By Ashli Irene Weiss • December 08, 2015•Law School
Specializing while in law school is a valuable tool. As a law student, I specialized in intellectual property and focused on trademark law. My specialization helped me land amazing intellectual property career opportunities within a field of law I enjoy and that my peers are equally as passionate about. I wrote this article to share the benefits I learned that come with a specialization, to quell the fear that many students have of specializing while in law school and to provide advice on how to choose a specialization.
A legal specialization can be work experience in a job interview. “Why do you want this job,” is a question I received at every job interview. As a new graduate, I always incorporated my specialization. A specialization requires certain courses to help prepare a student to practice in a specific type of law. I wrote articles on intellectual property, completed projects that simulated attorney work product and discussed new issues in IP with my peers in class. This translated to my potential employer as experience, because it aligned with some of the job qualifications required for the position. Similarly, a new graduate can use their specialization to demonstrate experience. This may help the new graduate stand out from other applicants who also have limited work experience, but no specialization.
Specializing shows to potential employers that you have a passion. As an interviewer for an intellectual property job position, I favored those applicants that showed a passion for IP. In general, a passionate employee is dedicated to completing the task at hand, more pleasurable to work with and tends to have innovative ideas in that area of law. A specialization is a straightforward way to show an employer that you have a passion towards a particular field of law. It signals that you wanted to take specific courses in law school to prepare you for a specific career. It suggests that the employer can speak with you about breaking issues in the law, because you keep up-to-date on the news in that area. An employer may also be more confident that you will put in the hours required to solve the issue and have a better work product.
A legal specialization helps create new contacts. In law school, I reached out to IP lawyers via email and introduced myself to IP lawyers at events I attended. Under these circumstances, I always mentioned my specialization in IP. My specialization was something that could relate with the IP lawyer. People connect more willingly with one another if it is based upon a similarity. Conversation between the two people flows more easily, because they can exchange thoughts and new ideas on a common interest. If you practice in the same field of law, there is also a likelihood that the lawyer will run into you in the near future. With a chance of crossing paths again, a lawyer may be more willing to help so they can maintain their reputation.
Contacts within a specialization can create job opportunities. In the legal world today, it is far easier to obtain a job if you know someone. I have found that lawyers in a field of law frequently know one another. This can be of help when you apply for jobs in a specialized area. It is possible your connection knows the potential employer, or someone else who does, and can forward your resume directly to them. This results in a higher chance that your resume will be favored. Alternatively, your connection in the field of law may reach out directly to you with employment opportunities. This was the case with my first job out of law school. An IP attorney I met while in law school forwarded the job posting with a note saying they thought I “might be interested.” If your connection knows you have a passion for a particular field of law, there is a good chance they will forward that suitable job posting your way.
A specialization does not discriminate law students from job opportunities. I have personally heard from law students that they fear specializing while in law school, because they might discriminate themselves from a job opening. I do not believe this concern to be the case with today’s stiff competition in getting a job. Job applicants are competing for specialized positions against students in the top 10% of their class or from top 10 law schools. With a specialization, law students distinguish themselves from this competition by showing they have relative work experience and a passion. Alternatively, if a person specialized in an area of law that the job application is not focused on, that person can easily omit it from their resume. During the interview for that job, the applicant can focus on the core classes they took in law school, which are the same required courses whether they specialized or not.
Choose a specialization that relates to something you are passionate about. Before my teens, I knew I wanted to work with brands. To align with my passion, I chose to specialize in intellectual property with an emphasis on trademarks. I recommend law students to also choose a specialization in law that aligns with their passion. Take a moment to reflect upon what you are passionate about. That passion doesn’t have to be placed in legal terms – it can be sports, helping the poor, computer software coding, etc. Once a passion is identified, a certain set of laws will be more applicable to it. Confucius put it perfectly when he said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
About the Author: Ashli Weiss is Senior Counsel for Brand Protection and Trademarks at Western Digital Technologies, Inc. Before joining Western Digital, Ashli preformed her IP Fellowship with Tory Burch and summered with Louis Vuitton North America’s IP department. Ashli earned her J.D. from the University of California Hastings College of the Law where she graduated with an Intellectual Property Law concentration, served as Senior Editor of Hastings Law Journal (Law Review), and as her trademark professor’s research assistant. She has guest lectured on intellectual property for the Academy of Art University and presented on Ms. JD’s OCI Preparation Skills panel for law students. Ashli earned her Bachelor of Arts in political science and her Minor in business administration at San Francisco State University. You can connect with Ashli at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashliweiss.