive. Additionally this article does not serve as legal advice to the reader and does not constitute an attorney- client relationship. The reader should seek counsel from their attorney should any questions exist.
"No representation is made that the quality of legal services performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers."
Ronald A. Holtsford, Esq.
Ronald A. Holtsford, LLC
7956 Vaughn Road, Box #124
Montgomery, AL 36116