I’m going to reveal a big secret—a lot of law grads and new attorneys don’t exactly know what kind of lawyer they want to be. Seriously! Maybe you go to law school with the exact idea of what you want to do and stay the course—that’s great! But maybe you’re unsure because all you know is you want to “do good” or make money but not sure how that looks. Or maybe you have an idea of what you want to do but one day you are in torts class and suddenly realize you have a passion for personal injury (which I’m adamant is how personal injury attorneys are born).
So how do you figure out what kind of law you’re going to practice? Well, for some attorneys it takes a long time to figure that out. Or even if they figure it out, the work they do is so niche that it requires developing skill sets that take years. Or it’s possible you join a field that hasn’t yet been developed! Think of cannabis laws or laws around tech or other developing areas. But that is the beauty of this career—you can practice, earn a living, all while figuring out your niche and developing skills.
When I graduated law school all I wanted was to be a public defender but my options were limited and with a recession it just wasn’t possible. I ended up working in immigration because it was quite literally the only option. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after my first year, but during the recession everyone’s goal was just to be employed. However, I soon realized that I could develop an expertise helping survivors of gender-based violence and the rest is history.
If you’re in school and feel unsure on what you want to practice or the area you’re interested in don’t freakout. Recognize that career development also requires patience. But in the here and now what you can do, if you’re unsure of practice area, is to figure out what is it about basic lawyering that you enjoy. Is it client counseling? Litigation? Research? Identify your interests and seek ways to develop those skills in your internships. Speaking of internships, try to diversify your experiences so you get a good sense of options.
If you’re graduating law school and have a job offer doing the work that you know you want to do—congrats, that’s awesome! But for many that may not be the case and that’s more than ok. Your first job is about developing your foundations and learning the ropes of practicing. Don’t put your first legal job on too high of a pedestal that you feel disappointed if it’s not exactly what you want. Remind yourself that your career will be full of experiences and growth, none of which needs to be figured out by the time you cross the stage.
For practicing attorneys, how did you figure out your practice area?