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

Deciding on an area of legal specialization to pursue is a critical decision, one that can have a long-lasting impact on your career.

That certainly has been true in my experience, as I’ve transitioned through different roles during my career -- from working as a litigation attorney following law school to counseling clients today on strategic and cost-effective legal business project and staffing solutions.

The initial step in evaluating an area of specialization is to consider your strengths, background, your personal interests and passions. But equally important, the next step in your decision process is to refine the various specialty legal paths that align with your interests by comparing different aspects of those jobs, such as the hours required, compensation and pre-requisite capabilities. By thoroughly examining the features of different legal jobs, candidates can help ensure they embark on a fulfilling career path.

Here are five tips to determine a specialty legal practice area that can offer enduring career rewards:

  1. Compare the compensation of workers in each area of law. As a graduate, your future finances are probably at the forefront of your mind. If you’ve taken out student loans, you'll soon need to start monthly loan payments in addition to your rent and other expenses. Naturally, you'll be concerned about your future salary. Before dedicating yourself to a legal specialty, you should review the average starting compensation for positions in your desired areas. Also, take a look at future earning capacity; some fields may start off with a lower salary but earning increases dramatically with experience.

  2. Compare work-life balance in different legal jobs. While your salary is an important factor in determining your future, don't forget to look at other features, such as the hours you're expected to work each week or the billable hours requirements you need to meet. While there are generalizations regarding work-life balance in each area of law, remember that the work-life balance can differ greatly, depending on your employer and field of practice.

  3. Seek out requirements and necessary qualifications. You should determine whether there are qualifications or particular skills required for the area of specialization you're considering. For patent or intellectual property law, for example, not only do applicants typically need an undergraduate or even graduate science degree, they also need to have passed the patent bar exam administered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

  4. Gain firsthand experience. The best legal career advice isn't advice at all -- it's experience. If you're still an undergraduate or enrolled in law school, search out jobs, internships, clinics, and volunteer positions that can help you better understand the work routine in the areas of law in which you have an interest. This kind of active engagement in specific legal areas can teach you how well you'll fit in a particular legal position better than any research.

  5. Network. Network. Network. This legal career advice is so crucial it needs to be repeated. Speaking with legal professionals working in the areas of law you're interested in is an ideal way to learn about the intricacies of various practice areas. It's impossible to sample work in every area of law, so the second best source of information is through your professional contacts. Utilize your network of resources, such as your career counselor, professors and attorney connections, who can help you understand the day-to-day requirements of the job as well as the big picture.   

For more tips on deciding an area of legal specialization to pursue, see: “Legal Career Advice on Selecting an Area of Specialization (Part 1)."

For more information on compensation for legal jobs, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal's 2014 Salary Guide.