6 Tips for Retooling Your Practice Areas as a Junior Attorney
When young attorneys are asked, “How did you choose this practice area?” Most respond, sheepishly, “The firm took my preferences into account, but, it was the practice area where I was assigned.” As a result, it is clear that most law school students turned to young associates have not spent long hours thinking about the practice area in which they’ll be operating once they are within the firm.
Such a situation often leads to associates who are lacking job satisfaction, and as a result, they start thinking about switching practice areas. However, clearly changing practice areas is a big move and should not be taken lightly.
So before making such a move, take a deep breath and think closely about your career transition. Below are six tips for retooling your practice area as a junior attorney:
Tip #1—Identify your core values.
There’s no sense leaping from “the frying pan and into the fire,” so to speak. Clearly identify what’s important to you and which of your skills can be transferable to another practice area. Remember that you distinguish yourself, regardless of group or area, by means other than the technical application of the law. It’s how you do it, your common sense, your professionalism, your accommodation of clients and counsel . . . these are all universal skills that you can apply overnight to any practice area.
Tip #2—Identify the reasons you want to switch.
Most often, an associate who switches practice group does so because he or she finds that he or she is not a good personality or cultural or work fit for the current practice area. If you are choosing to make a practice area change, you should understand why you want to do so. If you’re thinking of changing because you’re unhappy with your current firm, then it’s better and easier to change the firm than the practice area. Be honest with yourself, identify the reasons you’re seeking change, and be sure your reasons are compelling.
Tip #3—Conduct a skills and experience self-audit.
As you consider a change, carefully examine the specialties that interest you and evaluate the skills you already have and the tools you already possess. For example, if you’re an introvert who does not enjoy a confrontational and adversarial work environment, then you should not consider switching your practice area to become a litigator.
Also, you should examine your educational background. If you are considering switching to intellectual property, and you are lucky enough to have an undergraduate or an advanced degree in science, your transition will be easier than an associate who has no experience with the STEM fields. The key here is to understand your own background and experience and use those skills to help you make a better decision about what practice area truly interests you.
Tip #4—Plan your change.
If you like your current firm, then you might approach management and ask to switch your practice area. Gather information regarding your desired area, speak to the leaders within that area, and articulate your interest in joining their group and contributing to its growth. Find out if there’s a need for an associate in that area. If so, your task just became easier. If your current firm is not a viable option, then perhaps switching firms would be a better choice.
Tip #5—Take the initiative.
Take the courses that are necessary to get up to speed with your new area. This shows your determination and commitment to change. In addition, reach out to all of your contacts, both inside the firm and externally. Have coffee with them, tell them about your plans, and ask for help. There are people who can help you during this transition; all you need to do is ask.
Tip #6—Stay positive.
Don’t fear change. Instead, embrace it. This is an opportunity to re-focus your career. And who knows, this may bring out the best in you. Take action now. By doing so, you might buy yourself a little more time at your current firm. If not, then at least you’re moving forward, and you could find a premium opportunity at another firm.