How to Find Out What Type of Lawyer You Need
If you have a legal issue, and you are not sure what type of lawyer you need to represent you, you’re not alone. So many legal issues overlap between different practice areas, and practice areas can overlap with each other, too. It's no surprise that it can be difficult to figure out exactly who to contact when you need a lawyer.
Furthermore, there are so very many legal practice areas, and most lawyers only specialize in one or two of them. That’s why it is important to know which type of lawyer you need for your particular situation. To make things even more confusing, some lawyers choose to take the title of the type of work they perform, rather than the legal area they perform it in - like litigator. If a litigation lawyer is a lawyer who represents people in court, specifically, does that mean they practice in all areas of law that could end up in court? Not necessarily..
Let’s address the litigator question, and then talk about the different practice areas that a legal pro might specialize in, so we can help you figure out what you need.
History 101: Lawyer Titles
In one of our previous posts, we explained the difference between the terms lawyer and barrister and solicitor. If you haven’t read it, basically it says that, historically, barristers focus on matters that could end up in court, and solicitors do legal work that would never end up in court, like writing wills or drafting contracts.
In Canada, lawyers can be both barristers and solicitors, and nowadays, most lawyers in Canada just call themselves lawyers. Instead of defining themselves by where they do their lawyering (in or out of court), they focus on becoming an expert in a specific area of law.
The exception to this is Litigator. Yes, I just went on and on about something no one asked about so I can tell you what a litigation lawyer is. Good on you for getting this far.
A litigator is someone who specializes in representing people in court - they litigate. Litigator is just the modern term for Barrister. Most lawyers are also litigators, and most lawyers who use the title Litigator typically do specialize in a specific area of law, which would precede litigator in their title, i.e. Family Law Litigator - a lawyer who will represent you in Family Court in the case of a trial.
Are you following me so far?
So, why would a lawyer choose to use litigator in their title when most other lawyers also do litigation but don’t put it in their title? Becoming an expert at arguing cases in court is like a specialization in itself, and when you focus all of your effort on one thing, it makes sense to advertise it. A lawyer who defines themself as a litigator takes trial cases more often, and might be sharper and more experienced in the courtroom. This doesn’t mean that other lawyers cannot litigate in court, it just means they may not have done it as often or as recently.
For anyone who has a legal matter that they know is definitely headed to trial, you might consider looking for a lawyer who specializes in litigation (see trial law below).
Okay, now that that is settled, and we understand what a litigation lawyer is (hopefully), let’s talk about the many practice areas there are so you can figure out what type of lawyer you might need. And, I’ll just mention here that if you don’t want to read all this, you can just send us a quick note about your issue. We’ll tell you what type of lawyer to search for and even make some recommendations for a lawyer in your area that can help you right now.
Areas of Expertise (in alphabetical order)
Below is a list of the more common legal practice areas that you might be looking for. There are others we have not included, either because they fall under one of the broader areas or because they are only relevant to institutions, corporations, or the government, like aviation law or energy and infrastructure law.
Canadian Aboriginal Law is an area of law that explores the unique issues faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and includes issues related to constitutional rights to land and traditional practices and the interpretation and enforcement of treaties. A lawyer who specializes in Aboriginal Law works to defend and advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The need for Aboriginal Law as its own practice area has been steadily growing, especially since the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, an initiative to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. Many of the Calls to Action relate to the justice system and attempt to correct issues of unfairness to Indigenous Peoples.
Aboriginal Law is not to be confused with Indigenous Law, which refers to Indigenous Peoples own legal systems.
Administrative Law deals with the relationship between a government and its citizens. It ensures that laws are implemented fairly and that the government’s actions are legal. Administrative law also protects people who are affected by unlawful government acts by making sure those affected have ways to remedy the issue.
Arbitration (or Dispute Resolution) is a method of resolving legal disputes out of court. Arbitration is typically used to resolve civil or commercial disputes. The process involves each party presenting their case to the arbitrator, who then makes a decision based on the information presented to them.
The rapid advancement of cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and decentralized banking has created new legal implications and issues that needed addressing, and so entered Blockchain Law. Blockchain lawyers help clients who use blockchain technologies with understanding how regulations and policies are applied to blockchain, for example in relation to compliance, data storage, cyber security, AI, anti-money laundering, etc. Because blockchain technologies are continually evolving, it is difficult for the regulators to keep up. If you need help to figure out how the current laws apply to blockchain, it would be smart to consult a Blockchain Lawyer.
Business Lawyers help businesses with everything relating to business: set up, financing, acquisitions or sales, contracts, or when your business may be involved in a lawsuit. Business law also intersects with many other areas of law, like tax law, immigration law, employment law, etc. If you are starting a business, buying/selling or growing a business, you should consult with a business lawyer to ensure everything is happening how it should be.
A cannabis lawyer is an expert in all things cannabis. They help individuals and cannabis business owners with licensing and regulations and to navigate the law as it relates to cannabis. Cannabis law intersects with business law, civil law, as well as criminal law, but a lawyer who specializes in cannabis law brings a higher level of knowledge that can help you or your business from going up in smoke (or ensure it keeps smoking? 🤔).
Charity Law is a practice area that closely relates to business law, but a lawyer who specializes in charity law is experienced with all the laws that relate specifically to charities. A charity law lawyer can help your charity with everything from set-up and operations to maintaining your charitable status or litigation and dispute resolution.
Civil law, in this context, refers to legal disputes between individuals and businesses or even governments. Civil claims are about things like contract disagreements, debt, property damage, or personal injury. Many areas of law fall under civil law, but have branched out into their own specific practice area, for example divorce, personal injury, or real estate. If you are involved in a civil claim that is heading to the Supreme Court, you will definitely benefit from hiring a civil litigation lawyer.
Constitutional law is the law that relates to… you guessed it.. the Constitution. The Constitution regulates how the government can exercise its authority and protects people's personal rights and freedoms. In Canada, constitutional law is how the courts interpret and apply the rules of the Constitution to the laws of the country - all of our laws must be consistent with the rules of the constitution, otherwise they are deemed unconstitutional and have no effect. Someone who specializes in constitutional law can help you in matters where you feel your constitutional rights have been violated, for example your freedom of speech or right to freedom from discrimination.
Contract litigation falls under the category of civil law, or even business law, but specifically it is when a contract dispute goes to court to be litigated. Remember when we explained what a litigator was above? Well, this is when you might want to use one. If you have a contract dispute that you’ve not been able to resolve on your own, a contract litigation lawyer could help you by arguing the case in court and having a judge settle the matter.
While corporate and commercial law are technically two different areas of law, we grouped them into a single category because they are very closely related, and a lawyer specializing in this area of law would likely be able to help you with either. Corporate law has to do with the structuring of a corporation, while commercial law is all about transactions, like the purchasing or selling of goods or the business itself. Corporate law is very similar to business law, but is an area of law specific to corporations, necessary because corporations are treated differently under the law than other businesses. A lawyer who specializes in corporate law is well-versed in all the rules and regulations specific to corporations.
We all know this one. Criminal law is all about the laws related to crime and the punishment of those who violate the law. If you’ve been charged with a crime, the type of lawyer you need to hire to defend you is one that specializes in Criminal Law - no question.
Employment law is all about everything related to employment. It sets out the obligations of employers and the rights of employees, written in the Employment Standards Act in your province (see links at the bottom to find your province). This includes employment contracts, termination, employee compensation, conditions, and standards, etc. Employment lawyers sometimes choose to represent only employers or only employees, but many employment lawyers do both. Whether you are an employee who has been wrongfully dismissed, or an employer who is being sued by an employee, a lawyer who specializes in employment law is who you need!
The legal aspects of the entertainment industry are complex - from copyrights or contract negotiations, to music tariffs, or unique tax issues for those working and living in different countries. Entertainment lawyers specialize in navigating these complex legal issues related to film, television, music, and theatre, and even books and gaming. If you are an entertainer, actor, writer, musician, etc., looking for help with negotiating a contract, an experienced entertainment lawyer can help you understand your contract and ensure that you are getting a fair deal.
Family law technically falls under civil law, but family law has its own separate rules and even its own courts in Canada, within both the Superior and Provincial Courts. Family law encompasses all the legal issues related to divorce, separation, and child custody, guardianship, and adoption. Sometimes it is possible to deal with a family law issue on your own, for example negotiating a separation agreement. However, depending on your situation, there are many cases in which you will want to hire an experienced family lawyer, like if you’ve been served with papers relating to a custody claim in supreme court, for example.
Fertility law is a newer area of law that has become necessary as more and more people conceive children with the help of a donor or surrogate. Assisted reproduction creates complex legal issues that are best taken care of with a written agreement ahead of the conception of the child, to prevent any future issues regarding parental rights. If you are considering creating a child with donated genetic material, a lawyer who specializes in fertility law can help you with the creation of a written legal agreement between all the people involved with the conception of the child. Even in situations where provincial laws make clear who the parents will be, it is always a good idea to protect your family with an agreement.
Human Rights Law
Human rights law is similar to constitutional law, but where constitutional rights protect your rights as a citizen of Canada, human rights are the rights you have as a human simply because you exist and those rights extend internationally. For example, if you are illegally detained in another country, it’s a violation of your human right to freedom of mobility, not a violation of the Canadian Constitution of Rights and Freedoms (although if you were unlawfully detained within Canada, it would be a violation to your constitutional rights as a citizen of Canada - it’s paragraph 9).
In 1948, with the intention of preventing anything like the atrocities of the Holocaust from happening again, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed, and although it is not legally binding by itself, most countries have since committed themselves to it through legally binding treaties. If you’re in a situation where you think your rights as a human being have been violated, consult a human rights lawyer asap.
Immigration law is all about Canada’s policies for immigration and citizenship, refugees, temporary and foreign worker permits, etc. A straightforward immigration application can be done without the help of a lawyer, but often it is in your benefit to use someone familiar with all of the paperwork and processes involved in an immigration application. A good immigration lawyer can save you a lot of time by ensuring everything gets done correctly the first time, and in some cases, using an immigration lawyer may make the difference between an approval or rejection. The immigration process for businesses, business owners, and foreign employees is especially complex, so if that is your situation, you may want to look for a lawyer who specializes in business immigration.
Insurance lawyers can help you with all your legal issues related to insurance, like fighting a denied insurance claim or advising you on a policy. If you are an insurer, an insurance lawyer can help with your defense when there is an action against you or when you are fighting to recover money paid out to your insured back from a responsible third party.
Mediation is quite similar to arbitration/dispute resolution, in that it is a way of solving disputes without going to court, but it’s much less formal, and in mediation, both parties must come to a mutual agreement. In mediation, a trained and neutral mediator helps people resolve their conflict through conversation by ensuring that everyone has a chance to participate and voice their needs and concerns, and that the conversation remains constructive and communicative. A mediator doesn’t make decisions for you, but is trained to help you come to an agreement with much less conflict, which saves you money by avoiding going to court. Mediation is especially helpful for families trying to navigate the separation process.
A lawyer who specializes in not-for-profit law helps nonprofit organizations with everything from incorporation as a nonprofit to ensuring they comply with their legal obligations and compliance requirements in order to keep their nonprofit status.
Personal injury lawyers are the ones you call when you are injured, whether the injury is from a car accident, a dog bite, a slip or trip & fall accident, or any other kind of accident. Personal injury lawyers often offer a free consultation and many work on a contingency basis - that means you don’t pay them unless you win your case. If you’ve been injured, contact a personal injury lawyer in your province to get advice on whether you have a case and what you need to do next.
In a world where information about who we are and what we do is being collected constantly, privacy law is the body of law that tries to protect our personal information by regulating how and when our information can be stored, used, and shared. Privacy laws can be complex and difficult to understand, so if you are a business owner that needs to store and use personal information, you might consider consulting a privacy lawyer. A privacy lawyer can advise you on which rules apply to your situation or industry to make sure that you are in compliance with the privacy laws. They can also help you create policies to follow in the workplace to prevent future issues or lawsuits, or defend you should you already be involved in one.
Real Estate Law
Real estate law is all about the buying and selling of real estate. When you buy or sell a home, a real estate lawyer protects your legal rights during the transaction and ensures that the transfer is done properly. But that’s not all they do. A real estate lawyer can also help you in many other situations related to real estate, like if you’re involved in a land dispute, when you rent or lease a property, figuring out plans for the transfer of family property when someone passes, refinancing of a commercial property, helping you do your due diligence before a land investment, and pretty much any other situation where you might need advice related to real estate.
Strata & Condominium Law
If you have an issue related to strata property law, whether you own or live in a property that is governed by a strata corporation, are the strata corporation or a property manager, or are part of the strata council, a strata lawyer is the best person to help you. Strata lawyers help with everything from the set up and governance of a strata, enforcing strata by-laws, to collection of unpaid fees and forced sales of strata properties. They can give advice on the strata property act and regulations, help you understand your strata by-laws, or help with dispute resolution and litigation when necessary.
Everyone who makes income in Canada has to pay taxes to the CRA, but does that mean everyone needs a tax lawyer? No - for the majority of people, taxes are fairly straightforward and can be done on your own or with the help of an accountant or tax preparation company. However, for high net worth individuals, business owners, or others in complex tax situations, like foreign workers, having a consultation with a tax lawyer could be a huge benefit. A tax lawyer can help you with tax planning so you can be tax-efficient and ensure you do not run into future tax related legal issues. Or, if you’re already involved in a tax issue, they can help you rectify the situation through the voluntary disclosure program, dispute resolution, or litigation.
Technology law is an area of law that's concerned with all things digital, like data and information storage and dissemination, digital property rights, and software licensing. It’s a complicated field that is only getting more complicated as technology evolves - think AI and automation. Technology laws attempt to keep our information and identity safe, as well as ensure a fair online marketplace. A technology lawyer can help you or your business stay in compliance, protect you when your digital rights have been violated, or defend you if you find yourself involved in any action related to technology law.
Trial Law (aka Litigator)
Trial lawyer is just a simple way to say litigator. Trial lawyers represent clients in trial and present the facts of a case or dispute in such a way as to convince the judge and/or jury of their client’s position in order to win the trial. Trial lawyers can represent clients in various areas of law, and often specialize in a particular area, like criminal defense lawyer.
Wills and Estate Law is all about what happens to someone’s property (real estate, personal possessions, businesses, accounts, etc) when they die. A wills and estate lawyer can help you with estate planning, drafting and signing a will, as well as executing your will for you after you’re gone. They can also assist you with many other related legal issues before and after you’re gone, like adult guardianship applications or powers of attorney.
If you’ve read all this, you can probably see that legal issues often overlap between many practice areas, and areas of expertise often intersect with each other. This is why it can be so confusing when you need to get legal advice and such a long and painstaking process to find the right lawyer - one who both does what you need and has the availability to take you on as a client. If you need to find a lawyer in one of the practice areas above, try our search engine now. Or, if you still aren’t sure which practice area you need to search for, just ask us, and we’ll direct you to a lawyer who is available to help you right now.