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As a law student, you can take electives that will prepare you to practice in any number of legal fields.
Though your career goals and interests will ultimately guide your decision, we've provided a quick rundown of some of the most popular specializations to let you know what's available: intellectual property law, patent law, constitutional law, first amendment law, criminal law, admiralty law, business law, environmental law, health care law and joint degree programs.
Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property (IP) law is a general category of law that deals with the acquisition and enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and one that has seen tremendous growth in the past decade. Intellectual property encompasses the exclusive rights to a registered idea, product, or name, and includes anything from words and symbols to internet domain names. Intellectual property law not only deals with unauthorized use of property and plagiarism, but also with the protection of image and personality through use of registered property.
IP law can traditionally be broken down into three subdivisions: patent, copyright, and trademark. While patent law focuses on inventions and technology, trademark law is designed to defend an individual's or a company's investment in any distinguishing name, symbol, or device. Copyright law deals with the protection of literary, artistic, and musical works.
Patents grant an inventor a limited period of exclusive rights to a human-made invention or an improvement on an existing invention, providing the United States Patent and Trademark Office deems it worthy of both technical and legal merit. The foundation for most patent law can be found within Title 35 of the U.S. Code, which allows for the protection of every aspect of a discovery, from the ornamental design to the processing methods. Constantly evolving technology has forced the scope of patent law to adapt in order to define what constitutes a human-made product.
In order to become a patent attorney, you must be admitted to practice before the courts of at least one state in the U.S., and must pass the patent bar exam which allows you to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent bar exam has a much lower pass rate than most bar exams, and requires that examinees possess strong technical backgrounds. Because of this, many patent lawyers have undergraduate (or even graduate) degrees in science or engineering.
Often considered one of the most broad and involved branches of law, Constitutional law requires nothing short of a crystal-clear understanding of the U.S. Constitution in order to understand its every possible interpretation and implementation. This topic of law is designed not only to preserve the relationships between state and federal governments (as well as the internal relationships), but also to protect the rights of the individual amidst these relationships as well. The "Constitutional" part of "Constitutional law" refers to not only the Federal Constitution, but state constitutions as well. Constitutional law draws heavily from rulings made in the Supreme Court.
First Amendment Law
Perhaps the most far-reaching amendment of the Bill of Rights, First Amendment law focuses on protecting citizens' rights to freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly against law enacted by Congress. The courts have taken this to apply to all of the federal government, and they interpret the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting First Amendment rights from interference by state governments as well. Litigation is made possible by the First Amendment's right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. First Amendment cases through the years have covered everything from book burning to prayer in schools to internet pornography.
Criminal law is probably the most visible of all of the areas of law, in terms of application to daily life and public portrayal. Criminal law revolves around governmental prosecution of anyone who is purported to have committed a criminal act, as defined by public law. An act cannot be classified as a crime if no precedent has been set by either governmental statute or common law, and suits between two individuals or organizations are considered to be civil, rather than criminal cases. In order for the state to win a criminal case, they must prove "beyond all reasonable doubt" that a crime has been committed.
Also referred to as Maritime Law, this body of law pertains to the regulation of navigation and shipping, both substantively and procedurally. Unlike many other law specialties, admiralty law has a very distinctive niche, and a very limited jurisdiction. United States admiralty law has evolved from the British admiralty law of colonial times, and much of Congress and the courts' energies are devoted to developing a uniform body of national and international admiralty law in order to smooth the progress of commerce.
Admiralty law is now under the jurisdiction of the federal district courts; they say that the ship's flag determines the source country of the law, which means each country is allowed to rule over their own ships and seamen, regardless of the waters (although U.S. courts may refuse to honor another country's law). Admiralty law covers such topics as shipping, navigation, waters, insurance, canals, and even piracy.
Much as it sounds, business law deals with any aspect of the law having to do with industry and commerce--from taxes and liability to licensing and trademarking. This is an extremely wide section of the law which forks off into numerous areas of expertise, many of which themselves differ based upon the size of the business and the stage of its development. Small-business law often focuses on the kind of legal counsel needed during the early years of a business, such as tax classifications, hiring employees, and the proper zoning and licensing needed to start a business. Corporate law is more likely to deal with the financial and structural status of an established company, as well as the provision of legal advice on day-to-day dealings.
Environmental law mostly stems from a group of federal enactments passed in 1970 that forced agencies and businesses to take into account the effect of their practices on the environment, as well as setting into effect laws and standards that would protect the environment from public and private actions. While the basic purpose remains the same, state laws have evolved throughout the years to also allow for adversely affected property owners to seek out reparations for environmental harms inflicted upon them.
Health Care Law
Since it is primarily the state's duty to maintain public health, most heath laws and regulations are state-based, that, in turn, often pass responsibility on to governmental agencies that have been created by legislative acts. Federal health law centers on the Department of Health and Human Services, which is ultimately in charge of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Health care law practice can also cover medical malpractice, licensure, patient rights, and bio-ethical policy
Joint Degree Programs
In addition to offering specialized areas of study, many law schools have instituted formal dual-degree programs. These schools, nearly all of which are directly affiliated with a parent institution, offer students the opportunity to pursue a J.D. while also working toward a Master's degree.
Although the J.D./M.B.A. combination is the most popular joint-degree sought, many universities offer a J.D. program combined with Masters' degrees in public policy, public administration, and social work, among others. Amidst an increasingly competitive legal market, dual degrees may make some students more marketable for certain positions come job time. Dual degree programs, however, should not be entered into lightly; they are indeed a lot of work.Return to top