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Legal services are provided by lawyers and law firms and include preparation of legal documents, client representation, and consultation. Some industrial applications of legal services include intellectual property law (e.g., patenting, licensing, and trademarking), business law (e.g. incorporation and contract development), and criminal law.
A lawyer may be called upon to provide consultation or services for an individual or business. Some such situations include:
- Consultation for legal advice or the review of documents (e.g. wills, leases, and agreements).
- Mediation to help disputing parties reach a mutually-agreeable settlement.
- Arbitration to make a binding decision to settle a dispute.
- Preparation of legal documents.
- Representation of clients in negotiations, court, or arbitration.
Legal Systems of the World
Civil law is the most prevalent system of law throughout the world including much of Europe and South America. Authority is driven by core principles that are codified into a referable system. This may be a constitution or statute passed by a legislature. Civil law is also known as continental European law.
Common law is also known as case law or precedent. A decision made by a judge in a court of law binds future decisions to be made by the same reasoning. Lawyers and judges refer to decisions made in previous cases in order to make a point. About one-third of the world uses common law including the United States, Canada, and Australia.
Religious law uses a religious system or document as the source of the law. It is used in Vatican City and other religious states.
Pluralistic systems combine the aspects of two or more types of law. India, for example, combines civil, common, and religious law.
Types of Law
The work of a corporate lawyer is related to the formation, operation, and dissolution of corporations. A corporate lawyer is responsible for helping to protect industry and commerce. Areas related to corporate law include:
- Articles of incorporation
- Securities and antitrust
- Intellectual property
- Labor, employment, and immigration
Intellectual Property Law
Intangible assets such as discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, designs, and literary, musical, and artistic works can be protected by obtaining exclusive rights. Intellectual property lawyers acquire and enforce such protection. Intellectual property can be protected with patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
- A patent gives exclusive rights to an inventor or assignee for a limited time period after details about the object are publicly filed. The term "patent pending" warns potential infringers that an application is in process. In the United States, patents are issued by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which issued its 8,000,000 patent in 2011.
- A trademark is a brand name and may consist of a word, name, symbol, or device used to distinguish an organization's products or services. It is indicated by the use of one of three symbols: TM, ?, or ®.
- Copyright gives a creator the exclusive right to limit others from copying the work for a limited period of time. A copyright is a personal property that can be willingly passed, bought, or sold by the owner. The copyright notice may be indicated by a symbol ©, the word "Copyright" or the abbreviation "Copr." Sound recording copyright is indicated with a symbol ?.
Some patent lawyers have undergraduate degrees in science or engineering to better understand the products or services being protected.
Image Credit: USPTO
This body of law deals with interpretation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional laws govern the relationships between the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. Human rights may be covered under this type of law by a bill of rights.
A criminal lawyer defends or prosecutes those who have committed crimes. There are serious potential consequences for a person accused of committing a crime.
Admiralty Law (Maritime Law)
This type of law deals with the regulation of navigation and shipping. Included are marine commerce, shipping, navigation, sailors, and the transportation of goods or services by sea.
The goal of environmental law is to reduce the impact of human activity. It stems from U.S. federal enactments passed in 1970 that require agencies and businesses to protect the environment. International treaties (conventions), statues, regulations, and other legislation operate to regulate environmental law. Two aspects of environmental law are:
Pollution control and remediation
- Resource conservation
Health Care Law
Health care law serves to maintain public health. This type of law deals with issues including medical malpractice and patient rights.
Types of Legal Practice Settings
- Law firms are comprised of lawyers available to perform legal work for individuals or businesses.
- Private business is a type of in-house counsel acting on behalf of an organization.
- The government employs legal professionals as prosecutors, public defenders, and military attorneys.
- Public interest lawyers take on cases significant to the general public such as low-income groups and public policy.
- A lawyer working in the judiciary may serve as a clerk for a judge.
- Lawyers in academia teach, administrate, and write scholarly articles and books.
An expert witness, also known as a professional witness or judicial expert, is someone with specialized knowledge of a subject. An expert witness is someone who has gained expertise through education, training, skill, or experience. The knowledge an expert witness has about a particular subject is beyond that of the average person. Expert witnesses include scientists, engineers, insurance adjusters, and accident reconstructionists.
The knowledge of an expert witness may be officially relied on to form an opinion about a piece of evidence or a fact. An expert witness may be called upon to:
- Determine the cause of failure in a device.
- Give an opinion on the severity of an injury.
- Compare two items to ascertain their degree of similarity in intellectual property cases.
Legal software products are used in the legal profession to automate processes, create forms, and to access court databases and other related applications.
The terms lawyer and attorney are used interchangeably in the United States. A lawyer is a person that has been trained in the law but may not be practicing, while an attorney was trained and is a practitioner of the court.
Admission to the practice of law is governed by rules and regulations of each state. Requirements to practice law in the United States include:
- Be an individual of good moral character.
- Be a resident (or employed) in the state.
- Graduate from an accredited/certified law school.
- Pass a two-part bar exam:
- Multi-state Bar Examination tests one's knowledge in basic areas of the law
- Second portion focuses specifically on the basic laws of the state
- Pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) which is sometimes required to test knowledge of professional ethics.
- Take an oath declaring obligations to the court, state, and country as an officer of the court.
- Register with the court.
- Receive a license to practice.
- For what purpose do you need a lawyer?
- Does the lawyer or law firm have experience providing this type of service?
- Are the fees charged by the service or hourly, and what are they?
- Is the lawyer recommended by the bar association?