The law of the seas is sometimes called maritime law or admiralty law. For years, admiralty law and patent law were the only recognized areas of specialization in the legal profession. In the area of admiralty, this distinction arose because of a number of factors.
First, legal problems on the water inevitably involved ships, and the sort of injuries that typically resulted (for example, drowning) were clearly identifiable and often unique. Second, ships are usually involved in the commerce of moving cargo and passengers from one point to another, which is subject to certain common risks (for example, hurricanes).
Third, maritime activities often implicated the interests and laws of different countries. Rivers, as well as oceans, may carry voyagers through the jurisdictions of several sovereign states as well as beyond the jurisdiction of any.
Thus admiralty law, which is ancient in origin, has followed an independent course of development in the United States.
It should not be surprising that admiralty law has evolved its own rules and procedures, and its own specialized bar. Nor should it be surprising that admiralty law tends to be concentrated in cities by the water, particularly major ports.
The area has grown in importance in recent years due to rising concerns about such environmental topics as offshore drilling, commercial fishing, and deep-sea dumping.
The United States armed services represent millions of men and women in uniform plus their dependants, as well as a large number of civilian employees. Such institutions and large numbers of people could not exist without generating legal problems.
Both enlisted men and women and officers are covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which defines the conduct of service people on active duty. To address traditional crimes as well as uniquely military forms of misconduct (for example, disrespect to a superior officer), the code provides not only for military courts but also for nonjudicial discipline imposed by a commanding officer.
Members of the armed services outside of the scope of their duties may be subject to civilian laws, just as their dependents and civilian military employees are. At times, military and civilian jurisdictions overlap, or even conflict.
Lawyers for the military services may be involved in representing clients or prosecuting miscreants in the military judicial system, or representing service people or their dependents in the military judicial system, or representing service people or their dependents in actions involving the civilian law.
Military lawyer also represent the military in actions such as contracts or where the military service itself is a party of litigation. Each armed service has a special branch known as the Judge Advocate General Corps that handles military legal work.
Some of these lawyers eventually move on to become judges in the military court system, or commanding officers, but most military lawyers spend a four-year tour of duty in the military before moving on to positions in civilian life.