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 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 while some had. Though quite a number of my friends continued to wrestle with their decision about a specialty area of law to follow even after call to bar.
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.
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 .
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 and pre-requisite capabilities. By thoroughly examining the features of different legal jobs, candidates can help ensure they embark on a fulfilling career path.
To choose a practice area, you ultimately need to imagine the life you want in the future, There is no way of knowing for sure what life holds and contemplating it at 24 years old might seem daunting – so best to take an honest look at where you would like to be in five and then ten years. As with law firms, there are rewarding aspects to each practice area and each offers its own culture and personality. Just try to match yourself with the best one for you!
Here are tips to help you determine your future practice area:
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, commercial law might be the path for you.
Consider your background: Do you have excellent mathematical skills? Are you good at negotiating or networking? Do you have the ability – and empathy – to deal with people from all walks of life, sometimes going through difficult problems? Some areas of practice demand certain attributes and you may find your strengths make you an ideal fit in some departments.
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 corporation’s law. A science background, such as environmental management or geology degree, may be useful in a career in environmental law.
Follow your passions.: Many legal professionals pursue a specialization that aligns with their personal interests. You don’t have to engage yourself into something you have no passion for, just because your friend or colleague is into it and doing great. If you feel strong about improving access to legal counsel for under-represented communities, for example, a public defense is just one of a generalof avenues you may want to consider.
Future Geographic Considerations – Where Do You Want to Live?
Many Lawyers start their careers in BigLaw in Lagos,Abuja, Port- Harcourt but intend to move on after a few years. If you know that you would like to settle in a specific state or city in the future, that is very instructive for a practice area decision.
For example, entertainment law practices, funny enough is not practiced or well practiced in Abuja. If you are a lawyer focusing on entertainment law in Lagos, that’s super! But if you ultimately want to move to Sokoto or Kano, such a practice will not be widely desired there. You would be better off as an Islamic lawyer, if you are a Lagos investment management lawyer focusing on hedge funds, your movement could be limited if you wanted to move to Benue or Nasarawa state. Corporate Law , Estate Management or Commercial Law tends to be much more marketable than litigation. Note the practice areas at your firm and where the lawyers in the practice reside. If you know that you want to be in lagos in five years, find out which practices are hot there and choose accordingly.
In some practices, you will have a different quality or type of work from one region to another. A litigator in Abuja might not take a deposition until their 4th year, while a litigator at the same level in Lagos might already be second chairing a case. If you know that you would like to be in a smaller legal market, investigate what the area’s associates do and try to replicate that experience as best you can (through pro bono.) so that you will have the opportunity to move there when you are ready.
Partnership – Do You Want It?: It is no secret that it is difficult to make partner in Big Law Firms It is a long road and it is not for everyone. If partnership in a Big Law firm is something you desire, you should pick a practice where partners are routinely made. It is “easier” to make partner in a corporate practice where you have clients and are able to put together a book of business. Additionally, it can be challenging to make partner in a cyclical practice – because you really need the economy to be in your favor.
Work Life: 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.
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.
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.
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 senior lawyers, who can help you understand the day-to-day requirements of the legal practice.
The choice of a practice area is an individual analysis of your strengths, your desires and your long-term goals. It could be the most important professional decision you will make and it will undoubtedly affect your future career. Spend some time thinking strategically about the pros and cons of each practice and chose wisely.