Legal Career Advice for Selecting an Area of Specialization (Part 1)

When I was in law school, there was no question in my mind what legal practice area I would pursue upon graduation. I greatly enjoyed debate and communication in school so litigation, with its focus on delivering convincing arguments in front of a judge, jury and clients, was my initial legal career path.

But, I remember that many of my law school peers didn’t have such an easy choice. Quite a few of my friends continued to wrestle with their decision about a specialty area of law to follow even after taking the bar exam.

Today, selecting a legal practice area in which to specialize remains a major decision for law students or new graduates. However, building a career based on a specialty that aligns with your skills and interests doesn't have to be difficult.

Here are five tips to help you determine your future practice area:  

  1. Assess your abilities. When deciding on an area of specialization, consider your strengths and weaknesses. You may have strengths that lend themselves well to a certain area of law, such as excellent public speaking skills, which are important for litigation. But if you view public speaking as one of your weaknesses and prefer to work directly with clients on a one-on-one basis, transactional law might be the path for you.

  2. Consider your background. Your previous education and work experiences may sway you towards a specific area of law. For example, a business degree may help you to better understand areas of law dealing with corporations. A science background, such as a biology or geology degree, may be useful in a career in environmental law.

  3. Follow your passions. Many legal professionals pursue a specialization that aligns with their personal interests. If you feel strongly about improving access to legal counsel for under-represented communities, for example, a public defense attorney is just one of a number of avenues you may want to consider.

  4. Network. Speaking with attorneys who specialize in different areas of the law can provide you with invaluable legal career advice. Ask them how they selected their specialization and what they enjoy most about their work. Also, check with them about skills and qualifications they believe are needed for someone to excel in their areas.

  5. Use your school as a resource. Your law school can provide a wealth of information that can help direct you to the right place within the legal workforce. Speak with your career counselor about your experience to date, your interests and your ambitions. He or she can provide insight into different legal jobs and how your qualifications might fit.

    Also ask your counselor if he or she can connect you with a mentor who can offer an insider’s view on a particular aspect of law. Their firsthand knowledge could help you define your path.

Choosing your specialization can be daunting when you’re just embarking on your legal career, but you don't have to figure it all out on your own. Legal career advice from established attorneys, your career counselor, mentors, and other resources can help you determine the area of law that's best for you.

For more tips on choosing a legal specialty, see "Legal Career Advice for Selecting an Area of Specialization (Part Two)."

To learn about trends affecting the legal profession, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office report.