General practice (or general law practice) typically encompasses a broad range of practice areas by an attorney. It means that the attorney does not limit their law practice or specialty to one particular area of law. Instead the attorney will practice law in several areas such as criminal law, accident and personal injury law, bankruptcy, business law, family law, estate planning, insurance law, litigation, and real estate.
Many younger attorneys will open a “general practice” until they settle into an area of law in which they intend to specialize. You will also see general practitioners in smaller communities when business may be limited, so a lawyer must practice in multiple areas. Attorneys are not required to specialize. However, in larger cities, “boutique” law firms have developed over the last several years that specialize in only one or two practice areas. The philosophy is to do one area of law extremely well, thereby justifying a premium “boutique” fee.
When you are looking for a lawyer, you may want to consider an attorney who specializes in one area of law instead of a general practitioner so that you get more specialized advice. Many states have procedures where an attorney can become board certified in a particular area of law. To become specialized, board certification requirements generally include:
A set number of years in practice.
Have handled a certain number of cases and appeals involving the specialized practice area.
Completion of specific continuing education related to the specialty.
If your situation is very specific to one area of law, a board certified attorney may be a better avenue for a concise resolution of your case. However, if your situation involves an on overlap of multiple areas like family, criminal, and probate, you may want a general practitioner instead. Because they are used to handling overlapping issues, a general practitioner may be able to give you a broader picture of the options and consequences you are dealing with.
In addition, if you have regular legal issues such as those that sometimes plague small businesses, you may find that a general practitioner who can help in all the areas may get to know you and your business better than a new lawyer every time you have some sort of problem. Keep in mind that a general practice lawyer (or any lawyer for that matter) has a responsibility to seek assistance from lawyers of a certain specialty where such specialization is needed. Your general practitioner will be in a position to assist and manage and call in expert assistance whenever and whatever may come your way.
Regardless of whether you select an attorney who is in general practice or one who is board certified, you should double check their credentials on your state bar website. Many states will now provide on-line access to former complaints against attorneys. You can also verify any state board certifications or practice areas that will be the most helpful to your situation.