How specialized is too specialized?

A forum for applicants and admitted students to ask law students and graduates about law school and the practice of law.
User avatar
magp90
Posts: 271
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2012 1:59 pm

How specialized is too specialized?

Postby magp90 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 11:55 am

Assuming that you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do as a lawyer and assuming you don't hate it upon actually entering law school, how much of a good/bad idea is it to specialize your education in that field? Would it be better to do a general overview of a bunch of topics? Or does it just not matter at all?

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 1:12 pm

I think it is a terrible idea to focus on a narrow area in law school. While it can be overcome once you get out into practice, you don't learn anything about how to practice law in law school. You do learn many of the skills required of a lawyer, but they aren't area specific. But you don't learn when to apply them and you don't learn anything about law practice. Consider law school an introduction to many areas of law. But that is all it is. So you want to take as much of a sampling as many areas as you can. By focusing on one area, you don't become a specialist in that area that is ready to be a lawyer that can move full steam ahead in that area. Because of that, I think it is a waste of time. I think a sampling of many areas of law will present to you a broad overview of the legal profession. It will also allow you to see fundamental principles of equity at work. And there will be overlap of important fundamentals. When you see that overlap, you get an understanding of some of what's important in all areas of law. If you don't take a broad sampling, you won't see this.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 1:12 pm

By the way, I'm a practicing lawyer.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 1:17 pm

And you NEVER have a pretty good idea of what you want to practice as a lawyer upon entering law school. You don't know your strengths. You don't know your weaknesses. And you don't know much about the substance of law practice for the area that you think you like. You go in thinking you want to be a transactional corporate lawyer. And you leave as a trial lawyer, for example. That's what happened to me. I seldom see people doing what they wanted to do when they first entered law school. You just don't know what you think you know.

iconoclasttt
Posts: 31
Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:51 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby iconoclasttt » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:34 pm

utlaw2007 wrote:And you NEVER have a pretty good idea of what you want to practice as a lawyer upon entering law school. You don't know your strengths. You don't know your weaknesses. And you don't know much about the substance of law practice for the area that you think you like. You go in thinking you want to be a transactional corporate lawyer. And you leave as a trial lawyer, for example. That's what happened to me. I seldom see people doing what they wanted to do when they first entered law school. You just don't know what you think you know.


Almost never; the one exception perhaps being folks doing patent prosecution who do LS to upgrade their options. Even there, some decide they like litigation better, and some bail on IP entirely.

Outside of that narrow exception, I concur that taking a generalist approach in LS is critical for most. Law school doesn't actually teach you to practice law anyways--and moreover, law is not static over time--so it's not like one will be terribly disadvantaged in one's ultimate specialty by not having loaded up in coursework that area.

(Also a practicing lawyer.)

User avatar
magp90
Posts: 271
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2012 1:59 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby magp90 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:43 pm

Thanks for your feedback! My instinct agrees with the both of you... And I have a follow-up: How much do potential employers look at which elective courses you've taken? And does this differ based on whether or not you're looking for in-house positions vs. positions at a firm?

User avatar
guano
Posts: 2268
Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:49 am

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby guano » Fri Mar 22, 2013 2:46 pm

magp90 wrote:Assuming that you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do as a lawyer and assuming you don't hate it upon actually entering law school, how much of a good/bad idea is it to specialize your education in that field? Would it be better to do a general overview of a bunch of topics? Or does it just not matter at all?

If you know in broad terms, then there's a good chance you don't know.
If you have a track record in a field, it definitely helps staying there and gives you a leg up if the firm has a need in that area, but will fuck you over if that practice group is full.

Put simply, it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, but, if you don't have a strong history in the field, it means limiting your options

User avatar
A. Nony Mouse
Posts: 22859
Joined: Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:51 am

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Mar 22, 2013 4:16 pm

I think it depends a little on why you think you know what you want to do as a lawyer. If going to law school flows really really directly out of your previous work (kind of like the patent prosecution example, but I don't think it's necessarily limited to that), then go for it. (Possible examples: a social worker who did child neglect stuff for 10 years and wants to do juvenile law; a police officer who wants to become a DA; a water policy wonk who wants to do environmental law.) In those cases, I think it makes sense to have some kind of narrative thread tying together your courses and work experiences. (Although in most cases, an actual certificate/specialization program is overkill - you can create a reasonable narrative with a pretty wide range of courses and work experiences.)

For instance, purely anecdotal, I went to school with a lot of environmental law people, and the ones who are now practicing environmental law clearly specialized in it during school (in that they took all the available classes and worked in environmental-related gigs). However, some of the people who specialized are not now practicing environmental law (whether through choice or not, I don't know), and then it might be a drag to done all this work in an area you're not practicing in.

If you think you want to be X kind of lawyer just based on gut feeling or academic interest, the generalist approach is better. (More anecdote: I said going into law school and throughout much of it that I wasn't interested in doing criminal law, for a variety of reasons. Turns out, I really like criminal law and find civil litigation intensely boring. I'm now going to do mostly criminal law.)

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: How specialized is too specialized?

Postby utlaw2007 » Fri Mar 22, 2013 7:15 pm

magp90 wrote:Thanks for your feedback! My instinct agrees with the both of you... And I have a follow-up: How much do potential employers look at which elective courses you've taken? And does this differ based on whether or not you're looking for in-house positions vs. positions at a firm?


I can't speak for other employers although I heard many biglaw Texas employers couldn't really care less about what electives you took. It is very rare for a law student to get hired straight out of law school for in-house. Much of the experience they want deals with the experience biglaw corporate attorneys have. Again, this is anecdotal, everyone of my classmates that's oing in-house has practiced in biglaw for 3-5 years before making the move to in-house. I only have one classmate that actually got an in-house job straight out of law school. And I believe it was with a small company.

But I am a potential employer. I run a litigation boutique. I want potential applicants to have taken evidence. I think this class in indispensable for civil trial lawyers. You can't construct sound theories of the case if you don't know what kind of evidence is good. You don't want to do the work for the other side, but at the same time, you have to have contingency plans for theory of the case support if a piece of evidence is deemed inadmissable by the court.

I also look to see if the applicant has interscholastic mock trial experience. If he/she doesn't, I look for whether some kind of trial advocacy class was taken. There are all sorts of lawyers who try cases without these things. But I am not at all interested in hiring those guys. I want lawyers who have taken these classes and have learned these skills. These are incredibly useful skills to learn. I did interscholastic mock trial when I was in law school and learned a whole lot. I also took evidence. Those two things allow me to do what I do, in part, to great success. And I want associates with the same experience.

And I do prefer that they have taken some sort of advanced legal writing class. So many motions are won on paper. If it was good enough for me, than it is good enough for my associates.




Return to “Ask a Law Student / Graduate”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: LandMermaid, tomwatts and 2 guests