Researching Areas of Law [Part 2]


It can be very difficult to decide what area of law you want to specialise in. There is an array of choice when it comes to practising law from corporate to planning and infrastructure, no two layers are the same. This is the second instalment in a three-part thread aiming to provide an insight into the vast world of legal sectors.


The boundaries of environmental law are ambiguous.

Choose this if you have…

  • Analytical skills and are good at managing change.

  • The ability to adapt to a constantly shifting legal landscape and are comfortable working on numerous and varied matters.

  • A deeply held belief in the importance of protecting the environment.

Environmental lawyers advise on the requirements of environmental law for the protection of air, soil and the water environment, flora and fauna and habitats, management of waste and the possible liabilities that may flow where regulations aren’t complied with or harm is caused as a result of pollution.

Environmental law deals with multiple layers of law, policy and guidance. The role requires a commercial understanding of how risk is managed by organisations.

As a trainee

Trainees’ tasks are varied; however, they involve more legal and policy research than is generally included in other seats.

The work is often topical, and it may encompass EU and international law.

Trainees may also assist with environmental due diligence on corporate transactions.

Environmental teams in larger law firms are usually small so there are typically more opportunities to take on higher levels of responsibility than in other training contract seats.

Overall, environmental law is intellectually rewarding.

Types of law practised

  • Statutory regulation.

  • Tort.

  • Contract.

  • Criminal.

  • Public administrative.


Family law suits those with an aptitude for advocacy.

Choose this if you have…

  • The empathy to ensure clients will put their trust in you.

  • An aptitude for advocacy.

  • Negotiation skills.

  • Tenacity – clients need to know you are on their side. Sometimes that means standing up to an angry client or managing their expectations.

  • The analytical skills to find undisclosed assets in a set of accounts or bank statements.

  • Good organisational skills. It’s sometimes difficult to plan your day in advance or get to the tasks at the bottom of the pile.

Family solicitors advise people on financial matters when their relationships break down or issues that affect their children.

Solicitors have 20 to 30 active cases at any one time, ranging from pre-relationship advice – such as cohabitation and pre-nuptial agreements – through to dealing with complex financial divorce proceedings.

A love of advocacy is necessary; while solicitors try to resolve matters outside the court system, you will need to represent your client in court from time to time.

A typical divorce case takes four to six months, but the financial aspects take longer.

Family lawyers are not office-bound. The job involves travelling to see other lawyers, for training days or to meet clients.

The upsides to family law include the opportunities to litigate in court and the collegiality of working in teams. Also, family lawyers deal with a broad spectrum of clients.

As a trainee

There’s a lot of early responsibility, and exposure to courts and clients, for trainees and solicitors.


  • Attend client meetings with a partner or associate;

  • Speak to clients on a day-to-day basis;

  • Draft court papers;

  • Write letters;

  • Prepare statements;

  • Put together briefs to counsel (barristers) and;

  • Support colleague in court.

Types of law practised

  • Family.

  • Insolvency.

  • Employment.

  • Property.

  • Private client.

  • Pensions.


Empathy is an essential attribute – clients have often had traumatic experiences.

Choose this if you have…

  • Empathy, as clients have often had traumatic experiences.

  • Negotiation skills, in order to ensure that sensitive cases have a positive outcome where possible.

  • Good time-management skills, in order to balance out-of-office commitments such as inquests and court visits alongside your workload.

Healthcare law involves both litigious and non-litigious cases.

  • Litigious aspects often involve medical negligence cases, which can take the form of clinical, dental or hospital negligence claims.

  • Non-litigious, transactional work also comes up in this area of practice, for example, the NHS has huge property portfolios and is the largest employer in Europe.

Solicitors generally work on cases individually to ensure that a good client relationship is built.

Empathy is an important skill for solicitors in this area to have, as clients may have been through a traumatic experience.

The ability to explain complex legal issues simply to ensure that they are properly advised is a key skill as the client may not have encountered this area of law before.

The type of client depends on whether the solicitor works for a claimant or defendant firm.

  • Claimant firms act on behalf of the patient or their family.

  • Defendant firms represent healthcare professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and hospital trusts.

Work is largely office based, with regular court hearings, inquests or home visits.

As a trainee


  • Attend meetings with clients and senior solicitors;

  • Draft documents such as schedules of loss under supervision;

  • Use research tools to consider the value of a case and report this information to senior colleagues;

  • Liaise with new clients and;

  • Attend conferences, court hearings and inquests alongside their colleagues.

Types of law practised

  • Tort.

  • Contract.

  • Human rights.

  • Product liability.

Human Rights

You’ll need resilience, persuasion and advocacy skills to be a successful human rights lawyer.

Choose this if you have…

  • An analytical mind. Some of the legislation is complex and requires close scrutiny to identify the salient points.

  • People management skills. Human rights lawyers work with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and must have the communication skills to deal with them effectively in an open-minded way.

  • Resilience, persuasion and advocacy skills. Human rights lawyers may have to convince those who have different political or social views.

  • Empathy and patience. Human rights lawyers often work with the most vulnerable members of society.

  • An awareness of international affairs. Human rights issues often span frontiers: good knowledge of another language may help.

Human rights lawyers often find themselves at the centre of legal affairs, challenging and reforming socially outdated or unacceptable standards while providing a legal framework for the cases involved.

Human rights law calls for individuals who are intellectually able, resilient and committed.

Human rights lawyers will act for either private individuals, public organisations such as charities, or government departments. Human rights lawyers act for the government to ensure that departmental policies are compatible with human rights law.

The case matter is diverse and includes issues such as discrimination in the workplace, prisoners’ justice, privacy rights, employment and commercial disputes.

Human rights lawyers have the opportunity to travel abroad, particularly to Strasbourg where the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) holds hearings and also to Brussels.

Human rights law is a diverse and dynamic practise fuelled by increasing public interest. Therefore, as an area of work, it is buoyant and stable.

As a trainee

Trainees work as part of a human rights team and their responsibilities are dependent on incoming work.

Typical trainee work includes:

  • Researching;

  • Document drafting;

  • Attending court and liaising with barristers and;

  • Advice on submissions to ministers if the trainee is working for the government.

Types of law practised

  • Human rights.

  • Public.

  • Data protection.

  • European.

  • Tort.

Insolvency & Restructuring

A fast-paced practice area with opportunities for trainees to use initiative and take early responsibility.

Choose this if you have…

  • The ability to work in a team – restructuring lawyers work closely with specialist departments and other professional advisers, e.g. financial advisers.

  • Commercial nous – restructuring lawyers often get involved in shaping the deal, and so need to understand what is driving the restructuring and any commercial impediments to getting the deal done.

Restructuring and insolvency lawyers act for insolvency practitioners, companies in financial distress, and their creditors and other stakeholders.

Typically, a full-blown restructuring or insolvency process will last six to twelve months, but especially complex matters can last for years.

There is an opportunity to travel abroad to attend restructuring discussions or foreign court hearings.

One of the highlights is getting exposure to a great variety of businesses. It is really interesting and constantly challenging to learn about different industries and the issues that affect them.

As a trainee

This is a fast-paced department with plenty of opportunities for trainees to use initiative and take responsibility from an early stage.

Many transactions will require input from specialist teams and local counsel. A trainee might be responsible for tracking these workstreams and updating the rest of the core team and the client on progress.

Other common trainee tasks include:

  • Reviewing and reporting on finance documents;

  • Preparing corporate structure charts and;

  • Drafting insolvency forms.

Clients expect restructuring lawyers to understand what is happening in the market, and so a trainee might also get involved in industry focused groups to assist with researching trends.

Types of law practised

  • Banking.

  • Capital markets.

  • Company.

  • Contract.

  • Insolvency.

Insurance & Reinsurance

The hours are more predictable than other departments.

Choose this if you have…

  • The ability to think about abstract ideas and how they can play out in practice.

  • A practical and commercial approach. Policyholders want to receive a payout when things go wrong and insurers want to ensure they help those policyholders who have a legitimate claim; that often requires compromise.

Insurance law involves the transferring of risk from the policyholder to the insurer through contracts.

It is about assisting insurers to develop insurance products and helping insurers comply with regulatory requirements and helping policyholders get insurance and making a claim.

Typical transactions

There are two types of work: contentious and non-contentious.

  • Contentious work is where parties, often an insurer and a policyholder, disagree about whether a policy should payout. Or a policyholder could allege that their broker was negligent.

  • Non-contentious work involves advising insurers on new insurance products and compliance with regulatory requirements.

Solicitors can have multiple matters at any one time. The type of team depends on the type of work – the larger and more complex a matter is, the bigger the team will often be. Insurance matters allows policyholders to manage their risk and make investments. Where a policyholder makes a claim, say for business interruption or personal injury, it is usually because their life or business depends on it.

As a trainee

Non-contentious work requires analysing contracts and FCA rulebooks, drafting documents and advice notes.

Contentious work requires trainees to help correspond with other parties and meet court and arbitral deadlines.

Whether it is an advice note or litigation case, trainees can expect to be involved in legal research.

Types of law practised

Insurance is a specialist area. While insurance policies are contracts, there is a body of insurance statutes, regulatory rules and case law. Insurance can cover a range of risks, which means that you are likely to come across case law from different sectors, too, such as employment, construction, shipping, property and professional services.

Intellectual Property

Lawyer act for IP-intensive businesses such as pharmaceutical and communications businesses.

Choose this if you have…

  • Teamwork skills.

  • Energy.

  • Enthusiasm.

Intellectual property (IP) lawyers assist businesses with acquiring, protecting and using IP such as patents, brands, copyright, designs, databases and confidential information.

Solicitors in this sector assist with licensing and other commercial agreements involving IP and litigation.

IP lawyers generally maintain a better work/life balance than in other areas of corporate and commercial law. For trademark lawyers, the work rate is fairly constant.

This is a social sector and there are many opportunities to meet lawyers from different firms or companies both in the UK and internationally.

As a trainee

The varied nature of the sector means that there is always plenty of interesting work for our trainee solicitors – they are not standing by a photocopier all day or stuck on a document review for weeks. A trainee will usually have overall conduct of some smaller files as well as assisting with all other aspects of the work that we undertake.

Type of law practised

  • Intellectual property.

  • Contract.

  • Competition.

  • Tort.

International Dispute Resolution

Resolving disputes between parties in different countries.

Choose this if you…

  • Are interested in other countries and cultures.

  • Enjoy writing – to tell a compelling story, lawyers tend to draft relatively lengthy but focused briefs.

  • Are analytical and enjoy investigation complex factual and legal issues.

There are three major advantages to parties resolving their dispute before a neutral arbitral tribunal rather than litigating in the national courts of one of the respective parties:

  1. Arbitration is generally a confidential process, with the notable exception of investment treaty arbitrations against states.

  2. Enforcing an arbitration award internationally is easier than enforcing a court judgment.

  3. The parties usually get to participate in the appointment of the members of the arbitral tribunal.

Lawyers generally work on two types of cases.

  1. Firstly, where the contract between two or more parties provides for international arbitration in the case of a dispute.

  2. Secondly, investor-state arbitration, which resolves disputes between individuals or companies and governments.

Users of arbitration include the following:

  • Mining;

  • Oil and gas;

  • Energy;

  • Construction;

  • Transportation;

  • Telecommunications;

  • Services and;

  • Manufacturing.

Working in teams of five to ten lawyers, lawyers typically have three cases on the go at any one time – each lasting between three and five years on average.

As the cases are long and follow a strict schedule, you tend to know in advance when your busy periods will be on that case, allowing you to plan ahead and achieve a relatively good work/life balance.

As an associate, you can expect to travel roughly four times a year whereas partners travel more frequently for business development reasons.

The best part about being an international dispute resolution lawyer is the intellectually stimulating, complex, cross-border work in a diverse range of industries.

As a trainee


  • Participate in client phone calls;

  • Attend witness interviews;

  • Hearings and client meetings and;

  • Draft witness statements and briefs.

There are plenty of opportunities for early responsibility.

Types of law practised

  • Contract.

  • International.

Life Sciences

Working with a range of clients from different industries every day.

Choose this is you have…

  • The ability to turn abstract concepts into practical recommendations.

  • Analytical brainpower.

  • Strong skills in written work for drafting.

  • Good judgement and common sense.

There is a broad array of contentious work in this sector as life sciences cover anything with a public law angle to it; for example, judicial reviews against regulatory authorities such as the European Medicines Agency.

Within life sciences, there is a lot of work in public procurement given that the main purchaser of medicines and medical devices is the National Health Service, which is a public organisation.

The non-contentious side involves significant advisory work with client queries that are diverse and complex.

There is also a significant amount of transactional support work given the highly regulated nature of our clients. Clients tend to be major pharmaceutical companies, and large food and cosmetic brands.

In the regulatory practice, you will often be handling a number of smaller projects over time, which can mean four or five matters per day on average and again there is a good mix of litigation, transaction or advisory work. Some cases can take two or three years. transactions are more concentrated and intense, perhaps lasting a couple of months. Most advisory work lasts a week or two.

In general, the team for a particular matter will consist of a partner, an associate and a trainee, although there is sometimes the need for more than one associate.

Life science work is mostly office-based with some out-of-office meetings and occasional international travel.

The area is challenging as it can be quite technical; you don’t necessarily need to be a scientist, but you do need good analytical skills and attention to detail.

As a trainee

Trainees get involved with drafting legal submissions, drafting memoranda and analysing the law.

Trainees’ views and opinions on pieces of law are really valued and, as long as your supervisor is comfortable with the level of responsibility, you can take the lead on matters.

Types of law practised

  • Regulatory law.

  • Public and administrative law.

  • Data privacy law.

  • Competition law.

Oil & Gas

Working in this area means being involved in high-profile projects such as petrochemical and oil refineries.

Oil and gas solicitors are involved in all aspects of the oil and gas sector, ranging from M&A transactions involving oil and gas assets, the financing and development of oil and/or gas projects, to high-profile disputes between key players in the oil and gas space.

There is a lot of client interaction from an early stage, and as you will be working with clients for many months, friendships tend to develop – it’s a real time-player environment.

Transactions vary greatly in time to complete and in complexity. Typically, the projects we work on tend to last between six and eighteen months. The hours remain fairly predictable.

Travelling is common. Junior lawyers are offered a lot of opportunities to travel, and typically trainees working on projects at an international firm have a well-stamped passport.

The best part of being an oil and gas solicitor is getting to work on high-profile projects, which are often in the news.

Sector-specific commercial knowledge is important for trainees in this practice area. During the process of a transaction, the commercial aspects are often as important, if not more so, than the black letter law.

As a trainee

Trainees tasks are varied but include drafting and research, as well as conditions precedent tasks.

Conditions precedent tasks offer early responsibility to trainees, who are often allowed to run that part of the project with limited supervision. As such, there is plenty of scope for client contact.

Types of law practised

  • Contract.

  • Banking and finance.

  • Corporate.

Hopefully, you have found this article insightful, leaving you more confident to dive into a legal career in a lesser-known area of law. Look out for my third and final article which continues to delve deeper into the different areas of law.


Hannah Roleston is a final year law student at the University of Dundee. During her time at university she is an active member of the University of Dundee Mooting Society and spends her free time playing hockey. Hannah is an aspiring solicitor with a passion for Commercial Awareness.

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