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Legal Specialisations in the UK
Law in the United Kingdom
For most people, thinking about lawyers and the law conjures up images of judges, courtrooms and criminals on the stand. The common situation associated with the law is a court case where lawyers are working either for the defence or prosecution of people accused of committing crimes. TV and film often focuses on this part of the legal profession because it can make for dramatic entertainment but there is actually much more to the legal arena than just criminal court cases. The law is a huge subject that deals with almost every aspect of our lives. Though there are many lawyers and solicitors that deal with criminal defence and prosecution there are many more that specialise in different aspects of the law. As the law is so all-encompassing it would be pretty much impossible for a lawyer to be able to provide advice on all facets of the law. This is why most legal professionals will choose to specialise in a particular area of the law that interests them.
The key distinctions in the law are criminal/civil and public/private. Criminal law is probably most associated with the overall idea of ‘the law’. Criminal law is the backbone of maintaining law and order and it is also highly important for the principle of ‘protection of society’. People who break the law, those who have upset law and order or those who are a danger to society are all subject to punishment through criminal law. Criminal law solicitors will work to achieve the resolution for or punishment of the individual involved. Civil law can be seen as the other side of the coin to criminal law. It is used to resolve conflict and disputes between individuals or companies. A civil law case will often end with the party decided to be at fault having to make amends, such as through paying compensation or by resolving the issue.
The second main distinction in the law is between public and private law. Public law relates to the government and the state, it will ensure that the government and its related bodies will be lawful in terms of the way they are organised and the way they operate. Criminal law can be seen as a part of public law because a crime under criminal law is an action or offence against the state. Private law, is effectively the opposite of public law and is involved with disputes between individuals or rather than the state. Civil law, therefore, falls under private law. For those starting out in the legal profession it will be important to decide what kind of law you want to specialise in. Within the main categories of public and private law, criminal and civil, there are also a number of different areas that you can specialise in.
In terms of public law there are usually three main subsections, these are constitutional, administrative and criminal law. As explained above, criminal law is concerned with law and order and the safety of society. Constitutional law underlies how the United Kingdom is governed. It makes sure that the government acts and operates in a lawful way. Administrative law is similar in that governs how public bodies and administrative agencies, that are generally linked to the government, make decisions and function. Administrative law will usually involve judicial reviews and may apply to international trade or taxation. Depending on the situation, charity law and education law can also fall under public law - although they can also fall under private law. Education law can involve the process of converting a school to an academy or can be to do with the health and safety schemes implemented in a school. Charity law covers the regulation of charities and ensures that they are run in a legal manner.
Private law is arguably more diverse than public law as it can cover a variety of different subsections. As mentioned above civil law is an important part of private law. Within civil law a legal professional can choose to specialise in contract law, property law and family law among others. Contract law, as the name may suggest, covers contracts, agreements, deals and pacts between two or more parties. Contract law ensures that the terms of a contract are not broken and provides for the compensation owed when a contract is illegally broken or dissolved.
Property law covers every aspect to do with property and housing - e.g. the process of buying a new house, renting a property or selling one. Property law can also involve ‘conveyancing’, i.e. the transfer of legal title. Family law is a wide-ranging part of civil law and will cover most legal issues relating to families and relationships. Legal issues dealing with divorce, civil partnerships, wills and adoption are all part of family law. Aside from civil law, private law can also cover employment law - the terms of employment, unfair dismissal, health & safety, redundancy and the legal rights of employers and employees. Private law can also regulate the legal operation of businesses (commercial law) and can regulate anti-competitive actions by companies (competition law).
There are many other legal areas that lawyers and solicitors can choose to specialise in depending on their interests. These specialisations will be particularly related to a certain issue or area and may involve several different areas of the law. Human rights law will involve the legal issues surrounding complex issues such as unfair trials, freedom of speech, discrimination or unlawful imprisonment. Media law is closely linked to print media, telecommunications and digital media and may involve some knowledge of contract law and employment law. It can involve dealing with slander, libel or defamation of character.
Environmental lawyers will often work towards legally protecting the environment using environmental law to controlling human interaction and impact. Intellectual property law will deal with copyright infringement, patents and trademarks. As a legal professional you could even specialise in something very specific, such as maritime law which deals with disputes occurring on boats or at sea. There are so many areas of legal specialisation that it is possible for lawyers and solicitors to work in a niche that they enjoy and that suits them and their interests. If you are thinking of working in the legal arena you will need to think about what issues really grab your interest.