You decided long ago – after you watched your very first episode of “Law and Order” or when you fell head-over-heels (as everyone did) for George Clooney in “Michael Clayton” – that you were going to be a lawyer. You have long prepared for this career, being active in speech and debate in high school, studying hard in history and government, refining your writing and researching skills and earning a bachelor’s degree from a top school.
However, through your efforts, you have determined that you don’t want to be just any lawyer – you want to be a specialized lawyer within a certain field. Law is vast – there are lawyers for the environment, for criminal investigations, for taxes, for employment and labor and much more – so most lawyers specialize whether they mean to or not.
“If you can, find an area of law or type of client that you would love to work with and pursue that specialty. If you can combine work with something you have a real passion for, you will accomplish extraordinary things and find your true calling in life,” says California defense lawyer Tsion Chudnovsky. “The challenge is to expose yourself to many options to help discover your preferences.”
If you know what type of law you want to practice now, you should make a concerted effort to get into that field from the moment you begin looking at law schools. Here are other tips to ensure you enter the field of law of your dreams.
Understand All Your Specialization Options
What you see on TV and in movies is far from your only options for a legal career. For the most part, media related to law and attorneys focuses on the flashier fields, like criminal law and family law. In truth, there are dozens of specializations, each focusing on a unique and fascinating aspect of law. Just some of your options include:
- Maritime law, or the law of marine trade, sailors and navigation
- Corporate law, or the law of the formation, dissolution and administration of businesses
- Civil rights law, or the law of balancing the interests of the government with the interests of individuals or groups
- Intellectual property law, or the law of copyrights, patents and trademarks of creators and businesses
- Employment law, or the law of relationships between employees and employers
- Tax law, or the law of domestic and international transactions
- Personal injury law, or the law of wrongdoing that affects individuals physically or psychologically
- Real estate law, or the law and rights of land ownership and development
Of course, there are way more law specialties than those listed here; you can find a full list of your options – replete with sub specialties and career paths – from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). This is a useful resource for would-be law school applicants because it gives you more direction in the application process. Before you apply anywhere, you should read in-depth about different specializations that intrigue you and perhaps even contact lawyers practicing in those fields today. This will give you greater insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of certain specialized lawyers, so you can know for certain what you are interested in before you commit to a career path.
Research Strengths of Law Schools
Once you have decided on your law specialty, you should start looking for law schools that are particularly strong in that field of law. Though you can obtain a sufficient law education from any well-ranked school, certain schools certainly excel in certain areas. For example, Georgetown University has a good reputation for tax law, and the University of Houston is known for having the country’s best health law program. Law schools might not advertise these strengths (and weaknesses, as they may be) on their websites, but you can find rankings of different programs on law industry blogs and education ranking sites like US News.
Clerk for Specialized Lawyers and Firms
After gaining admission to the law program of your choice, you should focus on your studies for at least a year, avoiding other employment or activities. Most law programs preclude students from working part- or full-time during their first year of law school because the material is so rigorous. However, during 2L and 3L (your second and third years of law school) you will have more opportunities to gain real-world law experience. When you are aiming to specialize, your efforts should toward finding clerking positions with lawyers and firms in your specialty. Other clerking jobs will still provide you worthwhile skills and knowledge, but specialized positions will show you what your job will look like after graduation.
Gain Additional Degrees to Enhance Practice
Graduation isn’t the end of your law education. Most specialist lawyers continue to engage in education as information and regulations that affect their field change. You might want to enroll in online employment law classes to keep up-to-date with shifting legislation regarding labor and employment. Alternatively, you might pursue another degree to bolster your credentials in a competitive field, like corporate law. You might also supplement your law education in this way during your time in law school, if your school doesn’t offer courses in the subjects that interest you.
Find Employment in Your Field
Finally, you should look for work. Right now, the legal field is extremely competitive; law students are finding it more difficult than ever to secure positions at firms. However, when you specialize, you are equipping yourself with unique skills and knowledge that put you above your competition during the job application process. The earlier you specialize – and the more aggressively you pursue specialized training – the more you will enjoy practicing as a lawyer for your entire career.
For more topics regarding college life, check out the other blogs at College Basics.