How to Choose a Legal Practice Area
Which legal practice area is right for me?
This is undoubtedly the question on the minds of many aspiring solicitors. Law firms typically offer a variety of services across multiple practice areas, but most solicitors will end up working in one particular area or a niche specialism within it.
There are many different practice areas to choose from, but where you end up will depend on a number of factors; notably what experience you gain, what you enjoy and what firm you train at. The degree of control you have over selecting your specialism is also affected by factors including economic supply and demand.
The opportunities available reflect economic strengths and weaknesses. For example, when the property market is booming, this is great news for prospective Property Lawyers and Conveyancers, but on a downturn there is less of a demand.
You should think of your decision in terms of selecting from a handful of options, and whilst there is no magic formula to determine the ideal practice area for you, in this article we give a range of tips on how to plan carefully and increase your chances of choosing the right career path.
It might seem obvious, but firstly you should think about what type of law interests you in a broader sense. Perhaps you would like to work in commercial law dealing with companies and organisations, or maybe you like the idea of working directly with individuals in a field such as family or private client law. Do you see yourself working for a large firm with an international client base, or would you prefer to work in a high street practice with close links to the local community?
Considering your natural strengths and abilities is also worthwhile. Are you mathematical? Are you a creative thinker? Are you philanthropic? The law covers everything from tax and finance to charity and personal injury, so take a look at the full list of practice areas here.
Playing to your strengths and leaning towards your interests is key, but you should make sure to test the waters first. Internet research only goes so far – it is only by experiencing specialisms that you can really make a judgement, as explored in the next section covering legal work experience.
Gaining plenty of legal work experience is crucial in determining the area of law you’d like to work in. There are several options available to you, which you can find out more about in our legal work experience guide. However, a vacation scheme is one of the most beneficial forms of work experience for law students. Vacation schemes are placements run by law firms that allow undergraduates or postgraduates the opportunity to get a flavour for many different practice areas over a number of weeks.
During your vacation scheme, you will be exposed to the inner workings of a law firm, as well as being involved in live cases and transactions. Each placement is reflective of the areas of law the firm covers, so it is important to look into this beforehand.
Many firms will offer interviews for training contracts to vacation scheme candidates who make a good impression. Equally, if you felt that the placement wasn’t quite up your street, it gives you the opportunity to explore other avenues.
Court marshalling or sitting in on trials can also help you choose the direction of your legal career. Getting a feel for the courtroom is a good way to see if you would like to represent clients in court as an advocate, which is something that is prevalent in areas such as contentious employment law and Court of Protection. If you enjoy this kind of work, then this is something to bear in mind when applying for vacation schemes and training contracts. (Or alternatively, perhaps you would be more suited to a career as a barrister!)
It’s also worth shadowing lawyers to get an idea of their daily lives and having honest conversations with them about the intricacies of their jobs. You can get in touch directly with a firm or use personal connections to acquire this valuable experience.
Whatever work experience you decide to pursue, it is important to secure it as early as possible. This is not only to give yourself more time to explore a host of different options, but is also crucial in getting an edge on the competition when applying for vacation schemes, which are highly competitive in nature.
Following legal work experience, you should have an idea of what interests you and the type of firm you’d like to join. The next step is to think about your training contract. A training contract usually consists of 4-6 seats, offering prospective lawyers the chance to explore many aspects of both contentious and non-contentious law.
Every training contract is unique and the seat options vary from firm to firm, which is why you should conduct plenty of research before applying. Which areas of law does the firm cover, and which are the biggest departments in the firm? What department is given the most prestige? The larger and more successful departments will likely have more job opportunities available once you qualify.
Most of this information can be found on the firm’s website, but you can also contact a recruiter to ask them about the weighting of the firm’s departments and the overall dynamic.
Though training in private practice is most common, in-house training contracts are becoming more popular. They are a good opportunity for candidates leaning more towards corporate law, as they allow for a greater commercial insight as a result of direct exposure to a business. Find out more about private practice and in-house training contracts here.
Whilst it is easy to stick to initial preferences, getting out of your comfort zone might be just what you need to find your perfect fit. You could end up doing an unexpected seat in your training that you really enjoy, so don’t be afraid to push yourself!
When making a decision, a number of factors are likely come into consideration. Whether you actually enjoy the work is obviously important, as well as the working environment. Were you a good fit with the team? Is there a more collaborative or tiered structure at the firm?
It also depends on your aspirations – many trainees opt for a particular specialism with high remunerative potential and prestige. As previously noted, the economy comes into play with regards to supply and demand, so make sure to stay on top of news and industry insights on the TotallyLegal blog.
With careful research, first-hand experience and a bit of luck, you should find something that you really enjoy. We hope that you’ve found these tips helpful. Check out the graduate section of our blog for more careers advice, or see below for related articles.