One of the most exciting aspects of law school is that you get to discover your interests. I remember asking academic advising as soon I could select my own courses apart from the 1L prerequisites. Fortunately, there are more ways than just coursework to explore areas of the law other than the main fundamentals like torts and criminal law.
Law school opportunities provide experiences to deepen your understanding of a particular area of the law such as:
- tax law
- family law
- real estate law
- elder law
- international law
Why it is Important
Having an area of focus in the law is an asset for your career. It’s a way to show the outside world you have an in-depth understanding in this specific area.
It shows initiative on your part to seek out opportunities for gaining skills and knowledge in a particular area. For example, if your resume consistently demonstrates an interest in the First Amendment, Intellectual Property, or Healthcare Law—when you apply for internships focused on these areas, then employers will take notice of a committed interest to developing a niche in your career. This will be impressive to employers and paint a picture of the specialty areas you may work on for them in the future.
Meet with an academic advisor to explore certificate programs and opportunities offered by your school. Discover professors and clinics that focus on your areas of interest.
Within a clinic, you have a unique chance to represent clients under the supervision of your professor-mentor. You would likely be balancing a small case load with your courses. If you really love it, it may not feel like extra work. If you don’t enjoy it, it gives you a chance to re-evaluate and consider a new direction and even a new clinic in the future.
Take classes on specific topics you are interested in. Often, coursework provides opportunities to explore your interests and legal questions through legal writing. Another upside is that you can potentially use this as a legal writing sample.
Team up with a Professor
If you can, work closely with a professor that specializes in an area of law you’re also interested in. In fact, you may have chosen the school you are attending because of a professor and their involvement in a clinic or courses they teach. Schedule time to meet for an informational interview.
As a professor’s research assistant or fellow, you can get legal research and writing experience. Such opportunities can potentially lead to publishing in a law journal as a co-author or contributor, or even a strong letter of recommendation.
Inquire into study abroad programs or an externship placement out-of-state. These give you a summer, winter session or fall/spring semester to immerse yourself into a setting that can propel you to the next level of your interests and truly define the direction of your career.
Attend a conference. The great news is that conference organizers see the value of getting students involved and interested. I was formerly involved with health law conference planning and learned firsthand how organizers involve students in the hopes that they will develop an interest and take on leadership roles in the future.
Join a committee
The American Bar Association has committees on various law areas. They offer opportunities for students to join workgroups and take on leadership and volunteer roles. You can get started by exploring resources for law students on the ABA website.
Gaining Expertise as a Licensed Attorney
When licensed attorneys display their area of interest, it is usually framed as their “practice area.” This is helpful for clients looking for attorneys that have extensive experience in a specific area they need legal representation on.
Ways attorneys demonstrate their expertise include:
- Fulfilling a certificate program which may include taking an exam and certain other requirements such as a minimum number of years in practice.
- Complete Continuing Legal Education known as “CLE” in the specialty area. This can be completed by attending conference presentations, lectures, and webinars.
- Get listed on legal directories. If you are curious about the lawyers that are practicing under your specialty of interest, check the legal directory, Martindale-Hubble and review the attorneys listed.
- Attorneys can form networks within their respective bar associations and join listservs to act as resources for each other within their specialty. I learned that within the immigration law community, such listservs help attorneys find referrals and understand changes to laws.
Changing your Mind
Law school is the best time to explore.
You may remember being an undergraduate and wondering if you should change or add a major or minor. Similarly, you may find that your interests evolve throughout law school. It happens in the practice of law as well. Attorneys decide on a change of direction. Allow yourself the space and time to explore and begin again when needed.
Your greatest resource are friends including more senior students and alumni that have been where you are. They can offer great advice and be there to hear you out as you figure out your next steps.
Keep exploring and discovering what makes you want to practice law!
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