Legal

Finding legal advice online isn't always as simple as searching for a lawyer near you. As you seek legal assistance, make sure you understand the lawyer's specialty and how the specific area in which the lawyer specializes may impact their ability to offer the services you need. 

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 19, 2021

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Overview

  • A criminal lawyer can help defend against a variety of potential crimes, including dangerous drug charges and drunk driving charges
  • Litigation law and civil law help govern non-criminal matters, and require a specific type of attorney
  • Government law helps cover Constitutional protections and breaks down the laws issued by the federal government involving taxes, employment, intellectual property, copyright, and civil rights
  • Family law focuses, whenever possible, on guaranteeing the best interests of the child or children
  • If you have a basic legal concern that you need to address, working with a general practice attorney can help you work through those legal concerns

When you need legal services, not just any lawyer will do. You need a lawyer who specializes in the particular area of the law that covers your needs. Whether you need legal advice for tenants, legal advice involving a personal injury claim, or specific help with a criminal law matter, it’s critical that you choose a lawyer who is familiar with laws and regulations pertaining to those specific issues.

Do you need a lawyer to help you manage a complicated legal situation? Use our free search tool to find a lawyer near you.

What is criminal law?

If you have been accused of a crime and need a lawyer to help with your defense, you need a criminal lawyer. Criminal law usually involves a direct offense against society or against an individual due to a direct criminal act, including everything from assault and theft to drunk driving.

A criminal lawyer can help mitigate the penalties you may face for those dangerous behaviors and give you a better idea of what to expect from your trial. Sometimes, a criminal lawyer can help prove your innocence of a crime. Other times, when your lawyer knows you will face a guilty verdict due to the evidence against you, the lawyer can help decrease the penalties you may face.

What are dangerous drug laws, and what are the punishments associated with breaking them?

Each state sets its own laws for dangerous drugs. However, in general, dangerous drug laws include any device or drug unsafe for self-medications. Possessing these drugs without a prescription can lead to substantial penalties. In some states, including Texas, unsafe drugs are differentiated from controlled substances. While dangerous drugs usually include prescription medications, controlled substances are usually specific, addictive substances that are illegal to possess or consume for any reason.

If you are convicted of possession of dangerous drugs, you may face substantial legal penalties, including:

  • Jail time (often up to one year in jail for a first-time offense)
  • Fines
  • Suspension of driving privileges

In addition to minor misdemeanor penalties, if you are convicted of possessing a large amount of dangerous drugs, you may find yourself facing felony charges. These charges can permanently change the course of your life, so working with an experienced attorney can serve as your best chance for decreasing the potential penalties you may face.

What are drunk driving laws?

Drunk driving laws establish penalties for drivers who have chosen to drive while under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Drunk drivers may struggle to make good decisions behind the wheel or end up failing to follow the rules of the road, either due to decreased decision-making ability or because they lack the ability to properly view street signs, lights, and traffic signals.

Drunk drivers may also cause serious injury to others in an accident, since decreased motor control and poor reflexes can make it difficult for them to mitigate the impact of an accident.

Every state has laws on the books that issue significant penalties for drunk drivers. Those laws may vary considerably from state to state. For example, New York has “Driving While Ability Impaired” laws that kick in when a driver has a BAC of just .04, as opposed to the .08 that constitutes drunk driving in most states. The penalties for drunk driving may include:

  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Suspension or revocation of driving priviliges

In addition, many drunk drivers can face civil penalties alongside the criminal penalties associated with their actions. Even beyond drunk driving laws, there are other reprecussions for driving under the influence. For example, drunk drivers may face insurance increases and job loss if convicted of driving while intoxicated.

How do criminal law and civil law overlap?

Criminal law can overlap significantly with civil law when criminal actions have an impact on private citizens. For example, drunk drivers may face civil penalties, including punitive damages and a personal injury claim, in addition to the criminal penalties assigned by the court following conviction.

Civil penalties are, in many ways, separate from criminal penalties: while a criminal conviction may serve as evidence in a civil trial, even if the liable party has avoided criminal penalties, he may still face penalties in a civil trial.

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What is civil law?

Civil law incorporates a variety of areas, including business law, bankruptcy law, class action lawsuits, and financial law. Civil law, unlike criminal law, does not involve a loss of liberties or life: that is, if you face civil proceedings, you cannot go to jail as part of a civil trial, nor can you end up losing your life.

Primarily, civil cases involve the loss of money. Though some civil cases can involve courts ordering defendants to do or not do certain things – stop making a certain product or cut down a tree that’s creating a nuisance, for example – usually it’s money that measures the harm done in civil actions.

What does business law encompass?

Business law encompasses all the legal rules that govern the dealings between people and entities in commercial matters. For example, contracts are a legally binding business agreement. While many state, local, and federal laws govern the terms that can be included in those contracts – and what elements of those contracts are legally binding.

Business law also covers intellectual property law, antitrust law, and income tax law, all of which can be handled by a business attorney.

What does litigation law include?

Litigation law encompasses the various areas of law under which two opposing parties need to work out an agreement between them in order to protect the rights of one or both parties.

It may, for example, include personal injury law, under which one party’s negligence caused severe injuries to the other and the injured party needs to work out compensation for those injuries; or, it may include specific civil disputes under which one party feels as though the other is violating their rights.

Litigation law often settles outside the courtroom, but may need to be hard by a judge in order to resolve the dispute or disagreement legally and effectively.

What is malpractice law, and how does a malpractice lawsuit work?

Malpractice law incorporates any occasion under which the provider commits an error, omission, or breach of duty in care of the client. Usually, malpractice lawsuits are against medical providers: doctors or medical facilities that fail to provide the high standard of care that the patient needs in order to have the best possible outcomes in that specific case.

However, legal malpractice may involve a lawyer who fails to follow the law as it governs interaction with clients, including seeking the best possible outcomes for those clients regardless of personal feelings.

Medical malpractice often involves injury to the patient in some way. Common acts of medical malpractice may include:

  • Failure to properly diagnose a patient based on the available information
  • Incorrectly diagnosing a patient despite the clear availability of evidence about the patient’s actual condition
  • Offering the incorrect treatment to a patient
  • Committing a surgical error, including “never events” like leaving an item in the patient’s body or operating on the wrong area of the body
  • Birth injuries
  • Prescription drug errors, including offering the wrong dosage or issuing a prescription for a drug that the patient is allergic to
  • Failing to properly inform the patient about the risks and advantages associated with a particular procedure, which can make it difficult for the patient to make reasonable decisions about care

Medical malpractice can cause serious, long-term complications for many patients, who may face increased symptoms of their diseases or injuries due to a lack of proper diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, medical malpractice can lead to permanent disability. By pursuing compensation through a personal injury claim, patients who have suffered from medical malpractice can gain some financial assistance in paying for ongoing treatment as well as offering some financial aid in rebuilding their lives after the incident.

What doe financial law encompass?

Financial law is a term broadly used to discuss any legal issue involving money. Financial law can cover all the details of insurance, commercial banking, and investment management.

It helps protect the interests of both large companies and private individuals as they work to gain money and improve their overall financial standing and share of the market. Financial law may also include banking law, which can have a substantial impact on how banks operate: both big banks, which may deal with large corporations and their finances, and smaller banks, who may have more to do with the private interests of consumers on the market.

What is bankruptcy law?

Bankruptcy is a legal procedure that an individual or business initiates when they reach a point that they can no longer cover their debts. Usually, bankruptcy occurs after a series of financial challenges that have posed immense strain for the individual. Sometimes, bankruptcy law falls into the category of financial law.

What are class action lawsuits?

Class action lawsuits are lawsuits under which multiple plaintiffs are represented, for the sake of the case or claim, by a single plaintiff who suffered the basic problems caused by the liable party.

Often, class action lawsuits involve dangerous products or medical devices that have caused significant injury for the people who use them. For example, each year, the FDA recalls multiple medications and medical devices that have led to a host of health problems for users of those devices. Often, those individuals will choose to participate in a class action lawsuit as they seek the compensation they deserve for those injuries.

Class action lawsuits may also exist against the manufacturer of specific dangerous items, or against employers who have committed dangerous acts against their employees. For example, if a large employer fails to offer adequate protective gear to their employees, despite knowing the potential dangers those employees may face, the employer may face a class action lawsuit. Many construction companies and the manufacturers of materials that include asbestos, for example, have found themselves facing class action lawsuits.

The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit usually receive the same general compensation, based on the injuries – physical or otherwise – they suffered as a result of using the product or service. While personal injury claims usually break down each individual’s pain and suffering directly, class action lawsuits may have a more generalized assessment of how victims fared as a result of the liable party’s actions.

In some cases, however, class action lawsuits may involve an injunction, rather than or in addition to money. Sometimes, those injunctions are based on specific constitutional protections. Class action lawsuit law is a very specialized practice and if you suspect you might be a member of a class that needs legal help, it’s important to find an attorney with experience in class action law.

What do government law and Constitutional protections cover?

The Constitution guarantees several rights that the American people count on as they live out their lives. Government law, however, refers not just to constitutional practice, but to a number of laws controlled by the federal government. These may include several key areas.

What is immigration law?

Immigration law covers who can move into the country on a permanent basis and what they must do in order to remain legally in the country. The United States defines four different types of immigrants: citizens, residents, non-immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. The laws governing these different categories reflect the steps they need to take, including choosing to follow the law of the land.

In the United States, most immigrants need someone to “sponsor” them, or submit the immigration petition on their behalf. Then, the immigrant must wait for a visa to become available in their category and apply for that visa. It can be a long, expensive process to immigrate to the United States. Working with an immigration attorney can help streamline that process.

What is employment labor law?

Employment and labor law governs the specific rights that employees have, based on both state and federal laws. Employment laws may cover a variety of factors, including:

  • Fair payment for labor and how an employee must be compensated – Federal law may designate a set minimum wage. Specific state laws may also increase that minimum wage in order to offer a better living wage to employees in that area.
  • Discrimination laws – Under United States employment law, everyone has the same right to work, for the same pay scale, without regard to age, gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation. Employers who discriminate against their employees for these reasons may face immense legal consequences.
  • Medical leave rights – The Family Medical Leave Act dictates that employees who work for employers with a set number of employees, based on a range of factors, have the right to unpaid leave to deal with medical issues faced by the employee themselves or by an immediate family member. FMLA protects the employees’ job until they can return.
  • Overtime pay – Overtime laws are complicated, since there may be different rates for hourly employees, contractors, and salaried employees. However, in general, if an employee works more than 40 hours per week, he may have the right to overtime pay.

What does tax law cover?

Tax law establishes what taxes individuals must pay on earned wages within the United States. If you have a problem with your taxes, from questions about the taxes you need to pay to questions about challenges that have arisen as you managed your taxes, working with a qualified tax attorney can make a huge difference.

Tax attorneys know how much you must pay in taxes, how long you have to take care of tax payments, and how to work within the limitations offered by tax law to help maximize your refund.

Tax laws apply to businesses as well as to private individuals. Business owners often find that employing a tax attorney offers the most effective way to streamline tax preparation.

What does intellectual property law include?

Intellectual property is non-tangible property that belongs to a specific individual, including creative works like art, writing, and music. Copyright law, a facet of intellectual property law, establishes the right of a particular business or individual to a specific piece of work, concept, creation, or image. Other people and businesses cannot use that content without prior permission from the copyright holder.

What is civil rights law?

Civil rights law covers a number of the rights of citizens and the specific factors and protections that citizens and other people may expect. Civil rights law includes:

  • The right to equal treatment with regards to housing, education, public accommodation, and employment
  • Freedom of speech and freedom of the press
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom to have a fair court trial
  • The right to remain silent in a police interrogation
  • The right to bear arms
  • Freedom against unwarranted searches of home or property

A civil rights lawyer can aid in a case where your personal rights were violated by the actions of another individual or entity.

What is administrative law?

Administrative law governs the laws and legal principles that govern both Federal and state government institutions and how they can act under specific circumstances. It includes, for example, the inability of those institutions to infringe on the rights of the people they exist to protect. Administrative law may include:

  • Regulations for workers’ compensation boards
  • How licensing agencies must operate
  • How zoning boards can form and what information they must take into consideration
  • How unemployment commissions work, who gets to make those decisions, and what rights unemployed individuals have in specific areas
  • Equal opportunity commissions and how they should operate

Administrative law ensures that governing bodies do not, inadvertently or otherwise, challenge the rights of others, regardless of the circumstances. These vital laws help hold governing bodies of all types accountable: a vital step in ensuring the protection of individual rights.

What is aviation law?

Aviation law helps protect the skies the same way the government has laws that improve the odds of safe travel on the roads. Aviation law encompasses air traffic control, legal regulations for aircraft maintenance, and what rights pilots and airlines have with regards to passengers as well as what rights passengers have when they travel in the air. It may cover things like:

  • When causing a disturbance on an airplane is a crime and what fines and penalties disruptive individuals may face
  • What maintenance aircraft must receive before going up, when airplanes can take to the air in spite of minor damage, and who is responsible for taking care of maintenance on airplanes
  • Who bears liability for small plane accidents, helicopter accidents, or large crashes
  • The legal rights of passengers when flights are canceled or delayed, including what options airlines may need to offer their passengers in the event of a cancellation

Aviation laws also encompass some elements that may be of use to private homeowners. For example, aviation laws may pertain to drone use, including what height drones can fly at and when private users need to register their drones.

If you have questions about aviation law, an aviation attorney can help give you a better idea of what elements you may need to consider before taking to the skies–either for yourself or with a drone.

What does arbitration law cover?

Arbitration law covers scenarios in which all entities involved in a dispute determine that a specific entity, or arbitrator, has the right to rule on that dispute, and all involved parties agree to abide by those terms.

Government Law in Relation to Other Areas of Legal Practice

Government law helps guarantee the rights of many parties, including specific amendments that govern the rights of people of color, women, and eighteen-year-olds. Of course, government law could also be considered to include other areas of the law. There are several types of criminal or civil law that are heard in federal court. Appeal courts like the Supreme Court hear appeals on lots of things, including criminal, civil, and even family law cases.

What is family law?

Family law includes alimony and divorce as well as child custody law. As a rule, family law focuses on the best interest of the child or children involved in a custody dispute.

Recently, there has been a strong movement in most states away from the concept of a fault-based divorce. Today, family law focuses primarily on providing the best protections possible for minor children whose parents are engaged in a legal dispute of any type while also ensuring fair and non-punitive distribution of assets after a marriage ends.

What does divorce law cover?

A divorce lawyer helps people sort out the legal elements of their divorce. Divorce lawyers represent only one spouse through the divorce process. They help their clients understand their legal rights with regards to things like alimony or spousal support, child support, and child custody.

Divorce lawyers can often help with contentious divorce cases, including those involving significant financial assets or those in which the two parties cannot agree on child custody or other key elements of the dispute.

What is alimony and spousal support?

In many marriages, one spouse provides the primary source of income for the family while the other focuses on providing the other services the family needs. A stay-at-home parent might not make direct monetary contributions to the family for the duration of that marriage, but that spouse does perform vital services, including childcare, elder care, home cleaning, and cooking, not to mention helping get children to their various activities.

All of these activities have significant benefit to the family unit, but do not come with a paycheck. After divorce, that spouse might not have the means to support themselves, especially if they never pursued higher education or gave up employment opportunities to remain at home.

In some divorces, a one-time payment is factored in to the dissolution of the marriage to compensate the spouse who sacrificed money-making opportunities. More often, alimony or spousal support is ordered over a longer period of time.

Usually, alimony helps make up for some of that gap, providing support for that spouse for a specific period of time while they work to obtain an education or certifications and move back into the workforce. Alimony usually terminates if the spouse receiving support gets remarried.

How does child custody law work?

Child custody law dictates the time that a child will spend with each parent and also determines what child support the noncustodial parent may need to pay to help with that child’s care.

Child custody agreements can be as simple or as complex as the parents need them to be in order to meet the child’s needs to the best of their ability. In many states, a child will be assigned a representative or advocate whose job is to speak for the child’s best interests and needs.

Child custody agreements can cover everything from:

  • Who has primary custody of the child
  • When the child will visit the other parent
  • What decision-making rights each parent has with regards to the child’s school and medical care
  • Who has to pay for what expenses regarding the child

Child custody agreements do not just govern divorce cases. They can also apply to adoption or to the termination of parental rights. Many parents also assume that child custody agreements last until the child turns eighteen. However, if circumstances change, including the needs of either parents or child, you may need to go back to court to change the existing child custody arrangement.

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What do general practice attorneys do?

General practice attorneys are like your family doctor: if everything’s going well and you’re lucky, you won’t really need to see a more specialized practitioner very often. General practice attorneys can handle minor disputes like small claims court, can draft simple wills and estate documents, and might even be able to help with real estate, though laws changed after the financial crash of the 2000s to make real estate more restrictive.

General practice attorneys can work in a variety of legal domains, including small claims law, tax law, contract law, litigation, real estate law in some cases, and estate planning law. For example, a general practice attorney may offer you legal advice for tenants, which can help you determine what to do when your landlord does not follow the terms of your lease or you have a problem with your property.

If they cannot provide the immediate assistance you need with the issues you found yourself facing, they can point you in the right direction, helping you find a specialized attorney who can provide for your specific needs.

When should you contact a general practice attorney?

In general, you should contact a general practice attorney if:

  • You have a minor legal issue that you know you need to resolve quickly
  • You have a good relationship with an existing general practice attorney and need a recommendation from someone who can point you to a more specialized lawyer to handle your new concerns
  • You need someone to handle drawing up a minor contract or to review the terms of a contract
  • You need to manage a small claims issue
  • You need to write a simple will or other basic estate document

What does estate planning law cover?

Estate planning law encompasses all the details that go into covering the distribution of your assets following your death. An estate planning lawyer can help with a variety of factors, including:

  • Creating a will or trust
  • Asking vital questions about how you want to handle asset distribution and/or care for minor children following your death
  • Creating a legal power of attorney, which designates a specific individual to make legal decisions on your behalf if you, for any reason, cannot do so for yourself
  • Creating a medical power of attorney that designates a specific individual to handle your medical decisions if you cannot make them for yourself
  • Protecting your will to help avoid disputes after your death

What is encompassed by small claims law?

Generally, you will take a claim to small claims court if you have a small, comparatively minor dispute. Small claims court cover disputes involving minor financial claims. Each state may set its own limits for what can be covered in small claims court, with ranges varying from $2,500 in Kentucky to $25,000 in Tennessee. In most states, the limits for small claims court fall between $3,000 and $15,000. A small claims lawyer can give you a better idea of what to expect from your specific claim.

In addition to small claims related to lack of payment, small claims court may encompass:

  • Minor property damage
  • Failure to properly conduct repairs on an item, including an appliance or car, after being contracted to do so
  • Dog bites and small personal injury matters
  • Failure to adhere to the terms of a specific contract

What does personal injury and auto accident law include?

Personal injury law is a complex area of the law that may be handled by a general attorney, in the case of minor matters, or may require a specific personal injury attorney, who specializes in personal injury laws in your specific state. Personal injury law includes any time the negligence of one party causes serious injury to another.

When do I need a lawyer to start an auto accident claim?

Auto accident law in each state clearly designates how much liability a driver who commits an error on the road bears for an accident caused by that act of negligence. Some states have no-fault laws: laws under which both parties can seek immediate compensation for injuries sustained in an auto accident through their personal injury protection insurance. In other states, however, anyone who suffers an injury in an auto accident due to the other driver’s negligence will have the right to claim compensation through a personal injury claim.

You may need an auto accident lawyer if:

  • You suffered serious injuries of any kind in an auto accident. Many insurance companies will not automatically provide you with the full compensation you deserve following an auto accident, and you may need an attorney who can help you aggressively pursue the compensation you really deserve.
  • The insurance company that covers the party liable for your auto accident is making it difficult for you to get the compensation you deserve for damage to your vehicle.
  • There is a dispute regarding liability for your auto accident.
  • You have questions about your right to compensation after an auto accident.

What does accident law encompass?

Accident law encompasses every area in which one party’s negligence contributes to the serious injury of another. An experienced accident lawyer can help you seek the compensation you deserve for your injuries and, in many cases, hold the liable entity responsible for making changes that may prevent further serious accidents in the future.

You need an accident lawyer any time you suffered serious injuries due to the negligence of another party. A lawyer can help go over the circumstances that led to the accident, evaluate your injuries, and identify all liable parties for the accident as well as negotiating on your behalf, which may significantly increase the compensation you can receive for your injuries.

What is insurance law?

Insurance law governs insurance companies, including both insurance companies that may have to pay out for personal injuries and insurance companies that may have to pay out for specific types of property damage.

You carry insurance designed to protect you if you suffer unexpected challenges: car insurance to protect your vehicle, property insurance to protect your real estate investments, and renters or homeowners insurance to cover your possessions. Other parties carry insurance that is designed to protect both them and others who may suffer injury as a result of their negligence, including business insurance, medical malpractice insurance, and premises insurance. Any time an accident occurs, you will likely have to contend with the insurance company to get the compensation you deserve.

Insurance companies – though they exist to provide protection to people who may sustain serious losses due to natural disasters, the actions of another party, or circumstances beyond their control – may not always offer the full protection those parties deserve. Sometimes, insurance companies may try to pressure their clients or injured parties to accept a low settlement offer. Other times, they may hold back the compensation you deserve or try to delay your claim for as long as possible. In other cases, they may even deny coverage completely, trying to fit the event into an exception not covered by the policy.

If you find yourself struggling with an insurance company, a personal injury lawyer or insurance lawyer can help you better understand your rights and give you a better idea of how to fight for the compensation you deserve. Insurance law is complicated and is something that insurance companies know inside and out. Often, when you retain an attorney, the insurance company will change its stance and offer you more of the compensation you really deserve for your injuries.

Legal Practice: The Bottom Line

The various aspects of the law can be incredibly complex and difficult to manage. Fortunately, we’re here to help. We offer tons of resources that can help you learn more about your specific legal problem, when you need to call in an attorney, and what you should do while you wait to hear back about your claim. Need more information? Check out our library of resources.

Do you have specific legal needs? Are you ready to contact an attorney, but not sure about what options you may have or how to get in touch with the attorney you need? Use our free search tool to connect with an attorney near you who has the experience you need to help handle whatever legal issues you might face.

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