The Juris Doctor is a generalist degree and the license to practice law allows an attorney to practice in any specialty in which he or she can provide competent representation. To prepare students for the bar exam and provide them with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills for their professional careers, St. John’s requires candidates for the Juris Doctor degree to take at least five core elective courses from a list of ten, an advanced civil procedure course, and two writing experiences.
Nevertheless, the increasing complexity of legal practice and the demands by clients of profession-readiness by lawyers have led to increased specialization in the legal community. As a result, students should consider developing expertise in one or more career pathways.
This guide is intended to provide students with a series of well-trod pathways to the profession. It brings together the courses, experiential learning opportunities, and networking resources they will need to be profession-ready and succeed in their job searches in common pathways. These pathways are not set in stone; they can and should be adapted to individual students’ interests. For example, a student with an interest in white collar criminal defense should take courses, gain experience, and expand his or her professional network in both criminal law and corporate/securities law. Likewise, a student with an interest in international tax issues should chart a path that includes aspects of both the international practice and tax pathways.
Each pathway contains an introduction to the practice area, a list of courses, sample clinics and externship placements, and bar associations and other networking resources. The courses are broken up into four categories: foundation courses, which students should take early in their upper-level years; advanced electives, from which they should choose as many as possible; writing courses, many of which may satisfy the Advanced Practice Writing Requirement; and skills courses. Each pathway also contains a suggested schedule to follow.
Throughout their academic career, students should seek out the advice of the faculty members and career counselors in their areas of interest for further guidance.
This guide was a collaborative effort among faculty, administrators, and career development counselors. We hope that students find it useful in charting their path to the profession.
Dispute resolution plays a role in virtually every kind of legal practice. Lawyers of all kinds work with people in conflict and, consequently, must develop both the skills of dispute resolution and an understanding of the many processes available within the American legal system. Increasingly, lawyers need to have a basic familiarity with transnational dispute resolution, as well.
The two most common types of civil disputes litigated in American courts are commercial lawsuits and personal injury lawsuits. Many lawyers build careers in these areas, from representing plaintiffs who have suffered serious injuries to representing corporations in complex litigation to representing insurance companies facing liabilities of all kinds. The Civil Dispute Resolution pathway confers the skills and procedural knowledge that are essential for successful practice in those areas. But the relevance of this pathway extends far beyond those paradigm areas. The pathway encompasses tools that all lawyers engaged in dispute resolution need. The foundational elements of this pathway are thus applicable for lawyers entering a dispute resolution practice in any substantive discipline.
The trial is the focus of much popular culture about lawyers. Yet in reality, trials are rare in our legal system today—probably less than 5% of all lawsuits filed nationwide. Almost 70% of civil lawsuits are settled, and the remainder are typically resolved by non-trial adjudication. The cost, duration, and complexity of twentieth-century litigation have made trials an expensive last-resort. An increasing number of disputes are resolved through alternative processes, such as mediation and arbitration. Transnational commercial disputes are resolved overwhelmingly through negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.
As a result of this evolution, lawyers today need to study and master a range of processes. All lawyers should become proficient negotiators and should know when and how to use mediation and arbitration. Trial advocacy remains crucial, because the right to a jury trial ensures that trials remain the final option for the overwhelming majority of disputes. And pre-trial discovery, conducted with a view toward a potential trial, is often a pre-requisite to effective settlement. Trials thus “cast a shadow” over the rest of the dispute resolution landscape, giving them an importance that transcends their frequency. Appellate practice and the skills it requires are also particularly important for litigators in New York because of New York’s uniquely expansive right to appellate review.
Further, lawyers engaged in civil dispute resolution should have a solid understanding of both Federal and New York State courts, of how to untangle the conflicts of laws that permeate our multi-jurisdictional system, and of the administrative processes that government agencies resort to when citizen-government conflicts arise.
Beyond course work, St. John’s offers a range of practical opportunities to put the skills and knowledge of dispute resolution into practice. In this practice area, as in all, writing skills and legal acumen are essential, and so participation on a journal is strongly encouraged. Students on journals are encouraged to seek out paper topics addressing dispute resolution. Students interested in the Civil Litigation pathway should also strongly consider enrolling in a clinic or pursuing an externship providing exposure to the real world of civil litigation. Finally, students should seek out one or more co-curricular activities, such as the Dispute Resolution Society, the Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute, or Moot Court, in order to hone the skills required for professional success.
Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both internally and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. The professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interest through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.
American Association for Justice (formerly ATLA)
American Bar Association - Mass Torts Committee
Asian American Bar Association of New York - Litigation Committee
Brooklyn Bar Association - Medical Malpractice, Tort LawConnecticut Trial Lawyers Association
Nassau County Bar Association - Insurance Law, Defendant's Round Table, Plaintiff's Round Table
Nassau County Women's Bar Association - Torts/Medical Malpractice Committee
New Jersey State Bar Association - Insurance Defense
New York City Bar - Tort Litigation, Litigation, Medical Malpractice, Products Liability, Small Law Firms
New York County Lawyers' Association - Insurance Law, Tort LawNew York State Trial Lawyers' AssociationNew York State Academy of Trial Lawyers
New York Women's Bar Association - Litigation Committee
Westchester County Bar Association - Trial Law
Entertainment, Arts, Sports Law SocietyNew York LitigatorTheodore Roosevelt American Inn of Court
Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.
* Students considering a career in New York civil litigation or dispute resolution in New York may wish to take New York Practice early in the 2L year. All others should take the course in the 3L year, as it is excellent preparation for the New York bar exam.
See your Career Development Office counselor to obtain a list of employers in this pathway and for assistance in conducting targeted mailings.
Lawyers who practice civil rights law follow the path of dedicated members of the bar who answered the call to serve society. By enforcing and defending the laws that guarantee individuals the right to receive equal treatment and to be free from discrimination, civil rights lawyers help shape public views, as well as the law. The goal of civil rights lawyers is to advance equality for all people regardless of race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or other recognized classifications. These lawyers work in a variety of practice areas, including education, employment, housing, voting, and criminal justice. Examples of civil rights include the right to privacy; the right to vote; the right to freedom of speech, press, and assembly; and freedom from involuntary servitude.
Many civil rights laws originate in the U.S. Constitution, other federal legislation, or federal case law. Most states have also passed civil rights statutes or have civil rights laws in their constitutions. Civil rights laws can also originate from municipalities. Accordingly, as a practitioner, you may litigate in federal or state courts or appear before federal, state, or local agencies. You may also engage in policymaking and public advocacy. Because the duties of civil rights lawyers vary greatly–even within each practice area, there are many opportunities to exercise different skill sets.
Civil rights lawyers work in government, the public interest sector, and private practice. Many public interest outfits hire lawyers who have been in practice for at least a few years and do not typically employ lawyers directly from law school. Civil rights lawyers often find immeasurable satisfaction and fulfillment in knowing that they are working for the public good.
American Bar Association
New York State Bar Association
New York City Bar
Lawyers who practice consumer law work in the private sector, government, and for public interest legal organizations, such as Legal Aid.
Many attorneys make a living by representing consumers in their disputes with merchants and financial institutions. Some of these practice in firms—typically smaller firms—or as sole practitioners. Many lawyers who represent consumers feel particularly good about their work because they believe they are helping protect consumers from corporations. Put another way, the attorneys feel they are protecting the weak from being ripped off by the powerful. Some lawyers are motivated by a sense of indignation at the treatment their clients receive. Their clients often have compelling stories to tell, which aids in persuading juries. Because these stories are of interest generally, they sometimes generate press attention.
Many consumer protections are statutory in nature, and so attorneys representing consumers must be knowledgeable about consumer protection statutes. The cases themselves seem to go to trial more than some other types of litigation, and so consumer attorneys also need to be capable trial lawyers. But of course, most civil cases settle, and so the lawyers also require negotiation skills.
Because many statutes providing for consumer protection oblige defendants to pay the attorneys’ fees of successful plaintiffs (e.g., the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Truth in the Lending Act), many of these attorneys are able to make a good living. Some also bring class actions, which can also be quite remunerative, though class actions have become fewer since many large providers of consumer services (e.g., banks, cell phone companies) have begun using mandatory arbitration clauses barring class actions in their consumer contracts. Because attorneys handling such matters get paid only if they win or settle the case, they do take some risk in their practices. Many consumer lawyers specialize in some area of consumer protection, such as automobile litigation (e.g., lemon law claims, deceptive advertising in car sales, bait and switch practices engaged in by dealers), foreclosure litigation, or debt collection.
Private lawyers also represent consumers on matters on which the defendants are not subject to fee-shifting statutes. In such cases, lawyers must enter into arrangements with their clients to pay their fees. Those arrangements may provide that the lawyer will be paid only if the attorney is successful, in which case the money comes from the amount that the attorney recovers, or that the attorney will bill a specified sum or an hourly rate. Because consumes typically do not have substantial resources, such matters may be less remunerative.
The National Association of Consumer Advocates (“NACA”) is an organization for private lawyers who represent consumers and public interest and governmental attorneys engaged in consumer protection. While many lawyers representing consumers practice by themselves, NACA members are able to network and seek advice via the many listservs operated by NACA and the National Consumer Law Center (“NCLC”). Each year NCLC runs a conference that lasts several days for the purpose of educating consumer lawyers on developments in the field; the conference in recent years has drawn thousands of lawyers. NACA and NCLC also offer several conferences throughout the year on more specialized topics. In other words, even consumer lawyers practicing alone can have a support network of other such lawyers.
Many lawyers working with consumer law represent businesses that deal with consumers. These lawyers obviously include the litigators who defend the cases brought by the lawyers discussed above. These litigators—who practice in a variety of settings, including large firm, in-house counsel, midsize firms, etc.—are usually paid by the hour or by flat fees. In addition, many lawyers represent debt collectors.
Lawyers representing businesses that deal with consumers also include many transactional attorneys. For example, many advertisers have their ads vetted by attorneys who specialize in advertising law to make sure they do not violate federal or state deceptive advertising laws. Banks employ lawyers to draft disclosure forms, such as the forms you may have received from a credit card issuer, a bank where you maintain an account, or a student lender. These jobs are often quite remunerative.
Many governmental entities also work with consumer law. Among them, at the federal level, are the Federal Trade Commission (dealing with deceptive advertising, privacy issues, spam, among other matters), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumer lending, bank accounts, etc.), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Other federal agencies may not have consumer protection as their primary mission but have some jurisdiction over consumer matters. For example, the Federal Communications Commission enforces, along with the FTC, telemarketing fraud statutes while the Department of Justice also brings some consumer cases. Most states have at least one agency which brings consumer protection cases. In New York, for example, the Attorney General’s office has jurisdiction over most consumer disputes, but the Department of Motor Vehicles handles automobile matters and the Banking Department enforces state banking laws against state-chartered banks. Many localities also have a consumer protection agency. For example, New York City has a Department of Consumer Affairs. Similarly, Nassau County has such an office, as do some municipalities within Nassau County.
Lawyers working in these offices have varied functions that depend on the mission of the agency and sometimes its politics. Some offices have attorneys who bring cases on behalf of injured consumers. Some, like the Federal Trade Commission and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs have internal administrative law judges who adjudicate cases brought by agency attorneys. Some also have lawyers who draft regulations and supporting materials, model forms, and the like and so never litigate.
Because many of these agencies are not well funded, they lack the resources to pay attorneys as much as the attorneys could make in private practice. But many of the attorneys enjoy the feeling that they represent the public and so have more freedom to act in the public interest rather than simply doing what a client wants.
Many communities have public interest organizations that represent consumers. Such organizations include Legal Aid, MFY Legal Services, Queens Legal Services and Public Citizen. Attorneys for such organizations are rarely well-paid, but they enjoy the sensation of knowing that they are helping those who need it. They may, for example, help a homeowner who was the victim of predatory lending keep her home or help a consumer who is being hounded by a debt collector. Often their clients are poor.
American Bar Association – Consumer Protection Committee, Private Advertising Litigation Committee, Privacy and Information Security Committee
New York City Bar – Consumer Affairs Legislative Committee, Consumer Bankruptcy Project
Queens County Bar Association – Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project, Foreclosure Prevention Clinic: Legal Aid, Queens Legal Services and JASA, CLARO (Civil Legal Advice Resource Office)National Association of Consumer Advocates
Lawyers who work in corporate law represent business organizations or the federal and state regulators who oversee certain aspect of business conduct. Business organizations hire lawyers for many reasons but, when we speak of corporate or securities law, we are normally speaking of either business transactions or regulatory law.
Business transactions consist primarily of the purchase and sale of parts or the whole of businesses and the raising of funds to carry out these purchases and sales. There are many specialties within corporate and securities law. Some lawyers specialize in certain types of purchase and sale transactions such as mergers and acquisitions or private equity and leveraged buyouts. Other lawyers specialize in certain types of fund raising transactions such as initial public offerings, debt offerings, project finance, leveraged leasing, real estate investment trusts, and a multitude of other financing techniques. Regulatory law plays a role in many types of business transactions and even a predominant role in certain types of fund raising such as initial public offerings.
Regulatory lawyers tend to specialize in one area of securities regulation. Some regulatory lawyers work in government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and quasi-governmental self-regulatory organizations such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Government agencies exist on both the federal and the state levels. Other regulatory lawyers work in private firms and in-house legal departments (i.e., legal departments inside business organizations themselves). As the federal regulatory scheme is based on industry types, specialization for regulatory lawyers tends to be by industry. For example, some lawyers are specialists in the laws involving broker-dealers and others in the laws involving asset managers such as mutual funds. Much of the work of regulatory lawyers is in providing advice to regulated businesses about complying with regulations or, on the government side, in creating new regulations or responding to inquiries from businesses about existing regulations.
Law firms, business organizations and regulators all employ corporate and securities lawyers. Business organizations and regulators tend to hire lawyers who have already worked in private practice. And, especially on the regulatory side, lawyers often move back and forth between law firms or businesses and government agencies, often several times in their career.
One of the things you should think about as you consider a career in corporate and securities law is how much you wish to specialize. Especially in large law firms, you may find yourself doing the same type of transaction over and over again.
One of the big differences between transactional work and litigation is that there is little research. Rather, a typical transactional lawyer finds him or herself drafting documents (often specialized types of contracts), discussing these drafts (electronically, over the telephone and occasionally in person) with his or her clients and opposing counsel and then revising the documents based on these discussions. Another big difference is that there is a very different flavor to transactional work than there is to litigation. The usual goal is to get the transaction done in a way that favors your client. But both you and opposing counsel share the overriding goal of completing the transaction; therefore, you and opposing counsel tend to be friendly and cooperative adversaries. The final big difference is that most transactions do not go on for years as even the smallest litigation can. Three months is a long time to complete most transactions.
On the regulatory side, there is more of an adversarial culture between the regulators and the regulated industries. In addition, regulatory lawyers tend to do much more fact investigation and legal research than many transactional lawyers. Finally, some regulatory lawyers draft pieces of persuasive writing such as no action requests, comment letters on proposed rules or explanations of proposed and final rules. These types of persuasive writing bear a close relationship to court briefs.
Another distinction in corporate and securities law practice is between in-house counsel, who are employees of a business organization, and out-side counsel. In-house counsel get to know their employer’s business intimately and often will handle a much wider range of legal matters, especially in small in-house legal departments. Out-side counsel tend to specialize in particular types of transactions.
In-house counsel will often deal with corporate governance issues involving the responsibilities of boards of directors and executive officers. As part of a transactional practice, outside lawyers also may deal with corporate governance issues. These come up especially often in advising business organizations when they are first formed and in mergers & acquisitions.
Finally, some outside counsel primarily work with small businesses. In this context, the out-side counsel will find him or herself providing legal advice on almost any legal issue that a business can encounter, everything from tax, to real estate, to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues, to all of the types of legal issues normally handled by out-side counsel for larger business organizations.
American Bar Association – Business Law Section, Committee on the State Regulation of Securities, Litigation Section, Securities Litigation Committee, Commercial and Business Litigation Committee
Asian American Bar Association of New York – Corporate Law Committee, In-House Counsel CommitteeAssociation of Corporate Counsel – Corporate & Securities Law Committee
Brooklyn Bar Association – Commercial Law Committee
Federal Bar Association – Securities Law Section
International Bar Association – Corporate & M&A Law Committee
Nassau County Bar Association – Commercial Litigation Committee, Corporate, Banking, and Securities Law Committee
National Association of Bond Lawyers – Securities Law & Disclosure Committee
National Bar Association – Corporate Law Section
New York City Bar – Corporation Law Committee, Futures & Derivatives Regulation Committee, Securities Litigation Committee, Securities Regulation CommitteeNew York County Lawyers’ Association – Corporation Law Committee, Futures & Derivatives Committee, Securities & Exchanges Committee
New York State Bar Association – Commercial and Federal Litigation Section, Committee on Securities Litigation and Arbitration, Committee on the Commercial Division, Corporate Counsel SectionPublic Investors Arbitration Bar Association
Westchester County Bar Association – Corporate and Commercial Law Committee
Corporate and Securities Law Society
Lawyers who practice criminal law work in both government and the private sector. Prosecutors, who are government attorneys, bring criminal actions against persons accused of crime. They are found at every level of government—city, county, state, and federal—and are known by varying titles depending on the jurisdiction (e.g., “Assistant District Attorneys,” “Assistant U.S. Attorneys,” “Assistant Attorneys General”). Prosecutors often serve at the pleasure of an elected official. Most prosecutors begin at the county level; only a few attorneys each year are accepted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Honors Program, which is generally the only way that new attorneys can work as a federal prosecutor. Prosecutors generally begin their careers handling misdemeanors and then work their way up to felonies. An average day for a prosecutor might involve courtroom litigation, deciding on charges to bring in a case, interviewing police officers, preparing witnesses for trial, negotiating plea agreements with defense attorneys, or covering a criminal court part. Some prosecutors only handle appeals and represent the state before appellate courts; these attorneys spend much of their time researching and writing briefs.
The vast majority of criminal defendants in the United States are unable to afford to hire an attorney to defend them.. The United States Constitution, however, guarantees indigent criminal defendants the right to appointed counsel in all felony and the vast majority of misdemeanor criminal prosecutions, both state and federal. Many State Constitutions contain a similar guarantee. Consequently, most criminal defense work in the United States is done by court-appointed counsel. Many defense attorneys work for a public defender organization that is created by state or local government to provide the indigent defense services required by the Constitution. Others work for non-profit organizations, such as the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York, that have government contracts to represent indigents in criminal cases. In many jurisdictions, criminal defense lawyers who work in small private law firms or as solo practictioners are members of a panel of qualified lawyers who are appointed by the court to represent indigents on a rotating basis. Criminal defense lawyers are also found in large law firms that have white-collar criminal defense practice groups, representing corporations and businesspeople who are charged with economic crimes, usually in federal court. Many such lawyers are former federal prosecutors.
The average criminal defense attorney spends most of his or her day in court litigating clients’ cases and negotiating possible plea agreements with prosecutors, or outside of court, interviewing clients either in the lawyer’s office or at the local jail where the client is being held, investigating his clients’ cases, researching applicable law, and writing motions on behalf of the client. Some criminal defense attorneys also specialize in appellate litigation, either working for an organization that provides appellate representation for indigents or in private practice, as a member of a panel of lawyers who do criminal appeals.
Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both at St. John’s and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. Professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interests through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.
American Bar Association – Criminal Justice Section
Brooklyn Bar Association – Criminal Court Committee, Criminal Law SectionBronx County Bar Association – Criminal Court CommitteeNassau Criminal Courts Bar AssociationNassau County Bar Association – Criminal Court Law and Procedure CommitteeNew York State Bar Association – Criminal Justice Section
New York City Bar – Criminal Advocacy Committee, Criminal Courts Committee, Criminal Justice Operations Committee, Juvenile Justice Committee
New York County Lawyers AssociationNew York Criminal Bar AssociationQueens County Bar AssociationWestchester County Bar Association – Criminal Justice Section
Criminal Law Society
Family Law practitioners work in a variety of settings and courts, and cover a multitude of subject areas which relate to children and families. Attorneys with a family law practice can handle divorce, separation, civil unions and domestic partnerships, pre-nuptial agreements, adoption, custody and guardianship issues, child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, international child abduction, assisted reproduction, and other areas relating to the creation, maintenance, protection, and dissolution of families. Family matters are largely governed by the states, and so most family law practice takes place in state courts. (In New York State that includes Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, and Family Court.)
Family law practitioners can handle cases as part of the matrimonial department of a large firm, in small partnerships, or also, commonly, as solo practitioners. Some specialized public interest attorneys, such as those working in Family Court handling abuse, neglect, and juvenile delinquency cases, work for organizations such as the Legal Aid Society, Children’s Law Center, the Center for Family Representation, or Lawyers for Children. Others can become certified to receive assigned counsel cases directly from the Court and are paid a standard rate per case set by the legislature. Still other Family Court attorneys work for the City, prosecuting child abuse or juvenile delinquency cases.
Attorneys in private practice typically handle matrimonial, custody, and other fee-paid family law matters. Attorneys in a private matrimonial practice typically handle various types of cases and issues concerning domestic relations, including pre-nuptial agreements, adoption, guardianship, divorce, custody, visitation, spousal and child support, and equitable distribution. Matrimonial practice areas can be the primary practice area of a small firm or a separate practice area in a larger firm. A large number of matrimonial attorney are solo practitioners. Some are assigned by courts to represent children, and their fees are paid by the parties. Attorneys in this area of law spend significant time in court and often have substantial client contact. It would be useful to develop interviewing, negotiation, drafting, writing, and litigation skills to practice in this area.
Public interest lawyers can specialize work relating to children and families. They can handle abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, and indigent matrimonial cases, including divorce, custody/visitation, guardianship, child support, and related matters. Public interest family lawyers can start out working for the City as child protection or juvenile delinquency prosecutors, or for organizations such as Legal Aid, the Children’s Law Center, or the Center for Family Representation, as lawyers for children or parents. These lawyers might eventually transition to a different aspect of the organization’s practice (such as appeals, or special litigation), or might move on to a private practice, which could include membership in the assigned counsel plan. This high volume poverty-law based practice is fast-paced; lawyers can litigate multiple hearings on the same day, and are handling full blow trials within weeks, not years, of starting. Most employers provide an organize training period for new attorneys, but familiarity with trial skills and oral argument, negotiation, interviewing, and legal writing is advised. This practice provides for significant client contact, and opportunities to collaborate interdisciplinarily with doctors, social workers, psychologists, and others involved in family supervision and treatment.
American Bar Association – Family Law SectionNassau County Bar Association – Adoption Law, Family Court & Procedure, and Matrimonial Law Committees
New York City Bar – Matrimonial Law Committee, Family Court & Family Law Committee, Children and the Law Committee, Council on Children
New York County Lawyers Association – Matrimonial Law Section, Family Court & Child WelfareNew York State Bar Association – Family Law Section
Family Law Society
Education Law Society
Children's Rights Society
Spurred by globalization, the scope of international law has expanded with the proliferation of international tribunals, bilateral investment treaties, international environmental rules, as well as the increasing vitalization of human rights law. This internationalization of law in turn has led to a similar internationalization of the legal profession. Lawyers assist clients who come from, work in, and engage in activities in jurisdictions throughout the globe. Clients purchase goods from foreign suppliers, execute cross-border mergers, litigate before foreign and international courts and arbitral tribunals, and pursue international human rights and environmental claims before domestic, foreign and international courts and agencies. Studying international and comparative law is a way to prepare for practice in a world in which national borders have become far less significant than in an earlier era and in which knowledge of U.S. law alone will no longer suffice.
Any legal specialty becomes an international practice when multiple national jurisdictions apply to a problem. Any legal counselor becomes an international legal counselor when the organization she represents engages in international activities. Criminal law, civil litigation, corporate transactions, real estate financing, labor and employment law, and family law are some examples of practice areas where knowledge and experience of international and foreign law are helpful tools in a lawyer’s repertoire. In addition, new lawyers with interest in international law and issues of globalization can embark on a career path with the government, such as the U.S. military Judge Advocate General (JAG) program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or clerkships on the U.S. Court of International Trade. In addition to working as a lawyer, legal training can be useful preparation for work as a policy analyst in a state or federal agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Further, the United Nations and its affiliated agencies offer opportunities for legal and policy work on issues of peace, security, international development and human rights.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also provide opportunities for working in the field of public international law. Groups might focus on global human rights work, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Human Rights First, or undertake projects concerned with international environmental law, such as Greenpeace and the Center for International Environmental Law, or be concerned with peace and security issues, as in the case of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security or the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Security.
As with all areas of law, professional membership organizations can be a way of learning more about the law and meeting experts in fields that are of interest. Student and young professional memberships are available in the American Bar Association (International Law Section, International Human Rights Section), the American Society of International Law (ASIL), and the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA). In addition, the New York State and New York City Bar Associations have committees dedicated to topics such as international organizations, international law, foreign law, and international human rights. These all provide opportunities to learn more about current developments in the law and participate in broader legal research and reform projects.
Students often say that they want to study “international law,” but when asked what specifically interests them, they are not sure. Before selecting courses and discussing career advice with your professors and counselors, it may be useful to describe what some commonly-used terms refer to.
International law has traditionally been described as including the legal principles governing the relationships between nation states. It broadly includes the law that governs all those who participate in international relations – states, international organizations, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, and even individuals (such as those who invoke human rights protection or commit war crimes).
This general definition is sometimes subdivided into private international law, concerning relations between individuals and private entities such as companies, and public international law, concerned with the law governing nation states and international organizations. A related term is the foreign relations law of the United States, which is not actually international law, but U.S. domestic law governing how international law is incorporated into the laws of the United States at the national and state level and how international law may or may not be invoked in federal or state courts.
Comparative law, by contrast, is the study of the similarities and differences among domestic legal cultures.
And, to top it all off, there are specific substantive areas, such as international business transactions, international tax law, international environmental law.
You can take classes in all of these areas at St. John’s.
The survey course International Law, a core elective, is useful to any international practitioner as it considers the sources of international law itself and the structure of the international legal system. It is the basic introduction to public international law, although some areas of private international law are also covered. The course focuses on the analysis and interpretation of the sources of international law, such as treaties and custom, and how international law affects and is affected by actors such as nation states, international organizations, private enterprises, and individuals. Considerable emphasis is also placed on the interplay of international law and the foreign relations law of the United States. The course includes a survey of selected substantive areas in international law such as human rights, international criminal law, the use of military force, and the management of the global economic system
If you are primarily interested in being a counselor to business enterprises, International Business Transactions (IBT) and International Tax are key classes. IBT introduces the major legal issues that arise in doing business across national boundaries. Consequently, this course covers topics in both private international law and public international law. Among the topics to be considered are the international sale of goods and services, foreign investment, technology transfer, national, regional and international regulation of international trade, extraterritoriality of economic regulations, and planning for cross-border dispute resolution.
Future international commercial litigators should consider, in addition to International Business Transactions, classes such as Conflicts of Law, International Litigation and International Commercial Arbitration. Conflicts of Law, a core elective, studies the resolution of problems that arise when legal matters have a relationship to more than one state within the United States or to the United State and one or more foreign nation. Topics covered include the circumstances under which courts will adjudicate disputes (jurisdiction), the recognition of judicial decrees by other states (recognition of judgments), and the criteria for determining the substantive law applicable to multistate transactions (choice of law). Although U.S. lawyers tend to use the term “private international law” to refer to the law concerning transactions of private parties across national borders, most other countries (and European countries in particular) use the term “private international law” to refer to what U.S. lawyers call “conflicts of law.” International Litigation explores selected procedural issues affecting foreign litigants in the United States, U.S. citizens litigating in foreign jurisdictions, and special problems which arise in multi-party complex litigation. There will be an emphasis on comparative law analysis. International Commercial Arbitration examines the ways in which private parties from different national jurisdictions invoke private arbitration as means to avoid domestic court adjudication of cross-border disputes. This course examines the law and policy of arbitration as a mechanism for the resolution of international commercial disputes, emphasizing topics such as arbitrability, the selection of arbitrators, choice of law, and enforcement of awards.
Students who would like to pursue work in international human rights or other public advocacy may want to consider courses such as International Human Rights, International Criminal Law, and International Environmental Law. Those interested in international law enforcement or security issues would want to include National Security and the Law and/or Counterterrorism Law in their curriculum
These are just some of the core courses and electives offered that “bring the world to St. John’s” and help prepare students for international legal practice. But these courses only scratch the surface. There are many more electives, externships, practica, and co-curricular activities in international and comparative law than you can possibly have time for. It is important, therefore, to think through what type of career you would like to have and choose carefully which courses to take.
Keep in mind that to be a good international lawyer, you must build on a solid foundation of American legal expertise, so do not neglect key domestic law classes. For example, anyone who wants to do international transactional work should take courses in Business Organization, Securities Regulation, and Tax.
Besides the Law School’s global curriculum—that is, “bringing the world to St. John’s”—the Law School brings “St. John’s to the world” by expanding the opportunities for our students to gain overseas experience. The heart of this initiative has been establishing study abroad programs. Students can take summer classes in our Rome and Paris campuses, take part in “travel courses,” such as Transactions in Emerging Markets, which are taught in Queens but include a one week overseas travel component during spring break, or spend a semester abroad in a “practicum,” such as the NATO Practicum that places students in a NATO office in Belgium.
Cross-Border Transactions and International Business CounselingInternational Dispute Resolution and LitigationNational Security and International Law EnforcementPublic International Law and Human Rights
Some students may be interested in non-lawyer jobs in international business, government service or non-governmental bodies. A law degree can be great preparation for a career in the diplomatic service (U.S. State Department, United Nations), the federal government (Dept. of Homeland Security, Defense Department), lobbying groups (international trade councils, industry groups) and human rights advocacy groups (Catholic Charities, Human Rights Watch). Transnational corporations – including large management consulting firms and other service providers – see a law degree as valuable preparation for management professionals.
Talk with the Career Development Office to explore how you can put your international and comparative law experience to work for you in seeking out non-legal professional positions.
Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both at St. John’s and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. The professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interests through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.
American Bar Association – International Law Section, Human Rights SectionAmerican Branch of the International Bar AssociationAmerican Society of International LawAmnesty InternationalInternational Law Students Association
New York City Bar – International Law Committee, Council on International Affairs, Immigration & Nationality Law Committee, Foreign and Comparative Law Committee, UN CommitteeNew York County Bar Association – Foreign & International Law Committee
New York State Bar Association – International Section
International Law Society
Multi-Lingual Student Association
Intellectual property is a diverse area of practice. Intellectual property law establishes legally enforceable property rights in various intangible things: technology and inventions (patent and trade secret law), works of expression such as books, music, and films (copyright law), and brand names and symbols (trademark law). With some limited exceptions, intellectual property law is federal law. In the modern economy, there is considerable demand for attorneys who specialize in transactions and litigation concerning intellectual property, and most attorneys who advise business clients are likely to run into intellectual property issues in their practice from time to time.
Intellectual property lawyers are a subset of commercial lawyers, and the types of institutions in which they work are similar to those in which other civil litigators and transactional lawyers work (private law firms and in-house legal departments, in particular). Salaries of intellectual property lawyers are comparable to those of other attorneys in these institutions, and they tend to vary with the size of the institution in question. In addition, there is a small but increasing number of nonprofit organizations engaged in advocacy and impact litigation relating to intellectual property, and there are a small number of government positions available within the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the United States Copyright Office, and on Congressional staffs (though all of these positions tend to be highly competitive).
Among law firms, there are many firms that specialize in intellectual property practice areas exclusively, and other firms that maintain a practice in one or more intellectual property fields as part of their general transactional and/or litigation practices. Some specialized practice areas include:
Importantly, only one of these specialties—patent prosecution—requires any formal technical training beyond the JD and admission to a state bar (though some employers that do not exclusively focus on patent prosecution nevertheless require or strongly prefer such technical training).
Intellectual property practice can be further subdivided into various areas of specialty, typically organized around particular types of clients and their needs. Some examples are set forth below:
Patents are integral to companies ranging in size from small start-ups to global giants and with products areas as diverse as pharmaceuticals, computer software and hardware, biotechnology, agriculture, cosmetics, and solar energy (to name a few). Patent lawyers are retained for a variety of purposes, from counseling clients on patent infringement and licensing issues, to helping prepare and prosecute U.S. patent applications, to coordinating with foreign counsel to help clients obtain foreign patents, and more generally, to informing clients about the vagaries of U.S. and foreign patent law. Recently, the demand for lawyers with expertise in the area of patent law has surged, due in part to the 2011 America Invents Act, which substantially reformed the U.S. patent system. Patent lawyers specializing in patent litigation help companies enforce and defend their patent rights in a variety of jurisdictions, including federal district courts, the Federal Circuit, and the United States International Trade Commission. While a science background can be helpful for pursuing a career in patent law, it is not necessary for many areas of patent litigation and counseling.
Lawyers who work in entertainment, media and/or arts law practices draw upon their expertise in copyright and trademark law, as well as in other legal areas, such as laws relating to publicity and privacy rights, defamation, and false advertising. They provide an ever-evolving range of services in the digital economy, and they are increasingly asked to advise on the international implications of contemplated business activities. Media lawyers typically start their careers at law firms of varying sizes. At this stage, lawyers try to seek out any work that might enable them to develop skills and client contacts in the desired fields. This foundation will greatly help them to move in-house (for example, at music, publishing, technology or telecommunications companies, or at licensing clearinghouses); to IP boutique firms; or to specialized departments in larger firms. These early years are also critical for building standard litigation or corporate law skills, which form the backbone of a media or arts law practice. On the litigation side, for example, lawyers draft and respond to cease and desist letters, engage in full-fledged litigation, and negotiate settlement agreements that relate to charges of copyright infringement in “old” and “new” media. On the transactional side, for example, lawyers negotiate and draft licensing, branding, development, and distribution agreements. In recent years, lawyers have been called upon to provide counsel on many sorts of new media issues, from drafting a company’s social media policies to reviewing websites before they are launched to the public.
Many small- to medium-sized businesses face intellectual property issues as they grow and develop. From concerns over employees taking valuable proprietary information to a competitor, to protecting the value of a company’s investments in branding and marketing, to negotiating the pitfalls of e-commerce, to nurturing a company from start-up to sale of the business, nearly every business client will require legal advice from an attorney who understands intellectual property law. Such understanding is often important in drafting employment contracts, as well as agreements between a client and its customers or partners. The ability to register and maintain a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office will be valued by many business clients. But perhaps most importantly, a familiarity with intellectual property issues will enable a general business lawyer to recognize when a client is confronting an intellectual property issue, and will be able to either develop sufficient expertise in that issue to advise and represent the client or will know to recommend that the client seek out the services of a specialist.
American Intellectual Property Law Association
New York Intellectual Property Law Association
Copyright Society of the USA
International Trademark Association
American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law
New York State Bar Association Intellectual Property Law Section
National Association of Patent Practitioners
NYC Bar Committees:
Nassau County Bar Association Committees
Intellectual Property Law Society
Entertainment, Arts, & Sports Law Society
Antitrust Laws and Competition
Clinic or externship in intellectual property law
Continue pro bono work
Advanced electives in intellectual property law
Continue pro bono work
Clinic or externship in intellectual property law
Robert J. Sein
Vincent DiLorenzoJeremy Sheff
Real estate law practice encompasses both transactional real estate practice and real estate litigation practice. Attorneys often specialize in one or the other in most firms and practice settings, but some attorneys are involved in both transactional and litigation work, especially in small or mid-size law firms. Attorneys engaged in real estate practice work in a wide variety of practice settings. There are real estate attorneys or practice groups in law firms of all sizes, from large global law firms to small firms or sole practitioners. Real estate attorneys can also work for companies with significant real estate holdings or substantial involvement in real estate financing; title insurance companies; federal, state and local government agencies (including agencies involved in affordable housing initiatives or economic development initiatives); and nonprofit organizations (including those which focus community redevelopment, fair lending or affordable housing issues). Such companies, agencies and organizations tend to hire attorneys who have already worked in private practice.
Since virtually all types of individuals and organizations have interests in real estate (including as owners, purchasers, investors, developers, lenders or tenants), the universe of potential clients for a real estate lawyer is especially broad. Clients may include private individuals and families; private equity, sovereign wealth and pension funds; real estate investment trusts; financial institutions; investment banks; real estate management companies; non-profit organizations; and government agencies, among others.
The following is a brief summary of transactional real estate practice and real estate litigation practice. Note that, while the various areas of real estate delineated below are useful constructs for purposes of understanding the breadth of real estate law practice, there are no hard-and-fast boundaries between these areas in the real world. In fact, many real estate lawyers have built practices that straddle multiple areas. There are, for example, plenty of commercial real estate attorneys who handle both “equity” and “financing” transactions.
Real Estate Transactions
Transactional real estate lawyers advise clients in connection with real estate transactions, including drafting, negotiating and closing real estate deals on behalf of their clients. Transactional real estate lawyers may focus on either commercial transactions (more common at mid-size and large firms) or residential transactions (most common for sole practitioners or at smaller firms).
Commercial real estate transactions include such diverse matters as purchases, sales and tax-free exchanges of commercial and residential properties, (re)development projects, leasing, the formation and management of condominiums and cooperatives, and joint venture investments. These transactions also include real estate financing activities such as mortgage loans, mezzanine loans, preferred equity, mortgage backed securities (MBS), real estate investment trusts (REITs), and workouts and restructurings of such financings. Commercial real estate lawyers often concentrate their practice on either “equity”-side or “financing”-side transactions. In addition, some commercial real estate lawyers choose to focus on a particular niche practice area, such as condominiums or MBS, or to focus on the representation of a particular type or class of client, such as private equity funds, REITs, lenders or borrowers. A substantial number of real estate attorneys concentrate their practice on the highly specialized area of zoning and land use. Generally speaking, commercial real estate lawyers spend a large amount of time reviewing, negotiating and drafting agreements necessary to effectuate real estate transactions, such as leases, mortgages, and joint venture operating agreements; coordinating the closing of real estate transactions; and advising clients on all manner of legal issues relating to real estate.
Residential real estate transactions include the purchase and sale of homes (condos, coops and houses), and other matters relating to residential real estate, including leases, insurance, and building permits. Many residential real estate lawyers couple their real estate practice with a trusts and estates or general corporate practice to better serve or expand their client base. Generally speaking, residential real estate lawyers spend a lot of time negotiating purchase and sale agreements for residential properties, overseeing closings, and advising clients on legal issues that may arise in connection with their homes.
Real Estate Litigation
Real estate litigators represent their clients in connection with matters such as mortgage foreclosures, actions for specific performance of purchase and sale agreements, construction contract disputes, commercial and residential landlord-tenant litigation, environmental related cases, and tax reduction (tax certiorari) proceedings. Real estate litigators sometimes specialize in one area of real estate litigation. Some common specialties are construction litigation, landlord-tenant litigation and tax certiorari proceedings. Generally speaking, real estate litigators spend a lot of time doing legal research, drafting memoranda and court pleadings, negotiating with opposing counsel, and appearing at court hearings and trials.
One of the things you should think about as you consider a career in real estate law is how much you wish to specialize. Many real estate attorneys start their careers as generalists, allowing them to gain exposure to a variety of areas in their initial years of practice. A real estate attorney who starts out as a generalist could choose to pursue one or more specialties later in her career, at which point the choice could be made with the benefit of substantial experience.
All students interested in real estate are encouraged to consult with the Director of the Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law, as well as their Career Development Officers, in connection with their career planning. The Mattone Institute is St. John’s focal point for real estate law. Its principal mission is to prepare aspiring real estate attorneys for practice after graduation. The Mattone Institute coordinates real estate course offerings, administers the Real Estate Law Fellowship Program, and coordinates special real estate-focused events throughout the school year, including site visits, roundtable discussions and networking events. In coordination with the Career Development Office, the Mattone Institute also offers career development assistance to students interested in this area, including resume and cover letter review, mock interviews, curriculum planning, and job placement assistance.
The aspiring real estate attorney should master the governing legal principles applicable to a variety of real estate transactions, from basic residential purchase transactions to complicated commercial real estate transactions and financing. Most real estate law is state law, though federal regulations such as the Fair Housing Act and banking regulations, do come into play. You will learn these principles in the advanced real estate courses, i.e., Real Estate Transactions; Condominiums, Cooperatives & Homeowner Associations; Land Use Planning; Real Estate Finance; Construction Law; Commercial Real Estate Leasing; Real Estate Development; and any other real estate electives that come to be added to the curriculum.
Real estate law practice is also interdisciplinary. In any given transaction or litigation, multiple areas of substantive law can come into play, including, in particular, trusts and estates, environmental, tax, corporate and bank finance, bankruptcy, and corporate law. Hence, certain non-real estate courses are recommended for this pathway.
The core electives in Business Organizations and Basic Federal Personal Income Tax are very useful for all real estate practitioners because real estate investors are often business entities, and clients are always interested in the tax implications of their transactions. In addition, a large number of real estate attorneys are also involved in estate planning and therefore the core elective in Trusts and Estates is recommended.
Students could also consider the following additional advanced courses: Accounting for Lawyers and/or Business Basics (useful for students with little business background, as real estate attorneys are expected to understand basic business concepts), Creditor’s Rights (questions of real estate law are often intertwined with questions of bankruptcy law, particularly in a down market), Environmental Law (environmental issues regularly arise on real estate deals), Secured Transactions (real estate financing transactions are often secured with non-real estate collateral), Insurance Law (real estate lawyers may encounter insurance law issues in connection with leases or if there is damage to a property), Banking Law & Regulation (useful for students who will go on to represent institutional lenders), Corporate Finance (will advance the student’s understanding of preferred equity and other commercial real estate financing methods), and Taxation of Business Entities and/or Tax: Federal Corporate Income (knowledge of tax law is important as tax considerations undergird the structuring of most real estate deals).
Students interested in real estate litigation should consider taking courses recommended in the Civil Dispute Resolution Pathway in addition to their real estate courses, to learn about court systems and administrative processes, and to refine their advocacy skills.
The real estate attorney is often drafting agreements. Therefore, students should take drafting courses to hone their skills.
Students with a strong interest in real estate law practice should consider applying for the Mattone Institute’s Real Estate Fellowship Program, which provides selected students with a strong interest in real estate practice a monetary stipend as well as a unified program of academic and pre-professional instruction designed to put them on the track to rewarding careers in this field. Rising 2Ls and 2Ls are eligible to apply for this unique program in either of two application cycles: one in May/June and the other in December/January. In exceptional circumstances, rising 3Ls may also apply in the May/June application cycle. Further information about this program is available here: Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law
To learn the law needed for real estate practice, a student should take a variety of the advanced courses and writing courses listed below:
Foundation CoursesAll are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced CoursesAdvanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Writing CoursesCoursework to hone your writing skills and develop a portfolio of practicing writing in your field.
Skills CoursesCourses that will develop your oral advocacy, ADR, and other skills necessary for practice.
Basic Federal Income Tax
Trusts & Estates
Real Estate Advanced Courses:
Condominiums, Cooperatives & Homeowner Associations
Land Use Planning
Real Estate Finance
Commercial Real Estate Leasing
Real Estate Development
Non-Real Estate Courses:
Accounting for Lawyers
Banking Law & Regulation
Taxation of Business Entities
Tax: Federal Corporate Income
Drafting: Real Estate Transactions
The Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic will provide valuable experience for real estate litigation practice.
A Civil Externship Placement or job in a law firm, corporation or government agency involved in real estate transactions will build useful skills and provide knowledge of real estate practice.
If you choose to join a journal as a rising 2L, consider applying to the N.Y. Real Property Law Journal, the official publication of the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Real Property Law Section. Members of the N.Y. Real Property Law Journal’s Editorial Board and Staff Members provide editorial assistance in connection with the publication of quarterly issues of the Journal containing articles written by practitioners and law professors in the real estate field.
ClinicsStudents who participate in a clinic are exposed to a practice area through the representation of actual clients under faculty supervision. The following clinics are relevant to this pathway:
ExternshipsExternships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
Co-Curricular ActivitiesSt. John’s boasts numerous scholarly journals, including the following:
Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic
Archdiocese of New York
Brooklyn Legal Services
Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project
David A. Gallo & Associates LLP
Day Pitney, LLP
Donaldson & Chilliest LLP
Fishman & Decea
Gray Tolub LLP
Holland & Knight
Leon I. Behar, Esq.
The Mattone Group
McCue, Sussmane, Zapfel, Cohen & Youbi
Newman Ferrara LLP
Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP
Peter T. Roach & Associates PC
Queens Legal Services
Romer Debbas LLP
Ruskin Moscou Faltischeck, P.C.
Russo, Scamardella & D’Amato
Shearman & Sterling LLP
Schrier Shayne Koenig Samberg & Ryne PC
Singleton, Davis & Singleton
Stagg, Terenzi, Confusione & Wabnik, LLP
Wenig Saltiel LLP
N.Y. Real Property Law Journal
Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. Professional bar associations also welcome student participation and many offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are an essential resource, especially for curricular planning. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas.
Students interested in real estate should reach out to the Director of the Mattone Institute to discuss curriculum, career planning and networking opportunities. Students should also seek out connections with real estate industry professionals, practitioners and other students, both at St. John’s and externally.
The Mattone Institute, the Real Property Law Society and the New York Real Property Law Journal host real estate-related events throughout the academic year, including site visits, roundtable discussions and networking events. You should take full advantage of these offerings and attend as many of these events as possible. Stay abreast of the most recent events by joining the Real Property Law Society, and the Real Property Law Society’s TWEN page. Also, follow the Mattone Institute on LinkedIn and Twitter (@mattoneinst).
New York State Bar Association – Real Property Law Section
American Bar Association – Real Property Trust and Estate Law Section
New York City Bar Association – Real Property Law Committee
New York County Lawyer’s Association
Queens County Bar Association
Brooklyn Bar Association – Real Property Law Section
Richmond County Bar Association
Nassau County Bar Association
Suffolk County Bar Association
Westchester County Bar Association – Real Property Law Section
Connecticut Bar Association – Real Property Law Section
New Jersey State Bar Association – Real Property Trust and Estate Law Section
Real Property Law Society
Externship or job in Real Estate
Real Estate Transactions
See your Career Development Office counselor and the Director of the Mattone Institute to obtain a list of employers in this pathway and for assistance in conducting targeted mailings.
Lawyers who choose a career in the practice of tax law can engage in different types of work in many different subspecialty areas. This overview will focus on (1) the type of work and (2) the type of employer.
Tax practice can be broken down into three types of work: planning or transactional, controversy, and compliance.
Planning or transactional work focuses on structuring business transactions and business operations to minimize tax costs. Examples include advising a client who desires to acquire a corporate business on whether to acquire the corporation’s stock or instead the individual assets of the business. Similarly, if a joint venture is contemplated, the tax attorney advises as to the best entity form to utilize, such as a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company.
Controversy work focuses on helping clients resolve disputes between taxing authorities, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or New York’s Department of Revenue, and taxpayers. Unlike planning or transactional work, which focuses on prospective transactions, controversy work focuses on prior transactions and the tax treatment challenged by the taxing authority or authorities. The attorney assists clients during audits, negotiates with tax authorities, and prepares memoranda or other persuasive documents in attempts to settle cases. This work also involves litigating tax controversies that are not settled.
Compliance work focuses on preparing and filing tax returns and related documents with federal, state, and local tax authorities. Accountants often perform such work, but tax attorneys also engage in it. A business’ in-house tax department or CPA firms are key employers of both accountants and attorneys who work in tax compliance. The big four accounting firms have large compliance departments that employ significant numbers of tax attorneys.
Law firm tax practice generally varies with the size of the firm. The large, “elite” law firms typically advise sophisticated clients on large transactions. A junior associate is generally assigned to research specific areas or issues.
The work at medium and smaller law firms usually is less specialized than at large firms. The deals and issues are smaller and the junior associate likely handles a larger piece of the overall transaction. An associate likely works his/her way up to handling entire transactions or issues more rapidly than an associate at a large firm. Some related corporate-type work such as negotiating and drafting documents also may be encountered.
All of the largest (“big four”) accounting firms and many of those in the tier below hire tax attorneys. The type of work depends on the specific division to which an individual is assigned, such as state and local taxation, international tax matters, mergers and acquisitions, etc. Some compliance work likely may be encountered.
Many large and medium sized businesses hire tax attorneys in their tax or legal departments. The nature of the work varies with the employer involved. Many of these positions are for attorneys with several years of experience, though some employers have entry-level positions.
The federal government employs a number of tax lawyers at the Treasury Department, including the IRS, the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, and several other agencies. While many government tax positions require or prefer employees with some experience, entry level positions are normally available at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. Those employed at field offices located throughout the country are engaged in tax controversy work, litigating in the United States Tax Court and other courts (i.e., collections work). Those employed at the National Office in Washington, D.C. research tax issues and provide written guidance to the IRS and taxpayers in various forms, including revenue rulings. The IRS offers such other tax attorney positions as Revenue Agents, Tax Examiners, etc.
The Treasury Department sometimes also hires entry-level tax attorneys who draft regulations, assist with negotiating tax treaties, and work on various matters of tax policy.
States and certain cities also hire tax attorneys for their Department of Taxation or Department of Revenue. The type of work varies with the position.
American Bar Association – Section of TaxationBrooklyn Bar Association Taxation CommitteeFederal Bar Association – Section on TaxationNational Association of Bond Lawyers Tax Law CommitteeNational Bar Association Tax Law Section
New York City Bar Association – Condemnation and Tax Certiorari Committee, Estate & Gift Taxation Committee, Personal Income Taxation Committee, State & Local Taxation Committee, Taxation of Business Entities Committee
Nassau County Bar Association Tax Law CommitteeNew York County Lawyers Association Taxation CommitteeNew York State Bar Association Tax Section
Westchester County Bar Association – Tax Law Section, Tax Certiorari and Condemnation Law Committee
Tax Law Society
The practice of Trusts & Estates has rich facets. Because the Trusts & Estates lawyer often has close contact with clients, it tends to be a satisfying practice in the human sense. But the practice is also intellectually satisfying, incorporating wills, trusts, estate planning, estate administration, lifetime gifts, guardianships for children, taxes, medical directives, life estates, powers of attorney, powers of appointment, and elder-law. Trusts & Estates attorneys also tend to handle other personal matters for their clients, such as real estate transactions, adoptions, and prenuptial agreements. Litigation can arise in any of these areas, and Trusts & Estates practitioners either handle litigation themselves or refer it to litigators.
An attorney who knows Trusts & Estates can work in a law firm or in the Surrogate’s Court, in a trust company or wealth-management firm, in an accounting firm, in the state attorney general’s office or public administrator’s office, and in the Internal Revenue Service. Non-profit organizations such as universities, hospitals, museums, animal-rights groups and opera companies regularly use attorneys in their fundraising departments. Large law firms generally have small Trusts & Estates departments, often to accommodate their corporate clients, and positions in those firms are hard to get. However, because new generations of clients constantly need counsel in Trusts & Estates matters, the flow of work is steady for the attorney who chooses this field. It is hard to break into the field without experience, so externships and internships are crucial.
The Trusts & Estates field includes four kinds of work:
Estate Planning. The attorney finds out what a client possesses and what he or she wishes to do with the property during his or her lifetime and at death. Each case is different and provides its own joys and challenges. If a person is married with children, for example, the plan may involve prenuptial agreements, Uniform Transfers to Minors, trusts for the children, and “529 accounts” (education planning). If the client is wealthy, it may involve lifetime gifts plans to reduce the client’s estate taxes. If the client has a disabled child, a Supplemental Needs Trust can relieve the parents’ anxieties about the child’s long-term care. If the client is charitably inclined, the attorney can help the client execute lifetime and testamentary gifts that do real good in the world and also reduce income and estate taxes. If the client expects a will contest from disgruntled family members, the attorney can help him or her avoid it or optimize his executor’s chance of winning it. The attorney guides the client through the sometimes confusing legal aspects of estate planning and helps him organize his affairs. It is meaningful and satisfying work.
Estate Administration. When a person dies, his affairs will be settled by the terms of a lifetime trust if he had one, and in the Surrogate’s Court if he died with or without a will. The attorney probates the will and helps the executor or the administrator to administer the estate, to pay the decedent’s creditors, collect the insurance, annuities and other death benefits, to sell the house or property if necessary, to file the estate taxes (federal and state) if taxes are due, to prepare an accounting, and to distribute the assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Attorneys who practice in the Surrogate’s Court tend to be a civilized and cohesive group. Helping families who are trying to deal with the death of a loved one is gratifying.
Estate Litigation. This may include such actions and proceedings as will contests, contested accountings, proceedings to recover property that belonged to the decedent, and proceedings to surcharge a fiduciary for wrongdoing. The Surrogate’s Court is governed by the rules of civil practice that apply in other civil courts except to the extent that the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act has a different rule.
Elder Law. With the aging of the “baby boomers” born after the second World War, attorneys for the elderly have plenty of work. Attorneys practicing Elder Law work on in wills, trusts, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, powers of attorney, living wills, health-care directives and proxies. Guardianships under Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 have burgeoned as the population ages, and a lawyer may be the guardian for an elderly person or may be the court evaluator appointed to review the guardian’s annual accounting for the elderly person’s assets. Elder Law practice is intensely people-oriented. The client is often the elderly person, but the lawyer often has to deal also with the client’s children, always interesting.
The Trusts & Estates lawyer is often the family lawyer, so he or she should have a broad legal education that includes Business Organizations, Evidence, Personal Income Tax, Creditors’ Rights, Family Law, Estate and Gift Tax, Conflicts, Real Estate Transactions (and Advanced), and UCC courses. He or she (like every lawyer) also needs to be a good writer, so students should take as many of the drafting and writing courses as they can. If a student expects to be at a small firm, he or she should concentrate her writing courses on family law, real property law, and criminal law. Because the practice is fact-driven and the clients are often frightened and vulnerable, he or she should take courses in interviewing, counseling, negotiating, and mediating. If the student expects to litigate estate matters, he or she should also take the trial advocacy and pre-trial advocacy offerings. The student should extern or intern in the Surrogate’s Court and in Trusts & Estates firms or departments.
To learn the law needed specifically for Trusts & Estates, a student should take all of the following:
NYC Bar Association Committees:
Nassau County Bar Association Committees:
New York State Bar Association Committees:
New York County Lawyers’ Association Committees:
American Bar Association Committees:
American Association of Trust, Estate and Elder Law Attorneys