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What’s the Difference between a Generalist and Specialist Lawyer?

What’s the Difference between a Generalist and Specialist Lawyer?

A generalist lawyer practices broadly across different areas of law, whilst a specialist lawyer is an expert in their chosen field. Read more here.

23rd January 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Not all lawyers are the same. Some may be experts in niche areas of law, whilst others may practice across multiple fields and offer a more general service. Similar to the medical profession, there are general practitioners and specialists, each with their own set of skills and experience.

In this article, we’ll outline the difference between a generalist and specialist lawyer. We’ll also explain how you can determine which one is right for you.

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What is a Generalist Lawyer?

A generalist lawyer typically works in different areas of law. Put simply, a generalist lawyer will develop all-rounder skills in each area of law. This is because generalist lawyers often work in small or general practice firms. This is common in smaller towns or cities, where there may only be a limited number of lawyers to assist the diverse range of clients they serve.

A generalist lawyer will refer you to a specialist lawyer if your legal situation requires specific skills and knowledge. This is also often the case where litigation becomes involved.

What is a Specialist Lawyer?

On the other hand, specialist lawyers possess very niche skill sets and knowledge. Many specialists lawyers practice in one specific area of law. There are two main characteristics that a specialist lawyer will often possess:

  1. Technical knowledge and education about specific circumstances (such as international private equity investment in Artificial Intelligence)
  2. A certificate of accreditation under the appropriate state scheme

Specialist lawyers must have practiced full time law for a minimum of five years and the specific area for at least 3 years to be able to qualify. Thus, specialist lawyers are skilled in both general law and the specific area of law. As there are many different types of specialist lawyers, it is recommended that you find a lawyer who has experience advising on your particular legal issue. Specialists also tend to charge higher fees, due to the experience and expertise they bring.


You are the first party to a business dispute between your company and an international company regarding oil and gas trading. You need legal advice on how to proceed with this lawsuit in the most efficient and non-disruptive manner. In this situation, you will need to engage with a specialist lawyer as the matter involves specific international knowledge in business conduct relations for oil and gas. This is because a generalist lawyer would be able to advise on procedural aspects in a business disputes against your company and an international company but not in aspects of oil and gas trading.

Final Thoughts

The main difference between a generalist and a specialist lawyer is in the type of service and knowledge they can provide. A generalist lawyer can be useful where your legal matter is straightforward and requires minimal intervention. A specialist on the other hand, can offer expert advice relevant to your particular legal issue.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest lawyer marketplace.

Cecilia Tran

Cecilia is a final year law student completing her Practical Legal Training at Lawpath. She has an avid interest in intellectual property.