A tourist was lost in New York looking for a famous classical music concert venue called Carnegie Hall. He stopped a passerby and asked “How do you to get to Carnegie Hall ?” The passerby answered “Practice, practice practice.” The same can be said of lawyers trying to succeed in their profession. What a lawyer does every day at work is practice law. And the business enterprise of a lawyer is also called a law practice.
When lawyers work together in the same office they often form a partnership or a limited liability company. We generally refer to these types of associations as a “law firm”. You may recall the John Grisham novel called "The Firm”. The practice of a law firm is usually centered around a certain area of specialty. Let’s take a look at some different areas of legal specialization.
Corporate Law - This is a very general description of a business related law practice. It can include all aspects of the legal needs of a business including forming a business and advising the owners or operators of a business. In fact, if someone says that they are a corporate lawyer, they have not given you very much information. You might want to say soemthing like “Oh really ? What kind of corporate law do you practice ?” Then you might get a good answer like “I specialize in M & A (Mergers and Acquisitions)” or “I am in-house counsel for ...” This indicates that the lawyer works in the legal department of a company. Commercial Law usually refers to a practice that centers on business contracts and transactions. Other business law specialties include banking law, insurance , securities law (stocks and bonds, etc.), construction law, and bankruptcy law (insolvency problems).
Intellectual Property (IP) - Patents, trademarks and copyright.
Family Law - The legal needs and problems associated with marriage, divorce and children.
Personal Injury, Products Liability and Medical Malpractice - Lawyers who practice in any of these areas may be referred to as Plaintiff’s lawyers. They represent people who have been injured and sue those that they believe are responsible for the injury.
Labor and Employment Law - the rights and relationships between employers and employees.
Real Estate - law related to the buying and selling of land, houses and buildings.
International Law or International Trade - you know.
Criminal Law - crime and punishment. Note, however, that government lawyers who prosecute crime usually refer to themselves as Prosecutors, not criminal lawyers. And lawyers who defend those charged with a crime, call themselves Criminal Defense Lawyers because “criminal lawyer” could be confused with a “lawyer who is a criminal”.
In fact, many people believe that the language of lawyers is always confusing and that the way we talk is criminal. Why we can’t we just use the same plain English as everyone else ? Next week we will take a virtual visit to a law office and learn some legal vocabulary for every day usage.
Have you ever wondered what those initials after the name of a lawyer or law firm mean ?
Here are some common abbreviations you will see...
Bernard Dane Fotthingham, Esq. - Esquire is a title of courtesy for lawyers
Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, PC - Professional Corporation. A form of limitied liability company especially for professionals like lawyers, doctors, accountants etc.
Brainard & Assoc., LLP - Associates (we don’t ever abbreviate associates with “Ass”.) and Limited Liability Partnership, a business organization where the partners liability for the partnership debts is limited.
Souam and Winne, PLLC - Professional Limited Liability Company - a newer form of limited liability company for professionals.
Test your legal English now !