Law students — try both positioning and letting life happen (part one)

LegalJob recently participated on a jobs panel where there was a healthy debate about whether law students and associates should plan as much as possible by focusing on only one type of law practice and further, a niche within that practice area.  The argument against planning everything out is that you cannot control life no matter how hard your plan.  That is true.  Also, the dissenters worried that if you over plan you may risk taking yourself out of the running for an opportunity in a practice area you may enjoy (but have not previously explored) or with an amazing legal employer you never considered.  Sure that could happen but this point does not seem to be a strong enough argument against planning.

So, LegalJob thinks it is advisable to do both. As discussed in Making Partner, position to the extent possible and then be open to all possibilities that come to you, including opportunities off-plan.  Positioning yourself means taking as much action as possible for you to be able to soundly demonstrate to a future employer your ability to focus and high level of commitment to your practice area.

This post (part one) discusses the positioning piece.  A second post (part two) will discuss ways you can be flexible to keep doors open. Consider these positioning steps:

  1. Pick a major/specialty/law practice as early as you can make an informed decision.   As mentioned in previous posts, LegalJob believes that generally more opportunities will come to the person who has demonstrated a commitment to a practice area. Not sure which one to pick?  Try to match your background and experience to areas where demand is high.
    1. Read a paper and watch Congress and Executive agencies and notice the heavy activity in regulatory areas such as tax, securities, financial services, health care, intellectual property, etc.  These areas seem to have lots of job opportunities as demand is outpacing supply.
    2. Talk with lawyers who practice in this areas and ask them what they find interesting about their job and what skills are required to succeed. Remember to offer (ahead of time) ideas to benefit their practice (topics to write about or speak about, for example) so they are willing to meet.
    3. Consider some up and coming practice areas that are worth exploring. Take a look at this blog which discusses eleven hot practices areas such as digital asset planning, privacy law, nontraditional family practice, marijuana law, wine law, robotics, etc. The author notes that each of these areas provide lots of job opportunities, staying power, are growth industries, have relative ease of entry, and have wide geographic scope.
  2. Take classes in that area. Get good grades in those classes. Consider related classes as well. For example, business law classes compliment tax.
  3. Write articles on a topic in that area. As people about hot topics. Law professors generally have lots of good ideas and are willing to share.
  4. Gain work experience in that area. Take a job that will involve heavy lifting. Ask questions ahead of time to determine what you will be doing and to whom you will be reporting. If possible, talk with people who did the job before you so you can get a true sense of what is involved.
  5. Do something else to demonstrate your interest in the area. Writing competition, moot court, journal, submit a comment to a blog post, submit comments in response to government rulemaking (i.e., proposed regulations), serve a s a research assistant to a professor, secure related credentials (i.e., patent bar for IP folks, CPA for tax, etc.), etc.

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