The practice of law dates back to ancient times, and the different types of legal practices is believed to have originated during the last days of the Roman Empire. During the era of Emperor Claudius, the first formal lawyers were advocates who represented claimants and the accused.
Just before the Roman Empire dissolved, legal practitioners were required a certain amount of education before they were allowed to announce their expertise in the handling of certain matters, and an early regulatory body similar to a bar association emerged along with the use of notaries.
In Europe, the 13th century saw a certain organization of the court system into ecclesiastical, royal and civil. Legal professionals assigned to certain courts were considered to specialize in the matters handled before that legal body, and in the City of London they were subject to oaths, admission requirements and membership fees.
Legal Field Determination Based on Academic Degree
In the United States, an early determination of the field of practice can be seen in the law school system. For example, students who pursue a Juris Doctor degree will become familiar with civil, criminal and international law procedure during their first year of law school. The rest of their academic program will be dedicated to specializing in one of those fields.
A Master of Laws degree calls for a deeper specialization in the fields of taxation, corporate affairs, human rights, environmental protection, intellectual property, etc. When attorneys are admitted to a jurisdictional bar association, they may be assigned to a division in accordance to their field of study and practice.
In common law systems, the major legal practices are: Criminal, civil, appellate, and constitutional. One of the major differences between the criminal and civil systems is that there is no expectation of civil defendants becoming incarcerated, although it may happen through the doctrine of contempt of court.
Appellate and constitutional law attorneys may handle either civil or criminal cases, and they are often considered to be highly skilled since the cases they argue are reviewed by judges appointed to the bench by virtue of their wisdom.
Within the civil law field, attorneys can further specialize in various practices. Some of the most common include: Family, business, admiralty, patent, antitrust, entertainment, technology, real estate, and banking.