How to Figure Out Which Area of Law Fits Your Career Goals
Lawyers tend to be generalists, and law schools do not require you to choose a legal specialty. Legal specializations tend to be more amorphous than those in medicine or science. Like neighborhoods in a city, areas of law have contentious borders that shift and overlap.
However, if you know you want to practice law in a specialized legal field, taking courses in the right areas of law can give you a leg up in your legal career.
The availability of courses, clinics and other opportunities in relevant fields may factor into your choice of a law school that best meets your interests.
And while the first year of law school tends to follow a standard curriculum, students are allowed to take a wide range of electives in the second and third years of law school.
Here are some tips to consider when determining which areas of law you should study based on the legal career you wish to pursue:
- Don’t get too hung up on definitions.
- Take your future clients’ perspective.
- Think outside the classroom.
- Location may matter.
- Conduct informational interviews.
Don’t Get Too Hung up on Definitions
Imagine you feel inspired by current events to work on the laws of war. Is this an issue of national security law, international law or international human rights law?
This topic falls under all three fields, and it would be useful to take classes in all three. But don’t panic if they aren’t all offered at your school – even courses in seemingly tangential subjects like maritime law may inform your understanding of the subject.
Take Your Future Clients’ Perspective
What should you do if you want to focus on art law, but your school doesn’t offer a class in this specific area?
As an art lawyer, you would likely be representing artists, galleries, art buyers or museums. Think about the legal questions these different clients would most likely bring to you. Perhaps they might involve subjects like contracts, negotiation, copyright, taxation, trusts and estates, and nonprofit law. Art law touches on all these fields, and they might all prove useful for your career.
Think Outside the Classroom
Learning in law school goes beyond coursework. Law students receive critical training for their career through legal clinics, internships and pro bono work.
During the law school application process, research your target law schools to make sure they offer practical training opportunities in areas that fit your interests. There is no substitute for firsthand experience to help you determine which areas of law fit you best.
Location May Matter
School location may be an important consideration as you choose a law school to pursue a career in a certain field. Urban campuses make it easier to gain experience in issues like labor law or municipal law, while rural campuses may be better for agricultural or natural resources law.
Law schools in the Southwest tend to offer more opportunities in Indigenous law, while coastal schools tend to have more offerings in international trade law.
Conduct Informational Interviews
The people best positioned to tell you which areas of law are relevant to your chosen career path are those who have blazed the same trail before.
If you don’t have relevant contacts in your personal network, speak to career services or alumni offices on campus to connect with graduates. Reach out politely to ask if you can schedule a brief informational interview to talk about their work and their recommendations for which areas of law would be most useful to study.
Of course, there are only so many classes you can take in law school. Don’t worry if you can’t take every class related to your chosen field. Most lawyers learn on the job.