Considering a New Practice Area? Leverage Current Trends in the Legal Profession

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking about taking your law career in a new direction? If so, you’re probably not alone. Because the legal profession is continuously evolving, practice areas ebb and flow in popularity as business dynamics shift, causing new law position specialties to emerge.

Associates and paralegals, in particular, may find that with some planning, they can carve a new niche for themselves within the legal field. According to Robert Half Legal’s latest Future Law Office research report, Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession, the following industry trends may expand opportunities for legal professionals:

  • Non-associate positions. Some large law firms are addressing lawyers’ desire for work-life balance by creating non-partnership track positions. These jobs, which frequently don’t entail staff management or business development responsibilities, come with lower salaries than those given to partner-track lawyers. Some firms are also creating C-level positions -- such as chief financial officer, chief legal officer and chief operating officer -- to better reflect the business-focused role of managing attorneys.

  • “Apprentice” and “legal resident” roles. Newly minted lawyers are often hired at a lower non-associate salary and billing rate for a one-year period. During this time, they gain the skills, knowledge and training to later transition to an associate or practice group attorney position.

  • Blended paralegal roles. Pressure on law firms to reduce costs has led to paralegals doing legal work previously performed by partners and associates. Blended paralegal/legal secretary roles have also become popular. Formal hybrid paralegal job training programs are now available to address this growing demand.

Follow the Trends

In addition to new types of roles emerging, practice area demand is always shifting within the legal profession to keep abreast of business trends, the economy and other factors. A recent Robert Half Legal survey found that litigation, general business/commercial law and intellectual property are the top three practice areas most likely to offer the greatest number of job opportunities in the coming months.

Staying attuned to trends in the legal field can help you determine how you might want to refocus your career. This can help you answer such questions as: Do I want to build expertise in a popular specialty? Scale back my workload to achieve better work-life balance? Assume a more multidimensional role?

Depending on your professional goals, here are some suggestions for how you might go about making a career change within the legal field:

  • Look within. Although it can be difficult to change practice areas or alter your career path, it may be easier to make such a transition within your current organization, assuming it can offer what you’re seeking. Your colleagues may be willing to provide training and mentoring to help you develop expertise in a new area. Your employer might also be willing to pay for you to take relevant continuing legal education (CLE) courses so you can gain new skills and expertise.

  • Find a niche and fill it. Consider what needs your firm has that are going unmet. For instance, if the intellectual property practice is growing by leaps and bounds but is short-staffed, ask about working in an apprentice-like capacity with that group. Or, if eDiscovery is an area where the firm needs more support, look into pursuing training to become an in-house specialist.  

  • Discuss the business case. Make an argument for the logic of an internal career transition with your managers. Remind them of your accomplishments and the strengths you bring to the firm. Mention the investment they’ve made in your training and development and the fact that you understand the firm’s culture and client base. In light of the growing legal talent shortage in particular areas, your employer may realize that it makes more sense to cross-train a proven employee than to recruit and train someone new.

Pursuing work in a new practice area or seeking to alter your role in some way will likely require creativity, initiative and persistence. But especially if you’re trying to become more specialized in your focus, you’ll be in step with a growing trend in the legal field.

Learn more about current legal trends in   Robert Half Legal’s latest Future Law Office research report, Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession.