Private Practice

Private Practice in the United States

Practice of law by attorneys who are neither employed by a government agency or a private industry or association. Attorneys in private practice may operate out of a one-person office, be part of a large firm with 50 or more attorneys, or something in between. Nearly 70 percent of attorneys in the United States are involved in some form of private practice. The remaining 30 percent divide into two groups of roughly equal size. The first group includes attorneys who practice law for government agencies such as the Department of Justice. This category includes those attorneys who serve as judges in American courts. The second group consists of attorneys who serve as “in- house” counsel for a business or association and have no other clients. A small additional group of attorneys do not practice law, but rather perform various management functions in business, teach in law schools, or hold political office. Attorneys in private practice generally charge clients on an hourly basis for services performed, while attorneys who work for the government or private industry are salaried. The trend in recent years has been away from the solo practice of law. Rather, attorneys are currently more likely to enter into arrangements with at least one other attorney. Such arrangements not only allow for a broadening of expertise, but lowers office operating costs. Large law firms have also become more common. Nearly fifteen percent of attorneys in private practice are affiliated with firms of at least 20 attorneys.

See Also

American Bar Association (ABA, U.S.) Legal Profession (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

A number of attorneys in private practice attempt to maintain a general practice. That is, they try to handle a range of legal problems for their clients. The trend is away from the general practice, however, to a more specialized or focused private practice. It is this trend that is decreasing the number of attorneys who practice law alone. The cooperative approach facilitates specialization. Among the larger legal specialties are corporate law, tax law, and criminal law. The corporate practitioner acts as an adviser to business clients in an attempt to keep them from legal difficulty. Tax attorneys focus on minimizing the tax liability of their clients. Few corporate or tax attorneys are courtroom practitioners, and only a small proportion of those in private practice do trial work. A large group of trial attorneys, of course, are engaged in defending persons accused of crimes. Additional specializations found among private practitioners include civil rights, energy and environment, international business, labor-management relations, personal injury, and domestic relations.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Private Practice from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Private Practice: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Private Practice. This part provides references, in relation to Private Practice, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Private Practice by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Private Practice and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Private Practice or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Private Practice and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Private Practice. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Private Practice should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Private Practice when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

Leave a Comment