The advice below is from Jay M. Feinman, Distinguished Professor.
Tort law encompasses a broad range of topics and lawyers have diverse practices in dealing with those topics. A first division is between torts that involve personal injury or property damage—the core of the first-year Torts course—and economic and dignitary torts.
Personal injury and property damage can occur in infinite ways: slip-and-fall accidents, car crashes, medical negligence, defective products, dangerous drugs, environmental disasters, and more. And the occurrences can range from minor harm or catastrophic damage to one person all the way up to severe harm suffered by thousands of people, as when many people are exposed to a toxic substance or a dangerous drug.
What do tort lawyers do?
Lawyers who do this kind of work sometimes specialize in causes of harm (for example, auto accidents or medical malpractice) or types of harm (such as traumatic brain injury). Some do a high volume of relatively small cases; others work on a smaller number of large cases, either individual suits or class actions. And, of course, lawyers work either on the plaintiff side or defense side. (Few lawyers do both plaintiff and defense work.) Practice settings range across sole practitioners, small firms, larger firms, or in-house for business or insurance companies. (Tort claims almost always are driven by the availability of insurance coverage, so insurance companies are key players in the tort system. )
Economic and dignitary torts include many types of business litigation and some litigation involving individuals. Fraud, interference with contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and other economic torts can arise from many business disputes. Defamation and privacy actions are less common but can arise as well. Once again, lawyers practice in a variety of small and large firms and in-house.
Some tort practice involves counseling businesses on how to avoid potential tort liability, but tort practice is overwhelmingly a litigation practice. Litigation includes state and federal practice and simple and complex cases. Despite its litigation focus, the great majority of cases in all areas of practice settle.
What classes should I take?
Law school courses that are particularly useful in this practice area focus on relevant substantive knowledge, the development of creative lawyering skills, and advocacy. For a personal injury practice, these include Insurance Law and Products Liability. For an economic torts focus, these include Business Torts, Antitrust, and Remedies. In both areas, useful advocacy courses include Evidence, Pretrial Advocacy, Trial Advocacy, Federal Courts, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Class Action Litigation, Deposition Advocacy, and any clinical course.
How can I learn more?
Studying tort law and engaging in tort practice are different experiences. Students who potentially are interested in this area should join professional organizations, attend events, and network with lawyers. It’s especially important to get a sense of what lawyers do all day; a person can have an academic interest in torts but would be unhappy in a high-pressure litigation practice. (And networking can lead to jobs.) On the plaintiff side, the national organization is the American Association for Justice (AAJ). AAJ has state affiliates such as the New Jersey Association for Justice. Both welcome student members and Rutgers has a student chapter of NJAJ.
On the defense side, the Defense Research Institute and the New Jersey Defense Association also offers student memberships. There are comparable organizations in other states, too. The American Bar Association has a Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, and state bar associations usually have tort-focused sections as well; these groups include lawyers on all sides of the issues.