What are the Different Fields of Law?
If you’ve ever studied law or taken an in-depth look at the legal system, you’ve probably recognised a problem that’s been plaguing scholars and experts for years – There’s just too much for one person to handle. Some people dedicate their entire lives to fully understanding just one aspect of the judicial system and even then, they may be blindsided by sudden amendments or new interpretations of old laws… Or maybe I’m just exaggerating. I mean, it can’t be that bad, can it? After all, just how many types of law exist? What are the Different Fields of Law?
There are many opinions regarding the fields of law, due to the fact that distinctions between the various fields aren’t always agreed upon. Depending on who you ask, there may be 4 main types of law, 7 types, 21 types or even more. This disagreement is due to the fact that distinctions between the various fields aren’t always agreed upon.
While most people might just identify someone as ‘a lawyer’, that individual might point out that they actually specialize in corporate law. Others might go even further and categorise themselves as IP or Contract lawyers. Keep this in mind as there’s no way for us to effectively identify every little nuanced field of law known to man. That said, we can at least narrow down some of the more common ones and a few of their subsequent divisions.
Some of the primary fields of law include –
- Animal Law
- Admiralty (Maritime) Law
- Business Law
- Civil Law
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Family Law
- Health Law
- Intellectual Property Law
- Military Law
- Property Law
- Tax Law
- Tort Law
- Traffic Law
- Statutory Law
The word ‘law’ is already sounding weird in my head, but that’s only going to get worse because it’s time to look at these fields in a little more detail.
What is Animal Law?
Animal law is a broad field that deals with the legislation regarding non-human animals. As you’d imagine, this area of law covers things like animal cruelty as noted in the Animal Protection Act, however, in recent years it has begun to overlap with other judicial branches such as environmental and constitutional law as the protection of animals can frequently be achieved indirectly by ensuring the continued stability of their environments.
What is Admiralty (Maritime) Law?
Maritime law deals with all manner of nautical issues ranging from the registration and licencing of vessels to most offences and disputes that occur on open water. Commonly, this area of the law deals with various ship-related claims identified in the Admiralty Jurisdiction Regulation Act as well as cases involving maritime activities such as recreational and commercial fishing.
What is Business Law?
Business law sometimes referred to as Corporate or Commercial law, deals with the various forms of commerce, finance and trade. Few attorneys would identify themselves as ‘business lawyers’ as most instead specialize in more particular fields such as tax, contract or IP law. Usually, those who work in the field of business law will have to deal with the legalese of mergers and disputes between corporations or matters involving patents and copyright infringements.
What is Civil Law?
Civil law deals with most non-criminal disputes and private affairs between citizens and thus is most commonly contrasted with criminal law. Perhaps the most well-known type of civil law is that which relates to matters of divorce. Due to the composition of most parties involved in civil law cases, it often overlaps with a branch known as family law.
What is Constitutional Law?
As the name would suggest, constitutional law focuses on matters related to the Constitution of South Africa, specifically with regards to its interpretation, application and amendment. All laws in the country must act in harmony with the constitution lest they be considered inconsistent and thus invalid. Court cases involving constitutional law often have the most widespread effects as amendments to the constitution or its interpretation can fundamentally change how the judicial system operates.
What is Criminal Law?
Criminal law is perhaps the most famous legal branch and deals with criminal acts and the legislature that prohibits them. Unlike civil law which focuses on resolution and compensation between parties, criminal law is instead centred around punishment and rehabilitation. Most criminal cases require both actus reus (guilty act)and mens rea (guilty mind) to be successful. Simply put, when prosecuting a person for a crime, a lawyer will generally need to provide proof of the illegal act as well as proof of the intent of the guilty party, although there are exceptions to this rule, for instance, negligence is a recognised form of mens rea in South Africa.
What is Family Law?
Family law is the blanket term used when discussing legal matters that involve most domestic relations. Normally, family lawyers are called in to deal with issues such as divorce or during custody battles. That said, juvenile law, which is designed for offences perpetrated by minors, often falls under the rubric of family law.
What is Health Law?
Health law is concerned with the legal aspects of the healthcare industry and healthcare services more generally. While medical law experts are well known for representing individuals who bring forth cases of medical malpractice, they are likewise employed by medical practitioners and pharmaceutical companies to work on cases involving things like insurance coverage and drug safety standards.
What is Intellectual Property Law?
Intellectual Property law (often shortened to IP law) is a branch of law that is dedicated to the protection of the rights of various creative groups ranging from artists and authors to inventors and businesses. When dealing with IP law, you’ll likely run into terms like trademark, copyright and patent as lawyers in this fieldwork to safeguard the ownership rights of their clients with regard to their various creations.
What is Military Law?
Military law encompasses civil and criminal cases involving military personnel. Litigation concerning such personnel requires distinct military courts and military lawyers due to the nature of the cases, for instance, a case of insubordination is relatively unique to the military system and thus requires its own specific judicial procedures. Likewise, the quick and orderly nature of military courts helps to maintain a sense of discipline amongst its members.
What is Property Law?
Property law is another broad term used to describe the legal practices surrounding ownership. This ownership extends to both ‘real property’ (houses, buildings, etc) as well as ‘personal property’ (furniture, art, intellectual properties, etc). Perhaps the most well-known type of property lawyer would be a real estate lawyer who might represent cases involving construction disputes and home sales.
What is Tax Law?
Tax law is primarily concerned with the assessment and collection of taxes. Tax lawyers are employed by both the government and private citizens for multiple reasons. The government usually seeks out their advice when determining how tax policies can be effectively drafted and enforced while private groups will often hire tax lawyers to positively impact their tax burden.
What is Tort Law?
Most civil cases fall within the scope of tort law. Mostly, this involves cases of wrongdoings that result in loss or harm for which the guilty party is liable. Commonly, tort law cases result in monetary rewards being offered to redress the damages caused.
What is Traffic Law?
Traffic law is the unofficial term which relates to the various rules surrounding both traffic and the regulation of vehicles. Everything from speeding fines to car modifications can be considered as part of traffic law though it is usually differentiated from ‘the rules of the road’ which include informal rules and courtesies shown while driving.
What is Statutory Law?
Statutory law covers most kinds of formal, written law passed via legislation. It can most easily be understood as a mirror image of common law which normally gains its legitimacy via precedent after it has been decided by judges and tribunals. By contrast, statutory law arises from legislation passed by institutions such as parliament.
In Conclusion – What Are the Different Fields of Law?
Due to the incredible, ever-changing depth of subdivisions present within most branches of the law, it is virtually impossible to make a stable list of the different types of law that a person may encounter. Instead, it is advisable to choose a specific field of study and commit to it fully in order to properly learn about its many deviations.
While the above list covers the more common legal fields, there are many more which we did not have time to consider, additionally, even fairly specific types of law may branch out into more and more nuanced forms once they are inspected, for instance, IP law is a relatively complex legal practice even though it is just one part of business law.
With all this in mind, it makes sense that legal studies should be as particular as possible to ensure that the student is able to master a distinct field rather than gain a vague understanding of many.
Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.
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