The Different Branches of Law: An Introduction to Legal Specializations

Welcome to the world of law in the United States, where the legal landscape is as diverse as the country itself. From criminal law to contract law and everything in between, the U.S. legal system is a complex, ever-changing structure. This is why it provides an exciting and dynamic arena for legal professionals to specialize and make their mark.

Whether you’re interested in criminal, corporate, intellectual property, immigration, or any other field of law, it’s important to understand the different areas of specialization and their nuances.

So, let’s delve into the fascinating world of legal specialization in the United States and explore the diverse branches of law that build the American legal landscape.

The Three Basic Branches of the U.S. Legal System

The federal government is divided into three branches under the United States Constitution: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Each of these governmental branches is involved in the legal process differently in order to maintain a balance of power and ensure that the rights and interests of citizens are protected.

However, when we’re discussing the different types of laws that are voted on and created by these authorities, there are three main branches of the American legal system: criminal, civil, and administrative law.

Criminal Law: Protecting Justice and Public Safety

Criminal law is a cornerstone of the U.S. legal system, encompassing the rules and regulations that govern behaviors deemed harmful to society. The criminal branch seeks to maintain public safety, enforce social norms and hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Laws within this category are created and voted on by the urge to “defend the greater good” and maintain a stable society. Thus, a murderer isn’t prosecuted because of the tragic loss of one’s family, but rather because of the major importance of one’s life to society.

Some of the main offenses covered within this branch include:

  • Murder
  • Theft
  • Assault and Battery
  • Drug offenses
  • White collar crimes

Civil Law: Resolving Disputes and Protecting Rights

Civil law deals with legal matters between private parties, individuals, businesses, and organizations, usually in matters of contractual obligations and rights.

This branch of law focuses on resolving disputes, providing legal remedies, and protecting the rights of the entities due to actions or omissions of the other party.

Civil law encompasses a wide range of areas, such as contract law, tort law, property law, and many others. Here are some specific day-to-day examples of civil law cases:

  • Contract disputes
  • Personal injury claims
  • Property disputes
  • Family law matters
  • Employment disputes

Administrative Law: Internally Organizing Different Levels of Judicial Authority

Administrative law governs the activities of administrative agencies, which are governmental bodies authorized to carry out specific functions. These functions include rulemaking, enforcement, licensing, and adjudication.

Administrative law focuses on the actions of the government and the rights of those affected by these actions. Common areas of administrative law include environmental law, labor law, tax law, antitrust law, and intellectual property law.

Some typical administrative law cases may involve:

  • Challenges to agency decisions
  • Rulemaking processes
  • Enforcement actions
  • Other actions typically resolved through administrative hearings/judicial reviews

11 Types of Law Degrees and Specializations to Consider

Though criminal, civil, and administrative law are typically referred to as the main legal branches in many countries, there are other legal areas in which you may be able to specialize in the future.

1. Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is the foundation of the U.S. legal system, as it involves the interpretation and application of the U.S. Constitution — the supreme law of the land.

This branch of law focuses on safeguarding fundamental rights and liberties and includes cases that have a significant impact on society and influence public policy and opinion.

Some common constitutional law case examples are:

  • Freedom of speech, religion, and expression
  • The right to bear arms
  • The right to privacy
  • Due process rights

2. International Law

International law is a branch of law that deals with the legal principles and norms that govern the relations between states, international organizations, and individuals in the international community.

International law encompasses rules and standards that govern various aspects of international relations, including:

  • Treaties
  • Customary international law
  • International agreements
  • Diplomatic relations
  • State sovereignty, and other similar cases

Additionally, international law can be created through decisions of international courts and tribunals, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

3. Immigration Law

Immigration law in the United States governs the entry, presence, and legal status of foreign individuals into the country. It includes rules and regulations related to:

  • Visas
  • Green cards
  • Family-based and employment-based immigration
  • Naturalization
  • Assylym proceedings
  • Deportation

Another notable case example is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to certain undocumented individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children.

If you’re facing deportation or experiencing visa-related difficulties in the United States, feel free to contact the law offices of Spar and Bernstein for legal advice.

4. Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual Property law deals with the legal protection of creations of the mind, such as inventions, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. It involves the registration, enforcement, and defense of these intellectual properties.

For example, in the case of trademarks, companies can register their brand names and logos with the US Patent and Trademark Office to prevent others from using similar marks in a way that may cause confusion among consumers on the market.

Some typical case examples include:

  • Plagiarism
  • Copying logo features
  • False brand representation

5. Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law is a legal area that involves cases where individuals have suffered harm or injury due to negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of others.

Personal injury law allows injured individuals to seek compensation for their losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and similar damages.

It covers a wide range of cases, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Product liability cases

6. Military Law

Military law is a specialized area of law in the United States that governs the legal rights, responsibilities, and conduct of members of the armed forces.

It deals with a wide range of issues, including military justice, military administration, and rules of engagement during armed conflict.

Military law is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which sets forth a legal framework for discipline, conduct, and criminal offenses within the military.

Examples of military law cases can include court-martials for offenses such as:

  • Desertion
  • Insubordination
  • Misconduct

Military law also involves issues related to military personnel benefits, military tribunals, and military contracts.

7. Family and Juvenile Law

Family law encompasses legal matters related to family relationships and marriage, including:

  • Divorce
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Adoption
  • Domestic violence
  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Juvenile delinquency and justice, etc.

Family law may involve from state to state, but it always involves the legal rights and responsibilities that arise within the family circle, as well as marriage and child welfare.

8. Health Law

Health law consists of legal regulations and statutes that govern the healthcare system and the rights and responsibilities of healthcare providers, patients, and insurers.

Some major laws in the field include the Affordable Care Act, also known as “The Omabacare”, The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), Medicare and Medicaid, and other similar regulations.

Health law encompasses a wide range of issues, including:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Healthcare fraud and abuse
  • Easy access to healthcare services
  • Patient privacy
  • End-of-life care, etc.

9. Animal Law

This specific legal branch governs the more humane treatment of animals, their rights, and their welfare. It includes laws related to:

  • Animal cruelty
  • Animal rights and protection
  • Wildlife protection
  • The Treatment of service animals
  • Exotic animal ownership

Animal laws aim to protect the lives and welfare of animals by imposing more specific norms of acting from their human owners and their abuse by certain industries.

10. Employment and Labor Law

Employment and labor laws govern the relationship between employers and employees and aim to specifically define numerous aspects of this relationship to protect both sides of the arrangement, especially the worker from being exploited.

Labor laws include a wide range of legal regulations and statutes that protect the worker’s rights, ensure workplace safety, and prohibit discrimination and mobbing in the workplace.

Some of the most significant acts in the field include:

11. Corporate Law

If you want to cash out your education real soon, corporate law is the right specialization for you. The corporate legal branch focuses on the acts and statutes that govern the formation, operation, and dissolution of large corporations.

It often involves disputes regarding insider information and trade secrets, which are common for these large corporations, but the following cases are also included:

  • Corporate governance
  • Shareholder’s rights
  • Corporate liability
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Breach of fiduciary duty
  • Corporate dissolution and liquidation

To Sum Up

With a multitude of options ranging from criminal law to corporate law, intellectual property to immigration law, you have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a law degree specialization.

What drives one’s decision to specialize in a particular area of law? Is it passion, career prospects, personal values, or something else altogether?

The quest for the right legal specialization is a thought-provoking journey that leaves one pondering the possibilities. It’s a challenge that demands self-reflection, exploration, and careful consideration.

So, in the sea of legal options, which path will you choose to sail? The answer lies in the exploration of your unique passions and purpose, leading you toward a fulfilling legal career that allows you to make a positive impact on your community and society.