Find a practice area

Finding the right practice area is important to building a satisfying career. Below are just some areas of law you might want to explore. There are many more! Use these to get an idea of what the practice area focuses on, what steps you should take as a student to lead you toward that type of practice and what types of people are most likely to be happy in those areas. Your career coach can tell you more about these and other areas.

[NOTE: Click on practice area link to expand/hide definitions]

Civil litigation is a legal dispute between two or more parties that seek money damages or specific performance rather than criminal sanctions.

Civil litigation includes many of the practice areas (family law, immigration) but it also includes personal injury and commercial litigation.

Commercial litigation is a broad term used to describe any disputes that arise in a business setting. Types of commercial litigation cases include: breach of contract, class actions, employment disputes, business dissolution, interference with business relationships, franchise, shareholder or partnership disputes.

You might enjoy civil/commercial litigation if you:

  • are competitive and enjoy strategizing and competing to win;
  • handle pressure well and don’t take aggressive argument personally;
  • are a good negotiator – most civil cases settle, so it is important to be good at negotiations;
  • like business issues and enjoy helping business owners, or you like connecting with individual clients (for example in medical malpractice cases).

Working in a small/medium size firm


Small firms tend to offer better work/life balance and flexibility but the compensation is generally lower and the work is less predictable. Small/medium size firms typically do not participate in the Fall Recruiting Program (aslo known as On-Campus Interviews, or OCI) and tend to hire later in the year (early/late spring) based on their workload. Networking is important to connecting with these firms. Several small firms do a “virtual” career fair/resume collection in the late spring – watch for this posting in Symplicity, check for other small firm listings, or ask your coach about the small firm list.

Working in a large/firm


Large firms offer better compensation than smaller firms, but work/life balance is difficult in this environment. The work flow is more predictable, but large firms are not immune to economic fluctuations. Many large firms participate in the Fall Recruiting Program, seeking 2Ls for summer associate positions, which are converted to post-graduation offers at the end of the summer if the experience has been positive.

Pathways to a civil/commercial litigation job



  • Take civil procedure I & II; evidence I & II; trial advocacy; business organizations; accounting for lawyers; sales; payment systems; secured transactions and negotiations.
  • Participate in Moot Court
  • If you’re interested in a small firm, start networking to approach firms of interest directly; participate in the “virtual” career fair in the Spring and check for postings in Symplicity.
  • If you’re interested in a large firm, participate in the Fall Recruiting Program and research firms not participating in OCI to approach directly.

Corporate lawyers represent businesses and/or entrepreneurs at all stages from startups to public companies and structure various commercial transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, debt offerings, and the like. To structure a business transaction legally, a corporate lawyer may need to research aspects of contract law, tax law, accounting, securities law, bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, licensing, zoning laws, and other regulations relating to a specific area of business. In contrast to the adversarial nature of trial law, corporate law is team-oriented. Although corporate counsel represent their individual clients, the process is typically more collaborative than competitive; together they seek a common ground for their clients.

You might enjoy practicing corporate law if you are:


  • interested in helping businesses develop and comply with the law
  • a good writer and enjoy drafting precise language
  • a contingent thinker – you like the game of “what if?” of “if, then”
  • would enjoy working with businesses or entrepreneurs
  • would like to eventually work as corporate or in-house counsel
  • would enjoy your practice taking place outside the courtroom

Pathway to a corporate/transactional law job:


  • Take business organizations, mergers and acquisitions, securities regulation, sales, payment systems, negotiations or secured transactions
  • Participate in the Fall Recruiting Program; many large firms hire through this process
  • Consider enrolling in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

Criminal defense attorneys represent individual and corporate clients in criminal legal matters both at trial and on appeal. Examples of cases that are handled by defense attorneys are crimes against people, drug crimes, organized crimes, economic (i.e., “white collar”) crimes and public corruption. Defense attorneys work as solo practitioners, in small firms, large firms and in government organizations dedicated to providing free public defense services.

Criminal prosecutors enforce federal, state and local laws by charging and trying people and corporations suspected of violating those laws. Criminal prosecution may also include drafting indictments, and conducting investigations and handling appeals related to those cases. Prosecutors only work in government agencies, with the exception of attorney who practice patent prosecution, which is handled by private firms.

Other skills that both prosecutors and defense attorneys need include: public speaking, counseling, investigating and negotiating skills.

You might enjoy practicing criminal law if you:


  • want to be in court on a regular basis early on in your career;
  • respond well to pressure and enjoy high stakes;
  • can keep the lines between your personal and professional life clear – this area of law can be emotionally taxing;
  • enjoy connecting with a wide range of people and/or you are good with difficult people/difficult situations.

Pathway to a criminal law job


  • Take criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence I & II, constitutional law, and trial advocacy. Participate in Moot Court.
  • Participate in OCI – several prosecutors and a few public defender agencies interview through the Fall Recruiting Program. For King County Prosecutors Office and Pierce County Prosecutors Office, summer employment with the agency is virtually a requirement for obtaining a post-graduation offer.
  • If you are interested in defense work, search for firms practicing criminal law in Martindale.com and approach them directly.

Environmental Law is a broad specialty area that encompasses developing and enforcing laws designed to protect air, land, water and animals. This area of law is heavily dominated by administrative regulations and lawyers practice in a variety of settings including the government, small firms, large firms and public interest, non-profit organizations. The majority of environmental work is civil litigation and administrative hearings, though there are environmental crimes.

Examples of cases in this area include: superfund litigation to clean up toxic waste sites, permitting actions to stop or permit land development, or toxic torts to recover money and compensate individual victims of environmental violations. Visit the CPSL website for more information on environmental law careers in the nonprofit sector.

You might enjoy practicing environmental law if you are:


  • a patient person – a great deal of environmental law is housed in intricate administrative schemes that can be challenging to learn;
  • a good negotiator;
  • passionate about environmental protection;
  • a person with a science background.

Pathway to an environmental law job


  • Take administrative law, environmental law, negotiations. Check out the courses offered through the Environmental Law Concentration Track.
  • Participate in OCI – several of the firms participating in the Fall Recruiting Program have environmental practices. Watch your email for deadlines of upcoming Government Honors Programs; several government agencies that develop, administer and enforce environmental regulations recruit by soliciting applications for summer jobs and post-graduation jobs.
  • Join one of the student organizations focused on environmental law issues.
  • Do an externship with an environmental organization or government agency focused on environmental issues.

Family law involves assisting clients with divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, guardianship, and division of assets. Family law is usually a litigation-based practice. However, collaborative law, where parties agree to resolve their disputes outside of court, is a growing area in family law. Estate Planning (Trusts/Wills/Probate) involves helping clients leave their families prepared for the future in thoughtful and intentional ways. Most lawyers practicing family law are in small firms. However, some large law firms do have family law groups. Also, family law is often practiced in civil legal aid organizations serving low-income clients. Visit the CPSL website for more information on civil legal aid careers.

You might enjoy practicing family/estate planning law if you:


  • are able to keep the lines between your personal life and professional clear – this area of law can be emotionally taxing;
  • enjoy connecting with people and/or you are good with difficult people/difficult situations;
  • have good listening skills/counseling skills;
  • enjoy tax law.

Pathway to a family law job


  • Take family law, constitutional law, evidence I & II, child advocacy, interviewing and counseling for lawyers.
  • Participate in the Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic.
  • Network with local attorneys to find small/midsize firms with family law practices. Find them by doing a filtered search in Martindale.com.

Health Care law is a rapidly changing field with exciting practice opportunities. Domestic health care law is the intersection of health care delivery (regulation of medical professionals, medical malpractice, and standards of care), health care finance (insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, mergers and alliances of health care providers), and compliance with federal health care laws (HIPAA/medical records privacy, STARK/business practices, EMTALA/”patient dumping,” disclosure of drug trials, and Medicare/Medicaid audits). Health care law can also include advising practitioners in the developing areas of genomics and biotechnology, where new technologies create drugs or gene therapies to cure disease. The health law practice can involve litigation or transactional practice. Additionally, global health issues are receiving more attention in the United States, and students can pursue a global health degree that focuses on international rights and policies, human rights, refugee and humanitarian aid issues, and medical tourism.

You might enjoy practicing health care law if you:


  • like a dynamic and changing field, given the recent Affordable Care Act and the changing medical delivery systems;
  • are adept and simplifying complex concepts for corporate or professional clients;
  • want a field where you can focus on just one or two aspects of a greater whole;
  • want to work with multidisciplinary professional clients (physicians, nurses, hospital administrators, global relief agencies).

Pathway to a health care law job:


  • Take Fundamentals of Health Care Law, Medical Malpractice, Corporate Law (for transactional work), Trial Advocacy (for litigation work) and Global Health Law and International Research Ethics, Law and Policy (for global health work).
  • Join the Student Health Law Organization (SHLO) for discussions of current health law issues and meetings with outside speakers.
  • Participate in the Fall Recruiting Program for transactional and compliance/regulation positions to get a position with an established mid-sized or large firm that has a health law practice or with a government agency involved in health care regulation.
  • Small to mid-size firms typically handle health care law relating to individuals such as medical malpractice work. These positions are found mainly through networking and sometimes through Symplicity in the spring.

Immigration law controls the entry of and working restrictions for foreign citizens in the United States. It also delineates the pathway to U.S. citizenship. Types of cases include visas and naturalization applications for individuals and professional personnel working for U.S. companies, legal representation of noncitizens seeking proper documentation. Several nonprofit organizations represent noncitizens in need of immigration services; visit the Center for Public Service Law’s information on nonprofits.

Other skills that an immigration attorney might need: fluency in languages other than English

You might enjoy practicing immigration law if you:


  • enjoy client contact, especially with clients from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds;
  • thrive while working on cases involving high stakes (ex. deportation);
  • want to appear in court or advocate to a tribunal early on in your career;
  • are interested in taking complex legal concepts and procedures and breaking them into simple, concrete steps for clients.

Pathway to an immigration law job:


  • Enroll in the Immigration Law Clinic during your 2L or 3L year—the clinic is operated in partnership with Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
  • Take immigration law, trial advocacy, and evidence.
  • Participate in Moot Court
  • If you want to get involved with business immigration, then applying in September (if you are a 2 or 3L) to a U.S./International firm that has international locations or international clientele is a good idea.
  • If you want to work in a public interest organization or a firm based in another country, most likely, the hiring will be on an as-needed basis. It is important to research the country/market in which you want to work and look for trends in hiring timelines. If you have the opportunity, travel to the location where you want to work and set up informational interviews while you are there.

Intellectual Property (IP) law involves working with copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. The practice of IP Law requires more specific credentials than most other practice areas, generally requiring advanced degrees in one or more areas of engineering or the sciences. This area of practice is a relationship-based profession that requires attorneys to interact regularly with a wide variety of (creative) clients.

You might enjoy practicing IP law if you:


  • have a background as a scientist, computer programmer, aerospace engineer, medical researcher, or artist;
  • are interested in protecting an individual’s creative development or work product;
  • are technologically savvy and interested in staying on the cutting edge of technology development.

Pathway to an IP law job


Employment law is a broad area encompassing all areas of the employer/employee relationship except the negotiation process covered by labor law and collective bargaining. Employment law consists of thousands of Federal and state statutes, administrative regulations, and judicial decisions. Many employment laws (e.g., minimum wage regulations) were enacted as protective labor legislation. Other employment laws take the form of public insurance, such as unemployment compensation.

Labor laws involve equalizing the bargaining power between employers and employees. The laws primarily deal with the relationship between employers and unions. Labor laws grant employees the right to unionize and allows employers and employees to engage in certain activities (e.g. strikes, picketing, seeking injunctions, lockouts) so as to have their demands fulfilled.

Specific areas within the broad category of employment law include: collective bargaining, employment discrimination, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), unemployment compensation, pensions, workplace safety and worker's compensation.

You might enjoy practicing employment or labor law if you:


  • are interested in mediation and arbitration;
  • would be comfortable working with complex administrative codes;
  • have a passion for working with unions;
  • would enjoy advising businesses on best practices regarding the employer/employee relationship.

Pathway to an employment/labor law job:


  • Explore the Economic Regulation section of the course catalog for employment law, employment discrimination and labor relations and the law.
  • Participate in the Workers’ Rights Clinic program.
  • Seek out summer employment with unions, such as SEIU, or large businesses with in-house employment law groups.
  • Participate in the Fall Recruiting Program; many firms have employment groups, mostly representing employers.

Last updated 10/13/2014