You've spent three years studying the various areas of law to pass the bar; but now, how do you decide on your legal concentration? These local attorneys share how they chose their path—and give advice for navigating your journey through the field of law.
• I decided in law school that I would like to be in court. Then, when I was lucky enough to get my first law-firm job at Bryan Cave, I worked in that department with some people I really liked on interesting cases. So, I decided to keep at it. When we started Dowd Bennett in 2006, we kept doing the same kinds of cases, and I really enjoyed the clients I've met and whom I hope to help.
• I benefited greatly from working for judges for two years soon after law school, and enjoyed seeing how cases were handled from an inside perspective. Then, I had the opportunity to work with some great lawyers early in my career and tried every day to learn from them.
Growe Eisen Karlen
• Since my graduation from law school, I have devoted 100 percent of my professional time to the handling and trial of civil lawsuits. I always was interested in and intrigued by the trial of cases. I was fortunate enough to work for firms that provided me with opportunities to appear in court and to actually experience firsthand the challenge and thrill of presenting a client’s case. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge, and received a great deal of satisfaction from working with my clients to allow them to receive their ‘day in court.’
• My advice to all young lawyers would be to find an area of law that is challenging, interesting and satisfying. In addition, I would encourage them to specialize, specialize, specialize. The day of the legal generalist is probably in the past, and with the importance of marketing and Internet exposure, it is critical to gain expertise, and ultimately recognition, in one area. This will allow the development of experience and sophistication needed to succeed in today’s highly competitive marketplace.
Health Care Law
• I started work in an all-litigation law firm, and really enjoyed the court system and interaction with judges and other lawyers in contested matters. For the health care law area, I became involved when I was working in a municipal law firm and they needed someone to learn about HIPAA and train the various fire departments and a fire protection district, and I was the lucky one chosen to do the work. I have loved working in the health care regulatory compliance field ever since.
• I would say don’t try to concentrate in a single field when first graduating. Instead, try to find a bunch of different lawyers and different practice areas to work in to see what is your passion. What is the area of law that you really love and want to work on, day in and day out throughout your career? If you get overly committed in one area and eventually decide that practice area is not what you love and want to devote yourself to full-time, then you may be stuck.
• When I started law school, I knew I wanted to work in a field where I felt as though I was making a difference, and family law met that goal.
• Try to obtain some experience in family law before you decide to make it a career, such as shadowing a family law attorney for a day. It is a very challenging—emotionally and intellectually—field. You either love it or you hate it, so make sure you are one of the attorneys who love it.
Newman Bronson & Wallis
Personal Injury Law
• When I graduated from law school in 1985—and really, from the time I was a child and saw the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird—my idea of a lawyer was a trial lawyer: Someone who was in the arena fighting for his client and trying to obtain justice within our legal system. In law school, I was fascinated by my torts class, and upon graduating, I applied for jobs with law firms handling tort claims. I was hired by Newman & Bronson, and I have been with Leo Newman and Mark Bronson ever since.
• Find something that you are passionate about. Do what interests you. Also, seek out good and ethical lawyers to work for because we mimic our teachers. The Talmud says, Find a teacher. Nothing could be more true for young lawyers fresh out of law school. For young lawyers, I would say, if you cannot find a job in the field you are passionate about, find legal work where you can obtain experience. If you do not become passionate about the areas of law you are practicing, then make a change and do what interests you. You will ultimately be a better lawyer for having done it.
• As with my previous career as a state social worker responsible for finding homes for children with special needs, I wanted to continue in a field where I genuinely felt that I was helping people and making a difference. Working with families in crisis after the death or disability of a family member or assisting a family who has a child with a diagnosis is about more than just completing the necessary paperwork. I feel that I bring a unique combination of the legal, practical and emotional components together to develop a plan for the future.
• Choose something you are passionate about. The practice of law can be difficult at times, but incredibly rewarding when you are able to help your clients navigate the legal system. Each of us has a different skill set, and the practice area you choose should match your particular skills.