Exploring Practice Areas and Practice Settings

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

  • practice area is the area of law in which an attorney primarily focuses their career. This is the area of expertise or specialty for an attorney. For example, employment law, corporate law, or criminal law are each practice areas.
  • practice setting describes the organization in which an attorney works. The most common practice settings are law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations.

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

Practice Areas

If you are just beginning to research practice areas that may be of interest to you, we recommend that you start by exploring the following general resources. These guides will give you an overview of what kind of work lawyers do, the types of clients they represent, and a sampling of employers. 

Specific Practice Area Resources

Once you have identified your practice area(s) of interest, use the following specific resources to dig deeper. These are just a small sampling of resources - including links to practice area specific job posting sites and professional associations. As always, there is no substitute with meeting with a career advisor and connecting with professionals with expertise in the field. By staying current on relevant legislation and news in your area of interest, you will be ready to put your best foot forward at networking events and interviews.

Practice Settings

The practice setting you choose will have a big impact on the type of work you do, the clients you work with, and your work environment. Use the following resources to explore how to best find, apply to, and interview for positions within your desired practice setting. 

  • NALP Directory of Legal Employers
    • NALP (The National Association for Law Placement) maintains a directory of legal employers containing information on more than 1,700 employers nationwide and on all types of legal employers.  The Directory allows for searches by law firm size, location and practice area and includes information on lawyer demographics, compensation and benefits, diversity and inclusion practices, and summer class hiring projections.
    • Students may export a list of employer contacts for the purpose of conducting direct write applications. To do so, enter your search parameters.  On the results screen, check off the mail merge boxes.  To save the list, you must enter your GW Law address to avoid charges. Contact the Career Center if you are prompted for payment, as this service should be free for GW Law students.
  • Vault (Login Credentials)
    • The Career Center provides access to Vault for all GW Law students and alumni. Use Vault to:
      • View and download career guides on different law firms, practice areas, and
        general career topics
      • Explore industries and watch Q&A videos by professionals in different fields
      • Research law firms, and access verified employee and summer associate reviews
      • View law firm rankings according to overall caliber, quality of life, diversity, practice area, and other factors
      • Access exclusive job postings
  • Martindale
  • The American Lawyer (AmLaw)
    • The Career Center subscribes to an IP site license for The American Lawyer. Access is automatically granted (no login credentials needed) for individuals physically within the law school, or using law school WiFi.
  • Chambers Associate
  • NavForward
  • ABA Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Division
  • The 2018 Working Mother 60 Best Law Firms for Women
  • Non-Traditional Tracks at Law Firms (NALP)
  • Vault 2018 Mid-Size Firm Rankings
  • List of Small and Medium Firms
  • Understanding How Small Firms Hire (NALP)

Government Honors & Internship Handbook ("Arizona Guide") 

More commonly referred to as the “Arizona Guide”, this resource is a compilation of legal internships and post-graduate opportunities in government.  The resource primarily focuses on opportunities in the federal government, but some state positions are also included.  This subscription-based resource requires students to log in.

JAG Corps

In each branch of the armed forces, attorneys serve as commissioned officers known as Judge Advocates. JAGs provide legal assistance across a wide range of practice areas, both civil and criminal.

Leadership Connect

Leadership Connect provides a robust database of government, legislative, business and nonprofit leaders. Identify contacts based on location, education, legislative issue, business sector, and more. This resource is only accessible on-campus.

Partnership for Public Service

This resource provides tools to research federal agencies and practical tips for completing your application.

Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program

The PMF program is a flagship entry-level leadership and hiring program for students with advanced degrees. Once selected as finalists in the PMF program, Fellows participate in hiring fairs to find appointments with federal agencies throughout the government. The application is typically open for a brief period in October or November.

PSJD Federal Employment Guide

The Federal Legal Employment Guide is a publication of NALP and PSJD. It provides information on types of legal jobs in the federal governemnt, how to apply, compensation, and loan repayment.

U.S. Department of Justice

The Department of Justice hires almost all of its law student interns through the Voluntary Legal Internship Program. Every year, a small number of 2L students are selected for paid positions in the Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) through an application process in early September. The substance of the work that interns do is the same across these two programs. Post-graduate hiring is done through the DOJ Honors Program.


In addition to the positions listed in the Govt Honors and Internship Handbook, federal internships and full-time positions are available on usajobs.gov.

Government Honors & Internship Handbook ("Arizona Guide") 

More commonly referred to as the “Arizona Guide”, this resource is a compilation of legal internships and post-graduate opportunities in government.  The resource primarily focuses on opportunities in the federal government, but some state positions are also included.  This subscription-based resource requires students to log in.

State Offices

Prosecutor and Public Defenders Offices


PSJD allows you to search by practice area and location to identify organizations doing work in your areas of interest.

Job listings in the PSJD database include internships (fall, spring, and summer), postgraduate fellowships, and a wide variety of permanent positions. PSJD also includes over 13,000 organizational profiles for nonprofit, government, and other public interest employers spanning the globe.

Use the “Resource Center” to learn more about career paths in criminal law, government, and public interest. Use the “Advanced Search” to search jobs and employers by practice area and geography.

Register with your GW Law email address.


Legal Aid/Legal Services Providers

Additional Public Interest Resources

Visit the Judicial Clerkships and Internships page for information and resources regarding Federal Court Clerkships, State Court Clerkships, and Judicial Internships.

Attorneys on Capitol Hill may work in various legislative or policy roles in the offices of of individual members of Congress, or they may work as staff attorneys on House and Senate Committees. Although many members and committees regularly hire for semester and summer positions, post-graduate hiring is decentralized and does not occur on a regular timeline. Most jobs are filled through word-of-mouth, that is, networking!

Additional Resources

International work encompasses a wide variety of issues and practice settings, including international human rights, development, foreign policy, and involvement with non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental organizations, and international courts and tribunals. For a list of all resources on a single PDF, view our International Law: Practice Area Research and Job Search Resources handout.

General Resources

Private Sector Resources

Public Sector/International Human Rights 

General Resources

Human Rights Resources

International Courts and Intergovernmental Organizations