Nov 27, 2018

Written By David Carnes

Choosing the right area to qualify into for you

Nov 27, 2018

Written By David Carnes

Here's how to pick the best area of law for you. 

One of the legal profession’s most enduring aphorisms is the observation that “the law touches everything”. This simply means that there’s no area of life that the law doesn’t deal with in some way or the other. Common examples include tort law, intellectual-property law, real-estate law, insurance law, employment law, corporate law, banking law, travel law, tax law and international law. A complete list would be far too long to fit into an article of reasonable length.

In law as in medicine, the highest-paid and most well-respected members of the profession are mostly specialists rather than generalists. Fortunately, you don’t have to decide on a specialty the day that you enter university. At some point, however, a choice is inevitable—and the sooner you make an informed and well-considered choice, the more time you will have to prepare for a successful career.

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Clues that can guide you

Before you begin researching areas of law in earnest, you’re going to need to narrow down the field quite a bit, perhaps by selecting a few areas that seem like a good fit for you. Take the following factors into consideration:

• Your interests: you aren’t likely to succeed in a job you hate, and even if you do, it is not likely to be worth it for you even if it does build an impressive-looking CV. Nevertheless, what you need to like about the job is not its reputation or its glamour, but the daily routine of handling the tasks you will be called upon to perform. Representing celebrities in divorce courts might sound glamorous, for example, but you will come to loathe your job if you hate confrontation.

• The market: some areas of law, such as business law, are consistently more in need of new talent than others. More significantly, some areas of law offer superior long-term prospects. Resist the urge to focus solely on “hot” areas of practice. Certain areas of practice might become temporarily popular, for example, during the period of the UK’s exit from the EU—but will they remain popular over the long run?

• Remuneration: although the contribution of a high salary to overall job satisfaction is probably overrated by most people, few would deny that it matters how much money you bring home. An area of practice is likely to be high-paying if its clients enjoy strong financial resources and if legal services are critical to their well-being (energy law, for example).

• The day-to-day nature of the work: whether the work is steady or cyclical, for example. Some areas of law are dense with statutory and regulatory text, while other areas require the application of common sense to general principles. Some areas, such as tax law, are highly academic in orientation and require a first-class intellect. Other areas of law, particularly consumer litigation, depend more on persuasion and social skills. Some fields, such as tax planning and probate, require far more creativity than others.

• Your own qualifications: you may or may not qualify for a position in some of the most highly competitive areas of law. On the other hand, you should take advantage of any special skills or experience that you possess—if you transitioned into law from a banking background, for example, if you possess a graduate degree in mathematics (good for financial-markets law), or if you speak fluent Mandarin Chinese.

There’s no substitute for doing your homework

Step Two is to take your shortlist and narrow it down to one. This is going to take a lot of research.

• Read legal news websites, especially those containing interviews with lawyers practicing in your target fields talking about the day-to-day aspects of their practice.

• Research particular firms and chambers to gain insight into academic requirements, firm culture, major clients, types of work available and job opportunities. The organisation’s own websites should be your starting point.

• Read extensively in publications related to areas of law you’re interested in. Don’t limit yourself to legal publications. If you’re interested in banking law, for example, try to gain a basic understanding of how the banking industry works. 

• Gain experience in any way you can, even if it means accepting an unpaid internship. Hopefully your decision will be made long before you begin applying for a training contract.

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