Can (and should) lawyers switch specialties?
Some lawyers love the law, but unfortunately have lost interest in their chosen specialty. Before they become totally burned out, they might consider changing their area of practice (AOP), but they should fully understand the implications before making the move.
What are your reasons for wanting to switch?
Your first job shapes the future roles you'll likely be qualified for, and depending on the AOP and your current skill set, you may have to learn an entirely different set of laws and procedures to switch specialties. Before you make the change, you’ll need to articulate the reasons why you want to switch, since hiring managers at other firms will want to know why you’re considering refocusing your entire legal career. You’ll also need to accept the fact that if you do make the switch, you’re probably going to be junior to another attorney in your new specialty, at least for a while, and your salary might also take a hit.
Do you have the skills?
To gain experience in at least a few areas of law and have enough breadth of practice to avoid being pigeonholed later on, solicitors should maintain a general focus in their first few years of practice. If you’ve been practising in a certain specialty for a number of years, you’ll probably have accumulated extensive experience in that area, but what if you want to try a different area of law? If the two specialties are vastly different from one another, you might want to consider the education you already have, along with any skills you currently possess that might transfer to our new area of practice.
Have you done your research?
If you’re serious about shifting your focus, why not consider an area of law that is currently in high demand? Some hot practice areas will likely include:
• Intellectual property. If you have a knowledge and interest in technology, IP issues abound and the growth in technology isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. New platforms and delivery systems continue to emerge, opening up key connections between law and technology that will lead to major opportunities in this fast-growing AOP.
• Environmental law. Climate change, concerns about the environment, the growing interest in sustainability, along with increased environmental regulation have all created increased opportunities within this practice area, where advanced knowledge of regulations, commercial contracts and relevant laws will be essential in this specialty.
• Blockchain. The growth of Bitcoin and Blockchain’s application to contractual law is prompting individuals, corporations, NGOs and governments to explore how this digital platform actually works and will affect their business, making this specialty an increasingly significant area of practice.
• Private client law. Private client law is expected to gain popularity, particularly among female solicitors in their 30s and 40s, since it fits the needs of those trying to balance career and family, tends to be more flexible in terms of part-time hours, is experiencing a shortage of lawyers practicing within the area and demands less court-based work.
• Employment. Legal issues across multiple jurisdictions will cause a continued demand within this niche. Many companies depend on in-house legal departments for this expertise, while others contract with outside law firms to help with issues ranging from discrimination, collective bargaining, benefits and compensation. If you’re thinking about switching legal specialties, there’s really no time like the present to do so, based on the many opportunities available for lawyers wanting to make a change and willing to accept the challenges of doing so.
Legal Practice Areas