4 Things Future JDs Should Know About Choosing Their Practice Areas
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Summary: Soon after you enter law school, it is important that you seek out the practice area you’ll want to concentrate on as a lawyer. Find out what those practice areas are.
Choosing the right practice area is integral to an attorney’s career.
But emerging JDs first need to know what the various practice areas are and how they operate.
Keep reading to find out not just what the practice groups are, but what lawyers do within those practice groups.
Emerging JDs understand that a day will come when they must pick a type of law that they will concentrate their legal skills on.
Called practice areas, a practice area is where an attorney will focus his or her abilities in the legal world.
While some JDs select their practice areas as far back as their undergraduate years, other soon-to-be new attorneys need time and familiarity with all the practice areas before they commit to one or the other.
But before this choice is made, it would be beneficial for every new lawyer to understand each practice group, and ask themselves if one or the other group is the one with which they should kick start their career.
Know the practice area(s) that’s the right fit for you.
Private-practice business attorneys, including those who work for big corporate law firms.
Sports and entertainment lawyers.
Administrative or regulatory attorneys.
Of course anyone who is unsure about whether or not they should attend law school needs to first understand that there are numerous types of lawyers and a variety of ways to practice law.
It’s easy for people to imagine that a legal career comprises only what is seen on television; that is an attorney – usually a criminal attorney who first researches a criminal or a crime scene, then argues for or against the accused.
Well there’s much more to being an attorney than arguing a case in court, what is known in the legal industry as litigation.
And because we mostly see and hear criminal attorneys in the news, on social media and on television or in the movies, doesn’t mean that’s all there is to a legal career.
Quite to the contrary there are many options a prospective attorney can take advantage of within the numerous practice areas of law.
Aside from arguing in court, there also law jobs where public speaking is rare and which don't require showing up for court, such as transactional attorney positions that involve negotiating business deals, writing contracts and filling out legal paperwork.
"Law school is unique in that it attracts both introverts (often drawn to the intense reading and writing of practicing the law) and extroverts (often drawn to the spectacle of the courtroom)," states Ian Pisarcik, an attorney and alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who contributes to the legal advice website Enjuris.com.
"Fortunately, there are jobs for both introverts and extroverts within the law. For example, extroverts might find themselves at home in a litigation firm, whereas introverts might prefer transactional law."
So the type of person you are – as to whether you are an extrovert or an introvert – can play a large role in who you are as an attorney.
Know your pet subjects.
As U.S. News and World Report suggests, law school hopefuls who want to combine their pet subjects with the practice of law should investigate whether there is an area of law that aligns nicely with those interests.
"When deciding on a career, law students should reflect on their passions outside the law," Pisarcik says. "There are a number of niche areas for students who possess certain passions or experiences; these include animal law, aviation law, entertainment law, internet law and railway law."
The one cautionary sign Pisarcik throws out is that an aspiring attorney should pick a practice area they think they would enjoy, not to impress others.
Practicing law within an area one does not particularly enjoy or have passion for can lead to career burnout, which we all know is a common problem within the legal profession.
"This is due, in part, to law students taking jobs based on what is expected of them," Pisarcik says. "The key to avoiding this problem is, therefore, a healthy mixture of reflection and open-mindedness when it comes to choosing a career."
Meanwhile, Sam Adamo Jr., a criminal defense attorney and a managing partner with the Adamo & Adamo Law Firm in Texas, stresses that the key to career success as an attorney is finding an area of law that you enjoy.
"In order to make money, a lawyer has to be a good lawyer and in order to put in the time to become a good lawyer, you have to love what you do," he suggests.
With that, Adamo adds there are many areas of law that an attorney can specialize in, ranging from family law to bankruptcy law to environmental law.
Meanwhile, Nathan Peart, a managing director in the associate practice group at the international legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, says it is possible to design a legal career based on what type of person you are.
"Tax law is good for people who like to pay attention to detail. If you are passionate about social work, there are firms with strong pro bono/public interest cases or that do human rights law – but this field is hard to get into and balance against advancing your career. ... If you want to follow the money, then it's likely going to be in corporate law."
Understanding integrative law, collaborative divorce and intellectual law.
J. Kim Wright, an attorney and the author of two books about how to practice law using a cooperative approach as opposed to an adversarial one, says there are many emerging legal fields that facilitate this collaborative kind of legal practice, which is often called integrative law.
There is also a field of law known as restorative justice, which aims to give crime victims compensation and solace in the aftermath of a crime while simultaneously enabling perpetrators of crimes to apologize and atone for their actions.
Wright, who penned "Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law" and "Lawyers as Changemakers: The Global Integrative Law Movement" – cites her own career as an example of how lawyers can practice law in a way that differs from their conventional roles as litigators or transactional attorneys.
Jeff Sharp, a patent attorney and a managing partner with the Marshall, Gerstein & Borun LLP law firm in Chicago, maintains that law touches every aspect of life in the U.S., including most businesses.
"We have a vibrant economy because it's based on rules, and people follow the rules, and the rules are laws and the lawyers are the people who help everyone navigate that," he says.
Sharp maintains that for someone who enjoys science like he does, a career in intellectual property law can be tremendously satisfying. (IP law is an area of law that allows inventors to claim proprietary rights over their inventions.)
Sharp, who describes himself as a science geek, says his job allows him to work with the smartest scientists in the world.
Understanding the 2 major hurdles you might face as a lawyer.
Andrew Strauss, the dean and a professor at the University of Dayton School of Law, says prospective law students who are trying to figure out whether law school is right for them have two major hurdles.
The first challenge, he says, is that these students often struggle to understand themselves and discover their professional calling.
The second challenge, Strauss says, is that most aspiring lawyers aren't experts on the legal profession – they aren't aware of all the legal careers available and don't have a clear idea of what it feels like to work in various legal jobs.
Strauss adds that lawyers can work for a wide array of employers including international intergovernmental organizations like the World Health Organization or the United Nations; federal, state or local government agencies; and private law firms.
The advice Strauss gives is that law school hopefuls speak with a variety of types of lawyers and visit different kinds of law offices so they can get a sense of what types of legal careers they find appealing.
"You want to open yourself up," he says. "You're not trying to use your analytical mind. You're trying to use your intuitive, feeling mind, and so it's not about restricting the range of options."
It’s not enough for a young attorney to want to be an attorney. Young attorneys have to understand who they are as a person and attorney, and what they bring to the table within their practice area. The sooner they find this out, the faster they can establish successful practices in fields they will enjoy.
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