“Specialize Not Generalize” — The Truth Behind the Myth

Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s not necessarily true that law students need to specialize during their law school career. In this lawyer’s mind, what is most important is to avoid certain areas of law that you do not want to spend your life doing. There are currently a number of areas of the law that are changing very rapidly or becoming obsolete, while tech-based legal careers are growing by the day. Lawyers who specialize in a certain field from the start of their law school career but picked a declining career path as their specialty run the risk of being left behind. 

Specialize Not Generalize

Benefits

The benefits of specializing while in law school are that you can hit the job market with a more established base of knowledge than when you’re coming right out of law school. Many new lawyers hit their first day of employment and find that they have significant legal knowledge, though very little practical application. Unfortunately law schools, to the detriment of their students, do a poor job teaching young lawyers how to do the things that most often pay the bills, such as fixing a traffic ticket or beginning the representation of someone on a divorce. Those law students know the ethereal concepts behind the law, but using it on the job is often something left to be learned in the trenches. 

Advice

My advice is to take a broad range of classes on diverse subjects. This is not done so much as to pick the area of law you want to practice, but to decide the four, five or even twenty-five areas of the law that hold no interest to you. You will still learn enough about the topics to be informed and utilize those areas when they arise, but this system gives you a better hope of long term happiness in your legal career. Many lawyers burn out after seven to fifteen years of practice. This is often because the necessary hard work and long hours are spent doing something they truly do not enjoy. Why not give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by knowing up front what you dislike, and thus staying away from it. 

Greatest Areas for Growth

There will always be a large demand for litigators. This is an area where a young lawyer can typically find work, though sometimes not at the highest wage. It also allows a new lawyer to “hang their own shingle” and work for themselves right out of law school. For those willing to engage in more education, seeking an LLM in taxation is often a path to higher salary right out of law school, as many large firms and large private employers are seeking this background. 

Final Thoughts

The more specialized the field chosen by a law school student, the fewer jobs and opportunities there are going to be in the work force. Consider this analogy: A hunter says he only wants to hunt for pin tail ducks, while another hunter is willing to hunt for any sort of duck, while a third is willing to hunt all fowl. Which of these three hunters will likely have the most opportunity to shoot a bird when hunting? Of course, the challenge might be greater for the first hunter who only seeks a specific type of duck, and that challenge may be what motivates the hunter and thus makes the task more enjoyable for him. Still — in a real world and realistic application, most new lawyers want a job and are not in a position to be overly picky as to what job they take. There was a time when there were more legal jobs than lawyers, but in today’s society we have law school graduates waiting tables and teaching high school. By leaving yourself more areas of interest and opportunity, you allow yourself as a law a school graduate to qualify for more open jobs in the legal field.

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