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Understanding the Different Attorney Types

All lawyers go to law school and learn the basics about every aspect of the law. However, just because they have had a class in a certain area, it does not make them an expert in that field. That is one reason it is difficult to find the right attorney to take your case.

Criminal vs. Civil

Before you can determine which lawyer you need, you have to determine if this is a civil or criminal case. In a criminal case, you face a judge and jury after a criminal accusation. The state or federal government has a stake in the outcome. It is on the prosecutor to show that you committed the act beyond a reasonable doubt. The government will appoint a public defender if you do not have the funds for an attorney. Should you lose, you face potential jail time.

In a civil case, there is no jail time involved. Instead, the outcome is a monetary penalty for you if you lose. Unlike in a criminal proceeding, a defender is not provided if you cannot afford representation. However, the victim in these cases must initiate proceedings and hire their own lawyer. In criminal cases, prosecutors can move forward without the victim's assistance.

Types of Civil Law

There are several branches of civil law. While all civil lawyers can represent you, it is important to narrow down your search to someone familiar with your exact dispute. Some of the most common types of civil law include family, business, tax, and real estate.


An attorney specializing in family law handles anything directly concerning family issues. They represent whoever has hired them. Of all the types of civil law, this is the most common. Family court dockets are the most crowded and these lawyers represent all social and economic classes.

While it is common to think that family law only deals with divorce and child custody, there is much more to it. These representatives also handle cases pertaining to marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. In addition, they handle paternity cases and juvenile adjudication.


Corporate law is complex. Unlike most civil attorneys, business law representatives work for the business, not the owners. It is their job to represent the company as a whole and do what is best for the corporation. Larger companies will have several lawyers on staff to help in all areas. It is common to find intellectual property, bankruptcy, employment, finance and securities, and merger and acquisition experts working under this umbrella.

Sole proprietors and small businesses can also hire a corporate attorney to protect their businesses. However, smaller companies will usually only have one or two on call to handle all areas.


Tax specialists help individuals and companies comply with federal and state tax laws. A large portion of their time is representing you during an audit from the IRS. It is their job to ensure you do not spend time in jail and avoid serious fines. In most cases, these representatives will work as estate planners unless they are part of a corporate team.

Real Estate

Real estate is just as it sounds. This person handles legal issues that are related to property and real estate. They can specialize in commercial or residential. While all can represent you in litigation against you over some property, there are those that specialize further in just one area. Some may handle only transactions of purchasing and selling property. Others handle only litigation pertaining to this area.

To learn more about their options for an El Dorado Hills attorney, residents should visit