Law Career Specialties

Gavel sitting on courtroom table

The practice of law is not limited to putting people in jail or defending individuals who are accused of doing wrong. There are many different areas of law to specialize in and some of the more common areas are listed below. As you explore these law career options, keep in mind that, quite often, one specialty of law can overlap with another. To find out more, or to explore some of the specialties not listed here, please check out Hieros Gamos' Areas of Practice.

Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice   |   Air, Sea & Space Law   |   Antitrust Law   |   Banking Law   |   Bankruptcy Law   |   Business Law   |   Children's Advocacy & Law   |   Civil Rights Law   |   Cyberspace Law   |   Disability Law   |   Drug Law   |   e-Commerce Law   |   Elder Law   |   Employee Benefits Law   |   Entertainment & Sports Law   |   Environmental Law   |   Family Law   |   Gaming Law   |   Health Law   |   Immigration Law   |   Insurance Law   |   Intellectual Property Law   |   Judicial Law   |   Litigation   |   National Security Law   |   Personal Injury Law   |   Privacy Law   |   Public Defense   |   Real Estate & Property Law   |   Securities Law   |   Tax Law

Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice

Administrative law governs the organization and operation of the United States' Executive Branch of government (President, Vice President, and associated administrative departments and agencies). It also governs the relations between U.S. citizens and the three branches of government (Executive, Judicial, and Legislative).

Congress, functioning within limits set by the Administrative Procedure Act, the U.S. Constitution, and state statute, among other laws and legal principles, gives authority to government agencies, as agents for the executive branch, to set policies and regulations primarily to protect the public's interest.

Professionals working at administrative agencies establish and enforce standards and regulations that affect every aspect of life, such as food safety (FDA), environmental protection policy (EPA), and entertainment standards (FCC).

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Air, Sea & Space Law

Air and space law not only covers airline transportation and the operation of aviation facilities - it also includes the legal ramifications of telecommunications and the military's use of airspace. Aviation law spans the United States and can be influenced by international aviation regulations. In the case of an airplane crash, practitioners of aviation law can find their lives consumed by one case that takes many years to settle.

Admiralty and maritime lawyers (covering aspects of law pertaining to events encountered at sea) deal with issues that relate to things such as regulations for cargo shipping vessels, international shipping traffic rules, and more.

On occasion, the laws of the skies and seas can intersect - as when a jet crashes in an ocean.

Law students interested in these specialties are encouraged to select courses that stress settlement and negotiation techniques, deposition of expert witnesses, presentation of expert testimony at trial, and international laws and policies.

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Antitrust Law

Antitrust is defined as "opposing or intended to regulate business monopolies, such as trusts or cartels, especially in the interest of promoting competition."

Antitrust lawyers work to ensure that antitrust laws are established and adhered to by large corporations. Their job is to protect the consumer while encouraging free commerce within the business arena. Individuals in this specialty can serve as courtroom litigators, regulatory advocates, or business advisors.

Students of antitrust are required to master statutory, administrative, and case law - as antitrust actions can proceed as criminal or civil cases, typically with high stakes involved.

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Banking Law

Covering several types of financial institutions, banking law includes banks, savings and credit unions, and savings and loans, leasing companies, finance companies and various types of financial borrowers.

The work of banking lawyers covers topics such as incorporation of banks, corporate and private lending, electronic banking and regulatory and corporate governance, financing and refinancing, international banking transactions, financial leasing, loans, taxation, government regulations, and issues with an individual's bank.

Courses covering banking, taxation, negotiable instruments, and contract negotiation are key to a student wishing to specialize in banking law.

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Bankruptcy Law

Depending on the nature of a case, bankruptcy lawyers represent creditors, debtors, individuals, or businesses. The objective of these lawyers is to help bring back individuals or corporations from the brink of financial failure. Courtroom work can be heavy, especially with Chapter 11 cases for businesses, which involve significant motion practice.

The tax aspect of bankruptcy can provide lawyers with a variable workload, depending on what the bankruptcy entails in regards to the choice of liquidation or reorganization.

In order to successfully handle corporate restructuring or plans for reorganization, students need to have thorough knowledge of corporation practices, how contracts work, how securities laws work, taxation principles, and in some cases, how international trade works.

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Business Law

Attorneys who practice business law guide individuals in the structuring of their business. The size of the company, number of owners, profitability, and risks to the company are assessed by the attorney and recommendations are made as to what business structure would be most appropriate for those conditions (i.e.: corporations, LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships, cooperatives, etc.).

There are several ways you can structure your business, and no one way is necessarily better than another. What suits you best depends on the size and profitability of your company, how many owners you have, and the risks involved. There are several options, which will be explained in other entries, but include sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, corporations, and cooperatives.

Courses for future business lawyers should include topics of taxation, management, accounting, economics, contract negotiation, labor and employment issues, litigation, and arbitration.

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Children's Advocacy & Law

Attorneys can work in various aspects of children's advocacy and law:

  • Judge/Judicial Officers ensure that due process is afforded to all parties who appear in court. They primarily are concerned with the safety, well being, and permanency of children brought before them.
  • Agency Attorneys represent child welfare agencies (both local and state) in and out of court during all legal steps of a case. They work with agency administrators and caseworkers on issues including abuse, neglect, parental rights termination, child support, foster care, and more and, in some cases, in-court litigation is involved.
  • Children's Attorney or Guardian ad Litem: There are two different models of legal representation of children is based on two models: representing the child's wishes v. representing the child's best interests. According to principles set forth by the American Bar Association, a child should have an attorney who is the child's legal representative who will advocate for what the child wants. In opposition to this principle, a Guardian ad Litem model of representation allows the guardian to substitute their judgment for the child's and present what the Guardian feels is in the child's best interests - even though this may differ from what the child wishes.
  • Regarding a criminal case, if the child is the perpetrator, the Prosecutor litigates the case in court to ensure that justice is carried out and that the child receives an appropriate sentence. If the child is the victim, the prosecutor works with local child welfare agencies to ensure that the child is protected from future harm and is not traumatized in court.
  • Public Defenders represent children in juvenile delinquency cases or a parent in a case where criminal charges are pending that involve the same facts that brought a child into the child welfare system.

To work in any of these roles, an individual must be knowledgeable about child abuse and neglect issues and family or juvenile court procedures. They must be comfortable with children and have an understanding of psychological and developmental issues of children.

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Civil Rights Law

Civil rights law has evolved over the years. Concerns regarding racial equality still figure prominently, however the field now includes other causes and social groups. Lawyers in this specialty are concerned primarily with four key areas regarding their client's rights: employment, education, housing, and voting. Various groups are protected by civil rights laws and practice in this area usually means vindicating their rights by enforcement of the laws that prohibit discrimination.

Courtroom litigation is a dominant factor of this type of legal work and skills in this area should be well-honed. In addition, skills in administrative law and practice are encouraged since cases often involve proceedings handled before government agencies.

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Consumer Law

Consumer lawyers represent the interests of business clients or advocate on behalf of buyers of products and services. Legal activity can include products liability cases, contract claims, consumer credit issues, unfair lending practices, claims of false or deceptive advertising. Representation of senior citizens is one of the fastest growing aspects of consumer-side practice in this area.

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Cyberspace Law

Cyberspace law covers many areas of business and day-to-day life. These include advertising and consumer protection, intellectual property, payment systems and banking, privacy issues, gaming, sale of goods, sale of services, securities, and taxation. A lawyer practicing in this specialty can find himself working with a consumer who is dissatisfied with goods purchased on the Internet, a small business that needs to know if it must collect taxes on Internet sales, or a large company whose proprietary content may be misappropriated for use on a competitor's web page.

Jurisdiction over Internet transactions (see e-Commerce Law) is among the hottest issues in cyber law. Because the Internet makes it possible for people to do business without even knowing what country the other party is in, when there is trouble, lawyers have to determine where or what the appropriate forum for suing a company is since sometimes it is not known where the company is located. More complications can ensue if the company is located in another state or country.

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Disability Law

The job of a disability lawyers is to represent and protect the interests of their clients under the accord of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines that have been established for employers, businesses, schools, and other places of "public accommodation."

Students pursuing disability law should include courses related to laws governing housing, employment, education, transportation, technology, and telecommunications.

  • DisabilityInfo.gov - gateway to the federal government's disability-related information and resources.
  • Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) - document sets standards for facility accessibility by physically handicapped persons for federal and federally-funded facilities.
  • DisabilityLawyers.com - links to a wide range of topics including U.S. federal codes, glossary of disability-related insurance terms, web resources for lawyers, and more.
  • Overview of Special Education Law - provided by NOLO, describes the rights to special education for children pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).
  • Disability Law: An Overview - provides great information on the topic.
  • FedLaw - excellent source for finding articles, papers, and links to information on disability law.

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Drug Law

Nearly one-quarter of the United States economy is made up of products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As such, strict laws are in place that affect the production and distribution of prescription and some over-the-counter products and medications. Lawyers can be involved in work in virtually all stages of a drug's development. Often, they work in-house to define the relationship between drug companies or research institutions and the scientists that work for them. They help drug corporations navigate through the regulatory maze that is encountered when attempting to get a product to market. If a product is accused of doing harm, these lawyers are brought in to handle litigation proceedings.

Attorneys practicing drug law also can find themselves working in commercial and insurance defense, including medical malpractice and product liability. In some cases they work on the behalf of doctors and/or physician groups to negotiate contracts with hospitals and other entities that will be handling or dispensing their product.

Suggested topics for students to cover in their coursework include regulatory practices, food and drug laws,chemistry manufacturing and control issues, quality management, and drug discovery development and registration.

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e-Commerce Law

The reach of e-commerce spans more than the dot-com world. Today, most traditional "brick-and-mortar" companies are involved in some sort of e-commerce. These companies engage in their business and, as a side-effect, information about their business dealings is generated. This information can then be exchanged with customers, suppliers, employees, and even the government via the Internet. A business' structure, the nature of its online transactions, and its passing of confidential information electronically brings along an abundance of legal issues. Attorneys specializing in e-commerce often find themselves dealing with issues of security and privacy, intellectual property rights, technological development and ownership. They also are tasked with deciphering legal authority jurisdiction for activities held in cyberspace.

To prepare for working in this area, it is suggested that students interested in cyberspace law enroll in courses on intellectual property, constitutional and First Amendment issues, conflicts, remedies, international law/jurisdiction, and the Uniform Commercial Code.

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Elder Law

A practitioner of elder law will find that the field does not focus on any one particular area. Since many older individuals face certain challenges due to retirement and its monetary ramifications, or because of health concerns (possibly involving institutionalized care), the issues that come before an elder law attorney can involve laws concerning real estate, health insurance, pension plans, Social Security benefits, trusts, estates, taxation, and possibly divorce. Elder lawyers work to ensure that the rights of their clients are not violated in any scenario.

Government positions can include working for a state attorney general in a public protection division that fights elder abuse or in its Medicaid fraud unit to prosecute individuals who try to take advantage of the system. State agencies also employ professionals in elder law who address the concerns of the elderly regarding housing, health care, living wills, and more.

Students of elder law need to take courses that cover issues regarding Medicare and Medicaid, estate planning, trusts, long term care insurance, and the rights of the elderly and disabled.

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Employee Benefits Law

Employee benefits such as health insurance, pension plans, life insurance, and severance packages are covered by a federal statute called ERISA - the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. ERISA serves as the bible for lawyers who deal in employee benefit laws.

According to employee benefits lawyers, the specialty covers both the transactional and litigation aspects of practice. It provides opportunities to represent employers as well as their workers.

Course topics for future employee benefits attorneys should include labor law, compensation and benefits, benefits administration, taxation, and issues pertaining to COBRA and HIPPA.

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Entertainment & Sports Law

Attorneys who work in entertainment and sports law have the skills to get the most out of contract negotiations for their clients. Their job requires intense research to discern competitive salaries and bonuses in preparation for negotiating such contracts. In addition, these lawyers often deal with issues involving taxation, probate law, domestic law (paternity, divorce, and pre-nuptial agreements), intellectual property, criminal law, real estate law, and business law, among others.

Entertainment and sports lawyers also must understand the processes and requirements of collective bargaining agreements (or union rules in the arts), worker's compensation issues, grievance procedures, possible adjudication of fines, and conflicts of interest with team, product, and management.

While in law school, covering a diverse range of disciplines is the key to an attorney's effectiveness in efficiently servicing a client, however course topics should include intellectual property, contract negotiations, labor and employment, and taxation.

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Environmental Law

Environmental lawyers are involved in the drafting of legislation on environmental policy and they often work closely with public and private environmental groups in the development of policies covering a range of environmental issues. Their efforts can cover many areas - such as the protection of endangered species, concerns of urban sprawl and its effect on the environment, or the implications of international trade with countries that don't provide as much environmental protection as that found in the United States.

Students interested in pursuing environmental law careers should be sure that they take courses covering topics such as public health, natural resources, government regulatory affairs,conservation, litigation, taxation.

To learn more about the Environmental Law field, read our interview with Nancy Marks, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Family Law

Family lawyers have traditionally covered issues of divorce, custody, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, taxation, property, trusts, estates, pensions, health insurance, and perhaps bankruptcy.

However, social changes, shifting demographics, and technological advances are creating new definitions of what constitutes a marriage, and what legally constitutes a family formation. New legal issues are raised based on issues involving single-parent households, unmarried partners, and same-sex partners-with or without children, making the above issues more complicated to work on.

Important course topics to take for this profession include financial and estate issues, alternative dispute resolution, child advocacy, and real estate law.

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Gaming Law

Gambling, which is becoming more widespread in the United States, is subjected to state and federal-level legislation. This legislation limits the means and types of gambling, and regulates gaming activity in various other ways. Offshore and internet gambling operations have cropped up in recent years in efforts to bypass the stiff regulations found in the United States.

Attorneys involved in gaming law can find positions with private law firms, jobs with government regulatory agencies, and employment as in-house counsel for companies in the gaming business.

Their work can cover many ares and, as such, knowledge of various legal aspects is necessary for work in this specialty. Some examples include regulatory and administrative law, business law, real estate law, acquisitions, Internet and e-commerce practices, sports and entertainment law, and international trade practices.

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Health Law

Individuals practicing health law can work for a variety of practices dealing with the following legal concerns: antitrust, regulatory issues, tort reform, contract negotiations, government practices, and so on.

Government work at federal agencies with involvement in health care issues (like the Department of Health and Human Services) is another possibility, as are jobs at the state level with entities that regulate insurance, hospitals, and physicians. In many states, the state attorney general prosecutes actions regarding physician licensing and other health-related issues, providing more opportunities for practitioners of health law.

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Immigration Law

Immigration lawyers do more than help individuals become citizens of the United States. Their work often involves helping immigrants in other areas such as business law, commercial work, litigation, civil liberties, and human rights advocacy. Attorneys can work in an array of settings - from solo practices to large firms or even government sponsored legal service programs.

Corporations are steadily employing attorneys who specialize in immigration law as an influx of foreign nationals to the U.S. job market has presented a need for special representation of these individuals.

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Insurance Law

Insurance law covers legal representation on insurance issues. Attorneys in this field can be found working for large or small firms, or in-house for insurance agencies. They handle regulatory and compliance issues, insurance coverage disputes for individuals or groups, disputes between brokers and agents, and litigation as needed.

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Intellectual Property Law

According to the 'Lectric Law Library, intellectual property is defined as "Property that can be protected under federal law, including copyrightable works, ideas, discoveries, and inventions. Such property would include novels, sound recordings, a new type of mousetrap, or a cure for a disease."

Intellectual property is often protected by trademarks and patents and the job of a lawyer in this field is to determine which of these methods provides the most effective means of protection for the client.

Trademarks, which can include any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, allow companies and businesses to distinguish their products and services. Trademarks serve to prevent consumer confusion among products, and protect the means companies have chosen to identify their products or services.

A patent, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office, grants property right to the inventor. This right excludes others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States.

In addition to assisting companies with applying for and obtaining trademarks and patents, lawyers in this specialty are sometimes involved with litigation involving the infringement of either means of protection.

Students should take courses that cover aspects of business, contract negotiation, litigation, and possibly entertainment law to succeed in this specialty of law.

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Litigation

Litigators, or trial lawyers, are the individuals who try a case before a judge and jury in a courtroom. However, much of the work of a litigator is not in the courtroom but is involved in the research and paperwork needed at a pre-trial level for a case. Some cases never make it to a courtroom, so litigators also can instead find themselves involved in alternative dispute resolution techniques, like arbitration and mediation.

Some litigators see less of the courtroom than you might think. Trial lawyers are the courtroom warriors who get on their feet before a judge or jury. But many litigators are involved behind the scenes churning out the reams of paperwork cases can generate.

Litigators need excellent speech and writing skills, and must have a solid inclination to paying attention to details. The nature of cases handled can cover a broad spectrum, so an education that spans across several specialities of law can be a bonus to future litigators.

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National Security Law

The United States has been concerned with national security laws since October, 1962, the month that saw the states involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reinforcement of these concerns came with the events that occurred on September 11th, 2001. Since that time, both state and local governments and business have adopted means to make America a safer place to work and live. This has provided ample opportunities for attorneys involved in the practice of national security law.

Lawyers can find themselves working in the public or private sector addressing issues such as administrative regulations, management plans, anti-terrorism programs and terrorism response plans, and the reworking of government statutes.

Individuals who wish to concentrate in national security law are encouraged to take courses covering constitutional law and administrative law. They should have a solid knowledge in international subjects and foreign affairs. Subjects such as business, securities, and taxation are advocated as well.

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Personal Injury Law (Tort Law)

Personal injury lawyers work to defend the rights of individuals who have been injured. Injury can come by many means: slip and fall accidents, animal bites, incorrect dosing of prescriptions, automobile accidents, medical malpractice, and more. Some attorneys in this specialty work solely within the realms of medical malpractice, worker's compensation, nursing home liability claims, product liability suits, or on class action lawsuits.

Medical malpractice is a term used to signify the failure of a professional to follow the accepted standards of practice for his or her specialty, usually resulting in injury, prolonged physical or mental suffering, or the termination of a patient's life.

It is the job of a lawyer who practices in this specialty to prove (on behalf of the client/patient) that actions performed by a medical practitioner did not comply with the accepted standards of practice and have caused harm to a patient.

Worker's Compensation laws are designed to protect employees who are injured on the job. Typically, injured employees are provided with fixed monetary awards covered under workers compensation, thus eliminating the need for excessive litigation.

Generally, attorneys involved in personal injury lawsuites represent their client and seek resititution for loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering, and reasonable medical expenses (this includes both present loss and those expected in the future).

Work in personal injury law can cover many areas, so students interested in this specialty should take courses with topics that cover employment law, products liability, litigation, insurance issues, health law, and alternative dispute resolution.

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Privacy Law

With the advent of the Internet and its free-flow nature of information transmittal and sharing comes many concerns. To address these concerns, privacy laws are being reviewed, drafted, and enacted upon on different levels. In corporations, a new executive post - the CPO, or Chief Privacy Officer - has been created and is often filled by attorneys specializing in this legal arena. They provide legal counsel about the security of company data, the handling of personal information about workers, and the management of information pertaining to their customers.

Federal legislation, such as the HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, regarding use of information by financial institutions have made new opportunities for privacy lawyers at the federal, state, and local levels as well. The European Union has established its own set of privacy requirements, so lawyers who represent clients with foreign interests must attain knowledge on those legal constraints.

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Public Defense

The Bill of Rights of the United States is a statement that guarantees the fundamental rights and privileges of the country's citizens. It is the job of a public defender to protect and defend the high standards and ideals set forth in this document.

Typically, public defenders are assigned by courts to work with individuals who cannot afford legal services. In spite of their client's economic disadvantages, their job is to represent these individuals without bias and to ensure that their rights and inherent worth as U.S. citizens are not ignored.

Attorneys who practice public defense hold most of the responsibility for a case's management, including research, preparation and presentation of legal arguments, arrangement of plea-bargains, and sentencing requests.

Students who wish to become public defenders need to have excellent speaking and presentation skills. Cases handled can cover a broad range of topics, so a variety of courses should be taken. Some examples include criminal defense, estates, child advocacy, insurance issues, personal injury, business, and financial issues.

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Real Estate & Property Law

Besides helping clients buy or sell a home (residential real estate), real estate and property lawyers can find their work covers land-use regulation, construction law, commercial real estate development, finance, and tenant disputes and resolution.

Some attorneys help their clients secure rights to use land resources for irrigation, mining, or other activities.

Courses with topics in fair housing issues, government, business, contract negotiation, taxation, estate planning, and dispute resolution are strongly encouraged for individuals wishing to work in property and real estate law.

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Securities Law

Practitioners of securities law (involving stocks, bonds, and similar instruments from a legal perspective) find their work broken down into three general areas: transactions, regulatory, and litigation.

Lawyers on the transactional side may work with mutual fund development, mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and so on.

Several regulatory groups - the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York Stock Exchange, the National Association of Securities Dealers, will keep attorneys working in this niche quite busy as they are involved with sorting out and dealing with the various state and federal laws designed to protect investors. Litigators will find work in the criminal and civil arenas at both state and federal levels.

Accounting, finance, and business are all courses that are advocated for students wishing to pursue careers in securities law.

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Tax Law

Tax law (which invo

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