Exploring legal practice areas and practice settings

What’s the difference between a practice area and a practice setting?

  • practice area is typically the the area of law in which an attorney primarily focuses his or her career.  This is the area of expertise or specialty for an attorney.  For example, employment law, corporate law, or criminal law are each practice areas.

  • practice setting is the organization in which an attorney works. The most common practice settings are law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations.

As a law student, navigating legal practice areas and practice settings can feel like a maze.  A class or internship may spark your interest in one area, while a conversation with an attorney or attending an event may introduce you to another.  It can be a challenge to narrow down your interests and there simply isn’t enough time to give all of them a try.  We’ve compiled some key resources to help you learn more about the many practice areas and practice settings where attorneys build their careers.

Student Evaluations Database

Search a database of past summer internships where GW Law students have worked to get ideas on where you might like to work.  Search by geographic location, practice area, or employer type and get contact information for your peers who have experience in the areas of your interest.  GW Law Portal log-in is required to access this resource.

Research practice areas

*To access the resources marked with “*” students may obtain the password information by logging into law school portal.  The password information is on the Career Center page, under the Quicklink: “Log-in credentials and passwords for paid resources.”

General Practice Area Resources

The resources below will provide an overview of legal practice areas for students who are exploring and researching areas that may be of interest to them.  In addition, for students who have already narrowed down their areas of focus, several of the resources, such as Hg.org or Justia also provide links to relevant legislation, news, and articles for each of the practice areas. These are resources to help you to stay current in each of the practice areas, which will serve you well at networking events and interviews.

*To access the Vault Guide, you must register for a Vault account with your @law.gwu.edu email address.

Specific Practice Area Resources

The resources below include links to practice area specific job posting sites and professional associations. The resources are just a small sampling of practice area resources.  We strongly recommend that you begin with the general resources on the left and use this section only after you have researched and narrowed your practice area interests.  As always, there is no substitute with meeting with a career advisor and connecting with attorneys and professionals with expertise in the field.

Log-in credentials for EcoJobs is available here. (GW Law Portal Log-in is required)

Join the Career Center’s Government Contract Listserve by emailing gwlawcareers@law.gwu.edu.  This service is available to GW Law Students and Alumni only.

Research practice settings

*To access the resources marked with “*” students may obtain the password information by logging into law school portal.  The password information is on the Career Center page, under the Quicklink: “Log-in credentials and passwords for paid resources.”

Practice Setting: Government

Click for a tip on searching USA Jobs

Many government agencies will hire law students for law clerk and internship positions, as well as recent law graduates, but these positions are mixed in with lateral openings and are hard to find.  Use “Advanced Search” on the USAJobs website and use the following “occupational series” codes to narrow your search.

  • 0905 – Attorney (for general legal positions)
  • 1222 – Patent Attorney (for patent law positions)
  • 0526 – Tax Law Specialist
  • 0935 – Administrative Law Judge
  • 1102 – Contract Specialist
  • 0998 – Claims Assistant and Examining
  • 0996 – Claims Examining, Veterans
  • 0991 – Claims Examining, Worker’s Compensation
  • 0963 – Legal Instruments Examiner
  • 0347 – GAO Analyst
  • 0340 Program Manager (include ethics positions)

Practice Setting: Law Firms

NALP (The National Association for Legal Career Professionals) maintains a directory of legal employers containing information on more than 1,700 employers nationwide and on all types of legal employers.  The Directory allows for searches by law firm size, location and practice area and includes information on lawyer demographics, compensation and benefits, diversity and inclusion practices, and summer class hiring projections.

Enter your search parameters for your firms.  On the results screen, check off the mail merge boxes.  To save the list, you MUST enter your “@law.gwu.edu” address to avoid charges.  Each list you create must be saved with a unique name.  If the website is prompting you for payment, please contact the Career Center, as this service should be free for GW Law students.

The Careers Committee of the SBA at GW Law has compiled a list of small and medium law firms in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia.  Use the list to identify firms, practice areas, and local GW Law alumni working at these firms.  Viewing this list requires log-in to the GW Law Portal. (Note that this is a working document and will be finalized in April 2017).

Practice Setting: International

For a list of all of the international resources identified in each of the sections below in a single PDF, click here.

Global Jobs: Job posting site for jobs with NGOs, think-tanks, governments, and in the private sector.

PassportCareer: Global job-search platform providing access to a database of jobs and internships in over 200 countries, including the U.S., along with other resources for those interested in working abroad. To gain access to Passport Career you must log in with GW-specific credentials. See the Career Center portal page Log-in Credentials and Passwords for paid resources for log-in information.