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To Specialise or not to Specialise?

Woman thinking while reading a book

A long time ago studying law meant learning every law that existed in your jurisdiction. These days there are too many statutes for that, and specialisation is a step many of us will take in our careers. But how do you pick a specialty?

Just because your friends are talking about specialisations, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Deciding whether or not to specialise is really about understanding your interests and career aspirations.

My problem is this: I like the idea of specialising in something, but the reality is that I’m more suited to a job that has lots of variation. The great thing about being a general practitioner is that you never know what matter is going to come through your office next: sale of business, liquor licencing, immigration – who knows?

When to decide

For most of us, uni probably isn’t the optimal time or place to decide on a future specialty, it’s probably something you’ll decide on a few years into practice. For now, keep an open mind and just try to experience as much as possible.

If you think you want to be a media lawyer, try your hand at some media law electives and get a part time job in a media law firm. If you think you know what you want to do with your career, it’s essential to get some work experience and try it early as subjects that you enjoy at uni can be very different in practice. A friend that I met on my first day of uni wanted to be a family lawyer, but she’s now working as a lawyer in a commercial firm.

Do your homework

Summer break is just around the corner which means you’ll have free time to do some research. Talk to your lecturers, have coffee with a solicitor or try to line up a few weeks of work experience to get a feel for what certain practice areas are like. Lawyers are generally very happy to share their experiences and insight with interested law students.

Future proof your career

Keep in mind that the current ‘it’ specialties may not be popular throughout the course of your career. Certainly some areas that were the hot years ago are not as active today. Fields that are in demand when you graduate or may begin to decline not long after you’ve settled into your first real lawyer job.

If you’re pondering a future specialty, consider what advice will be in demand with clients years from now. If you can, try and find a niche – something where you will be one of few experts when that sort of advice is in high demand.

Think about what could be ‘the next big thing’ in the law. For example, our ageing population probably means that there is going to be a growing need for lawyers able to advise on superannuation and other retirement-related matters.

Do what you love

Ultimately, when it comes to picking a specialty, don’t just think of the money or the how much competition there is in your chosen field. Find something that fascinates you and do it because you love it. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to excel at it. And if you’re good at what you do you’ll probably be in demand and paid well, regardless of your practice area.

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