How to Choose Your Legal Specialty

Some attorneys in training know exactly what kind of law they want to practice from the start. Others need a little prompting to determine their path.

If you’re interested in law, but don’t know what you want to practice, you’re not alone, particularly if you’re a woman studying toward a law degree. The number of male lawyers is almost double the number of female lawyers. Though the gap has closed a little in the last decade, it’s still hard to look back and compare your interest in the law profession with that of the limited number of women who came before you.

There’s also the decision of whether to diversify your portfolio or practice a specialty. Many attorneys practice several fields of law to broaden their potential clientele and appeal to a sizable firm.

But there’s likely to be one or two areas that will appeal to you more than others. Women face unique challenges when choosing how to practice, but there are many things you can do to help you identify the right specialty.

Here are some tips for homing in on the perfect match.

Research Common Law Firms Where You Want to Practice

Often, basing your area of expertise on your preferred place or places to live is the easiest way to choose. If you’re set on living in a particular region, study the law firms in that area. Find out what’s commonly practiced there and figure out whether there’s a market for a new practice in that locale.

For example, if your family is centered around Orlando, Florida, and you want to practice near there, research law firms in that area to see what specialties are mostly practiced and in demand there. You might learn there are already plenty of outfits that handle bankruptcy and asset protection, but a paucity of criminal defense or family attorneys.

This can help you narrow your options for a profitable and productive career.

Take a Reputable Self-Assessment

You may run across a lot of quizzes and self-assessments in your search for a specialty. Make sure you take the ones that give solid results.

For example, the American Bar Association typically creates self-assessments for students at all levels. The association will help you dip your toe and get an idea of what sorts of law you might enjoy, and produce more in-depth assessments that match your personality and interests with a particular field.

There’s also the Yale Law self-assessment. It features a variety of free quizzes and tools for anyone to use. Yale is one of the best law schools in the nation, and its resources could be your ticket for deciding on your career.

Don’t forget, however, that assessments from these reputable sources are good, but they don’t have to make your final decision for you. You might disagree with the results of any given assessment, and that’s all right.

You can move to other resources to find your law field. It’s only for some that these might be the answer to the question they’ve been pondering.

Think Long Term

This advice comes in two parts. The first is to think about how long you’ll be practicing. You might find one area of law interesting to start with, but is it something you can sustain for years to come?

For example, you might be motivated to practice criminal law at a large firm when you’re young and single, but you may not be able to sustain that work and raise a family later on. All of your life goals should fit with the field of law you choose.

The second part of approaching the question through the long term refers to your how much time you ponder before making a decision. You shouldn’t decide overnight, or even after a couple of weeks.

This should be a carefully plotted move during which you spend months researching, weighing, and practicing because it’s a choice that will govern the rest of your life.

Discuss the Matter with Advisors

Your law professors are not only there to teach you the ethics and rules of law, but also to help you find your path. They’ll mentor you along the way and help you understand your strengths and interests.

Aside from seeking their guidance, take a more journalistic approach to finding the right law firm. Sit down with your advisors in different fields and interview them. Ask about your concerns for entering a particular field and find out what they like most about their jobs. You can learn a lot from insider perspectives.

Allow Change with Circumstances

You should recognize that the field of law you select now may not be what you want to do forever. As you learn and grow in both your professional and personal life, your primary objectives and interests may alter as well.

It’s not uncommon for attorneys to enter their field of choice, but realize less than a year later that it’s not the right specialty after all. Always stay in tune with your thoughts and interests, and make changes when you’re uncomfortable.

It’s much easier to change your field early on than it is to do it decades later.

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