Tuesday Tip: How to Find Your Niche Area of Law as a Soon-to-be Graduate/ Recent Graduate

So you've made your way through law school; you've decided what you don't like; but what if you're still stuck on what you do like?

Sometimes it's difficult to shut off options moving into your articling period- sometimes, in difficult economies like 2020, you might not have an option. As long as you don't hate your job, you try to stick with it.

But either way, life is immensely improved (and your reputation as a legal professional) by knowing what you represent, what you like, and hanging your hat on that.

This is really a tale of two streams. I've had legal recruitment professionals scoff and tell me outright that articling students don't actually know what they want, and a short time at a full-service firm, and students are changing lifelong plans.

To be fair, that might be most people. But I also think that's a cynical (and frankly, a little bit insulting) attitude to have. It assumes that students don't think about their careers past law school. And once again, to be fair, that might be true.

But I believe just as many law students by their final years of school do have an idea of what they'd like to do, and while they might not have settled on it entirely, it's unfair to dismiss what they might feel naturally drawn to outright, even if they haven't settled on a specific area of law.

So this week's "Tuesday Tip" is really focused on narrowing down those few niche areas you may like to explore in law, or those practice areas you like.

The first thing to note, is that it is alright if takes you a little while longer to figure out what you like.

Sometimes, we like things in theory, and in practice, they end up being absolutely (subjectively) terrible. Or just something that doesn't personally jive with what you might have thought a role in that area might entail.

A personal example for me was employment law, or personal injury.

In theory, I knew I liked Health Law. I was really more focused on the bioethical side, which isn't really focused on much in practice outside of advising companies and government policies- it really isn't an area practiced by firms.

So when presented with an employment law position, I jumped at it. I was grateful (and still remain grateful), for the chance, and the opportunity.

However, it wasn't for me. Employment law and personal injury, especially when the firm I worked with was working solely with appeals and was a specialist firm solely involved with personal injury, often led to cases dipping more into mental health claims. People couldn't work due to a workplace injury, they became depressed, and I often had to write up their entire psychological history to claim a workplace injury and tab a mental health claim. For someone with their own mental health journey, I couldn't compartmentalise from the practice of law. The work itself was fine- the subject material led to me almost having a nervous breakdown after a couple of weeks of practice.

This is an extreme example, but it taught me something important at the beginning of my legal career.

Namely, know your dislikes and likes in terms of a workplace, and don't try to fit into a mold that may not fit you.

Based on that employment law experience, I know I don't deal well with clients who are aggressive or may have triggering experiences. That cuts out areas I knew weren't for me (family law in particular), but also areas that are less obviously triggering (Employment law, being one: think about who is coming to you as an employment law lawyers: mostly people who have lost their job, and are angry at not being compensated some way. Can you deal with sometimes being a punching bag for that anger? It takes a special sort of person).

I also know I like a much more modern, casual workplace. I'm really not that much of a fan of a workplace that at least, in practice, doesn't have a relaxed atmosphere, despite the seriousness of the legal work we're doing.

I'm also much better with someone who doesn't constantly doesn't tower over me and leaves me to my work. I like a workplace where you can get on with your coworkers, there's no drama, work-wise, and ideally (but this was "pushing it" pre-COVID), you could wear a snuggly cardigan while working. (I'm honestly not someone who enjoys wearing a suit every day to work- it's really just not me (although obviously the trade-off of being a lawyer is wearing a suit for court/professional situations!)).

At the beginning of my career, I tried to fit into the mold that I thought would get me legal positions, albeit subconsciously. I think we all suffer from trying to hold ourselves to whatever standard we think someone might want from us- hell, that's practically what an interview is about!

But trust me: Life is so much more enjoyable (and the practice of law is so much more enjoyable) when you are the most authentic representation of who you are. Sounds cheesy, but it's true.

You won't be the fit for everyone, true. But you will be a fit for a firm or a law organisation where you'll love going to work everyday. Where I've been accepted so far in my legal career is a testament to that.

I've seen this proposed otherwise as "The 80/20 Principle."

If a job does not provide 80 percent of what you want, don't consider applying for it.

Now, in an economy like 2020 (soon to be 2021), that might be questionable advice. I always think an 80/20 split would be an ideal, with 70/30 being more the reality, especially in a COVID-laden reality where specialist positions in law like law student positions and law graduate positions are few and far between, with lots of competition and mounting debt.

But if you are blessed with the opportunity to try to find a position that lasts for a longer time period, and provides you that self-satisfaction, please try. No one deserves to literally kill themselves over the practice of law.

Which leads me to your checklist for this week:

The Five Steps to Finding your Niche Area of Law:

These are mostly self-explanatory, but the big takeaway from this list is really about the combination of knowing yourself, and research, research, research. In all forms. You need to know, like the examples I provided about myself above, what makes you tick. What sort of workplace environment you like. What would be a typical day for you in an ideal world?

Make connections in the chosen areas you have found interesting throughout law school- ask them what their typical day is. Join organisations. Learn about the sort of business you like and whether it really suits you.

Work, work, work. Even if in this economy, you are not starting your articling right off the bat, or your articling position fell through, find a way to get yourself involved in the law world and an area you think you might like in practice. There is a large difference between understanding something in theory and in practice, and you might find that something theoretically you had no aversion to, is something you absolutely hate in practice. Better to find out sooner rather than later.

Lastly, remember- life gets a lot easier and opportunities open up a lot more when you're called to the Bar. The position you might end up with might not be ideal, but for nine months, and as long as it meets that 70/30 threshold at least, you should be able to tolerate it. Then when you get called to the bar, you have a lot more mobility to make lateral moves into areas you like. Tough, but true.

(P.S: If you are interested in more infographics like the one above, feel free to sign up for subscriptions and future exclusive resources available to subscribed readers. Look forward to chatting with you next week, readers, and stay safe!)