Associate attorney jobs are distinguishable by whether the position practices civil or criminal law. These two types of associate positions can be further differentiated by the nature of the work performed under each category. Associate attorneys working in criminal law can specialize in trial or appellate cases at the state or federal jurisdictional level. Civil law associates can be employed for trial or transactional work, at the state or federal level and across various civil law areas.
In the US, unlike other jurisdictions with similar legal systems such as the UK, licensed legal practitioners are called attorneys. Law firms title their attorney positions according to a convention that distinguishes ownership-track attorneys from affiliated attorneys employed by the firm. Ownership-track attorneys are titled associates, and they can be hired at entry-level right out of law school or at mid-level as a lateral hire from another firm. Associate attorneys can be considered for a partner, or owner, position at the firm after working a certain number of years.
Associate attorney jobs are specialized with a focus in either criminal or civil law, which is in line with the way law firms are set up in the US. Once associate attorney jobs are classified as civil or criminal, the positions can be further defined by the type of work the associate is assigned to do. Firms practicing criminal law tend to specialize in trial or appellate work in either state or federal court. Associates are hired into jobs that require skills and qualifications suitable for those categories. For example, an associate attorney job can be advertised by a criminal law firm looking for an attorney licensed to practice in federal court, and who is a specialist in cases on appeal.
In civil law, associate attorney jobs can be distinguished by the type of law practiced and nature of the work. Civil law is comprised of a number of different legal specialties, such as corporate law or real estate law. Domestic relations law, tort law and many other areas are also practiced. Associates are typically hired into a practice area, or at least slated for one of a handful of areas that can be whittled down to one selection during the associate's first year.
Most civil practice areas also have a transactional side and a litigation side. Associate attorney jobs in civil law are categorized as either one or the other. If an associate is placed in the civil litigation department, it is likely he will handle cases across a number of civil law specialties. Transactional associates rarely litigate cases. Instead, they handle negotiations, contracts and other types of paperwork.