Are you thinking about going to law school, are you in law school or are you a recent law graduate? Then the decision of choosing a practice area may be something you’ve struggled with or anticipate dealing with in the near future. The great thing about law school is that there is no requirement of choosing a practice area on your first day as a 1L or even on your last day as a 3L for that matter. However, although it can certainly be beneficial to have a practice area in mind to guide you along in your course selections, it definitely won’t inhibit you if you never took a Contract Law course, and you land a Commercial Transactions position. The beauty of law school is that it provides you with the nuts and bolts to think critically and analyze issues carefully, therefore, upon obtaining your JD, you already have the skillset to thrive in any practice area. So as you decide what practice area you want to delve into, embrace this benefit. Simply put, you can kill it anywhere! But as you make this inevitable choice, here’s a handy guide.
1. Learn as much as you can
As you make this critical decision, I recommend learning as much as you can about all the practice areas available, and law school is the perfect time to take it all in. As a 1L, you may be a lot more restricted in your course decisions but take each mandatory course very seriously. Look beyond your course lectures and actually envision whether you could see yourself in that practice. I recall going into my 1L Real Property course and thinking that I would just about sleep my way through. I was quickly surprised about how interested I was in this practice area and ultimately that’s the practice I decided on as a lawyer.
As a 2L/3L, when you make your course selections, survey the full landscape. Unless you’re already locked into a practice area, I recommend choosing courses in many different areas. This will give you a more complete understanding of your options and will only benefit you during interview season.
As you open up to these learning opportunities, also consider what you already know. Is there a practice area you already know about either based on your undergraduate major or prior work experience? If so, then amplify this knowledge by choosing courses that will further develop it.
2. What Opportunities Are Available?
Another option to consider as you decide on a practice area, is what opportunities are already available to you. Now I’m not suggesting that you should settle on what’s easily available, but instead truly explore these options to see if it could be a great fit and if not, use it as a first step to catapult you into a practice area that is better suited to you.
Do you already have a job offer in a practice area you’re not into? If this is the case and no other options appear to be on your radar, give this practice area a fair shot. Accept it with positivity and learn all you possibly can. You may be surprised to learn that it’s a perfect match. In the alternative, if you’re unable to find your happy place, still absorb absolutely everything you can but start thinking about how you can use the skills from that role to better serve you in a practice area of your preference.
If you are still on the job hunt, use your network to your advantage. If you don’t have a network, start building one. Preferably build your network with people who practice in areas you are interested in. Once you start building true connections, you may be shocked to see how your contacts can move mountains and open doors for you in their practice.
3. Complete a Gut Check and Create a Five/Ten Year Plan
Choosing the right practice area is all about choosing what’s the perfect fit for you. Now, I do want to keep it real and make it clear that the perfect practice area may not be a realistic option in your first year or even your first five years of practice. However, completing a gut check and knowing what you ultimately want, is key to charting your course and gaining entry to the practice area of your dreams. The fact is that a lot of lawyers are unhappy and sadly a contributing factor to that is the limited job market for lawyers. Choosing a practice area solely based on the job providing the most financial returns may be your best option. There is absolutely no judgment for doing that especially considering the high debt most lawyers have. However, having a plan in place of what you ultimately want to do, assessing that plan often and making actual steps to get there may make the difference.
So, start by completing a gut check. Think about the reasons why you went to law school, why you want to become a lawyer and what would make you happiest in practice. Create a five-year and a ten-year plan around these thoughts. If you’re lucky enough to jump into your ideal area of practice right after law school, kudos to you. However, if like most lawyers, you kind of just fall into something as a necessity then be intentional about taking steps to get to your ultimate practice area. Keep aspiring to what you truly want, and you will ultimately find that perfect fit.
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