At some point in their careers, most attorneys face a hard question: “Should I specialize?” Most attorneys answer yes.
The advantages are many. By developing an expertise in a narrow area of the law, you can create a personal brand, serve clients more effectively and efficiently, and, in many cases, make more money than you would in general practice.
While lawyers have been specializing for decades, the trend has accelerated in recent years due to economic and technological changes which have generated new industries, new laws and regulation, and demand for new types of legal expertise. (See related article: Law Firm Specialization Accelerates)
Within traditional specialties, such as securities law or medical malpractice, the trend is toward narrower areas of practice, such as Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, derivatives and structured finance, OBGYN malpractice, and many more.
With clients needing specialized services and new areas of laws proliferating, it stands to reason that the best career strategy for a young lawyer is to identify a practice area of deep interest that generates substantial client business and is not oversupplied with other lawyers.
There has been enormous growth in certification programs in various legal specialties in recent years. It may be worth investigating if a certification program exists and whether pursuing certification would assist in building your expertise and credibility.
But while the argument in support of specialization is very strong, it is not the right answer for every attorney. Questions to consider include:
- Will you find a narrow niche fulfilling? A sizable number of lawyers who specialize eventually become bored, unhappy and burnt-out.
- Where do you want to live? Attorneys in rural areas may find there’s not be enough client work for their chosen specialty and must broaden their services to generate sufficient business.
- How does your mind work? Some attorneys may find a broad-based practice more intellectually stimulating and enjoyable – even if it doesn’t generate the same income as a specialty practice.
If you are hesitant to specialize and are not attracted to general practice, you may want to consider joining a corporate legal department. While corporate law varies greatly given the industry and size of the legal staff, it can provide attorneys with exposure to a variety of interesting business issues and an attractive career path.
Happily, there are more choices and career paths for attorneys than ever before. Attorneys need to look inside themselves and to the external marketplace and make a thoughtful decision about the path and practice that will best fulfill their career and personal aspirations.