Types of Law Practices - Specialized Fields of Law

Many American attorneys limit their practices to specialized fields of law. Often lines are drawn between different types of attorneys, but these are neither fixed nor formal lines. Examples include:

  • Litigators (who sue and defend in court) v. transactional (or "office practice") attorneys (who draft documents and advise clients, rarely going to court)
  • Attorneys in private practice and small firms (who can't afford to litigate every little issue) v. big firms (who can)
  • Plaintiffs' attorneys (individual attorneys and small firms who represent individuals on contingent fee agreements) v. defendants' attorneys (big firms billing large corporations by the hour)
  • Trial attorneys (who argue the facts) vs. appellate attorneys (who argue the law)
  • Outside counsel (law firms) v. in-house counsel (corporate legal department)

Despite these descriptions, some states sometimes forbid or discourage claims of specialization in particular areas of law unless the attorney has been certified by his or her state bar or state board of legal specialization.

Other states allow indirect indications of specialization (in forms of advertisements such as "our practice is limited to . . ." but require that the lawyer state that he or she is not certified by a state board of legal specialization in the advertised practice area.

Patent attorneys are allowed to advertise their specialization in all jurisdictions, since registration for patent law is administered by the United States Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) instead of a state-level body.