Legal Specialties: What they are and How to Choose

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With shows like Law and Order, and CSI out there, it’s pretty easy for people to think that there are a bunch of attorneys out there that love to sit in the courtroom, cross-examine sleazy witnesses, and deal in high profile cases. But, for every attorney out there in the courtroom, there are 4 more that aren’t in the courtroom. (That’s my number, by the way.)

There are tons of different ways to practice law. Follow this link for more on different legal specialties. If you decide to practice law, and the 20 specialties in that article are not the only areas, you will probably be faced with specializing in a specific area of law or not.

It’s a question that many attorneys face, and there are a bunch of different answers out there. Honestly, it depends on what you want.

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General Practice vs. Specialization

In case you were wondering, specialization means you practice one specific area of law. For example, you might practice immigration law, or family law, or civil litigation. However, when it comes to attorneys, a lot of them like to specialize in specific areas of law. Take this attorney I know in Portland. He is an estate planning attorney, but he specializes in settlement planning. (Settlement planning is creating a conservatorship for somebody who gets a settlement because of a personal injury case.)

Other attorneys may specialize in contested divorces, divorces for men, international adoption, construction defect, or even wrongful death cases. Each area of law has bunches of different issues that attorneys can tackle. Some attorneys establish themselves as attorneys in really specific areas of law, and then they see a bunch of business (sometimes) because they get the reputation as the attorney in the area that does those kinds of cases.

Other attorneys like to call themselves general practitioners. I happen to fit into that category. They practice multiple areas of law, such as bankruptcy and divorce, criminal law and personal injury, or any other combination you could think of. They branch out for whatever reason suits them. In my case, I enjoy learning a bunch of different areas of law. It’s super fun, and I happen to be a nerd … moving on.

Making your Choice

If you want my opinion, you shouldn’t answer this question until you’ve had the chance to practice some law. There are lots of good reasons to do either. Here’s a real-life example for you to chew on.

An attorney friend of mine, let’s call him Vinny, was a family law attorney. He loved doing family law, and he did it for 8 years. Then, one morning, he woke up and didn’t want to go to work. He couldn’t figure out why, so he thought about it. He thought about it for a few weeks, all the while he was dragging at work.

Then it hit him like a ton of bricks. He was bored. Vinny still enjoyed practicing law, but just doing family law cases didn’t cut it for him. So he decided to continue practicing family law. But he also started picking up bankruptcy cases. All the sudden, he felt invigorated again and really started loving what he was doing. He even found himself enjoying his family law cases. It’s been 10 years since he started practicing bankruptcy in addition to his family law practice, and he still happy.

This is just one story, but I think it illustrates an important point. Specialization can be awesome. It can be a huge revenue booster, especially if other attorneys in the area see you as an expert in that area of law. However, it has some drawbacks as well.

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If you ever get the question of specializing or not, just think about it for a little bit. It might be for you.

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