If you’re studying or considering studying law, you’re probably quite familiar already with some of the types of lawyers and the different legal fields in which they operate. With a variety of different types of law, there are consequently different types of law courses. This guide will further delineate the different areas in which lawyers work and unpack the different legal fields in Australia.
One of the main differences you’ll find is that between solicitors and barristers who join the Bar. While many solicitors still appear in court, they also do a lot of work outside the courtroom, and some solicitors don’t do any court work at all. Barristers who join the Bar, on the other hand, work almost exclusively in courtrooms and are experts in complex legal disputes, having undertaken further study, examinations, and supervision. They are usually engaged by and deal directly with solicitors, rather than the client.
So, what are the types of law? How many types of lawyers in Australia are there? Here are some of the many fields in which lawyers work:
Administrative lawyers deal with regulations and decision making concerning state and federal governments. If, for example, a decision is made regarding legislation that could affect citizens adversely, such as a freeway expansion, an administrative lawyer might be engaged to help advocate for the affected citizens. Administrative law ensures that governments are subject to accountability, with certain mechanisms available such as merits review, investigations, internal agency practices, and judicial reviews.
As the name implies, animal welfare lawyers are concerned with legislation regarding the protection of animals. Groups such as Lawyers for Animals advocate for the rights of animals, due to animals being classed as property and therefore having “no legal voice”. In some cases they may even be involved in litigation concerning the welfare of animals.
Bankruptcy and insolvency lawyers help individuals or businesses navigate through the process of seeking protection from having to pay their debts if they are in severe financial stress.
Civil litigation is distinct from criminal litigation in that criminal charges and penalties are not sought, instead one party may seek to claim monetary compensation from the other party from the dispute. Another distinction is that the standard of proof is lessened in civil matters; evidence must simply be more convincing from one party versus the other, not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil litigation involves complex knowledge and the ability to argue points from both sides in order to properly advocate for a client.
Consumer law focuses on the rights of individuals regarding goods and services, such as warranties, repairs, refunds and safety. Consumer law applies nationally across all states and territories and is applicable to all Australian businesses. Consumer protection lawyers therefore advocate on behalf of their clients in relation to such things as personal injury resulting from defective products, unfair terms in consumer contracts, and unfair trade practices.
Corporate or business law refers to laws governing the rights, relations and actions of persons, companies and businesses, particularly in regards to the creation, running and termination of a business entity, no matter its size or field in which it operates. In Australia, corporations are regulated according to the Corporations Act 2001, which is administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Criminal law focuses on statutes and common laws regarding certain actions which are punishable by the state, such as offences against the person and property offences, and is distinct from civil law. Criminal laws are mainly controlled by state governments, rather than the federal government, which has its own enforcement agency. Criminal law is one area in which lawyers (in particular, barristers) are able to specialise, due to the advanced knowledge and skills required.
Employment & Labour
Employment law is a broad area regarding the relationship between employers and employees, and aims to balance and protect the rights of both parties. It encompasses such subjects as wages, unfair dismissal, employment contracts, the public sector, redundancy entitlements, sexual harassment, whistle-blower protection, and workplace discrimination.
Environmental law focuses on an increasingly important area at a national and international level as it encompasses issues such as water management, climate change, and native title. Planning law focuses on urban and recreational areas in relation to planning and subdivision, and environmental and conservation controls.
Estate & Will Planning
Estate and will law comprises many different areas concerned with, for example, the transfer of property and possessions after a person’s death, such as superannuation and insurance, taxation, power of attorney and guardianship, and family maintenance.
Family law covers a broad range of topics such as divorce, child custody, family violence, spousal maintenance, property and financial settlements, and adoption and surrogacy. Many matters are heard in either the Family Court or Federal Court, and often involve other law fields such as equity/trusts, property, superannuation, and tax.
Finance & Banking
Finance and banking law relates to legal matters surrounding banking and financial transactions, including the organisations involved in these transactions, such as contracts, mergers, acquisitions, liquidations, and everyday banking issues impacting the general public.
Human rights lawyers work to protect the rights of individuals, ensuring they are not discriminated against or persecuted because of their age, gender, religion, disability, nationality etc. Human rights lawyers often work with asylum seekers and refugees, as well as dealing with different jurisdictions, such as Australian and international courts.
Intellectual property refers to the expression of ideas, while copyright refers to the expression of ideas in a visual or audio form. Other forms of intellectual property include patents (such as inventions) and trademarks (such as a business name or jingle). Intellectual property lawyers work to ensure that an individual’s or business’s inventions or creations are not exploited or used by other parties, and it requires very specific knowledge of the law, not just in Australia but also of overseas laws.
Media, Arts, and Entertainment lawyers work with clients with the film, television, stage, music, and other arts industries. They often deal with issues touching on other areas mentioned here, such as intellectual property and copyright, consumer law, and corporate law.
Personal injury law relates to cases where someone has been injured, either physically or psychologically, either at their workplace, in a motor accident, or due to another person’s negligence or misconduct. Unlike other law fields, the majority of personal injury cases are resolved before official legal proceedings begin, depending on their complexity.
Real estate and property law focuses on the rights and responsibilities of landowners and those working within the real estate industry. It deals with issues surrounding the sale and purchase of properties, leasing, development, estate management, and joint ventures.
Taxation law relates to the management and regulation of tax at state and federal levels, such as capital gains tax, GST, land tax, and stamp duty. Tax law is heavily dependent on research, as there are various pieces of legislation relating to tax collection and distribution issues within Australia.
Technology law focuses on a broad range of areas concerned with the use of technology in people’s private and professional lives, including regulation, enforcement, legislation, and privacy. Given that technology is constantly changing, technology law must also adapt in order to keep up with it.
Trusts are fiduciary relationships between three parties (the trustor, trustee, and beneficiary), where property or assets belonging to the trustor are held by the trustee for the benefit of the beneficiary. Different kinds of trusts exist, such as charitable, research, injury and compensation, and minor’s trusts. The trustor’s assets gain legal protection so that they can be distributed according to the trustor’s wishes, in some cases, after the death of the trustor.
Now you know the extensive range of legal fields which exist! Whilst careers in the legal field vary, with all types of law the path to entering these legal fields are much the same. Still curious about the types of law? Want more information about how you can best enter these fields of law? Contact us today!