10 Tips to Help You Decide What Type of Law to Practice

Jeena ChoPlease welcome back Jeena Cho with a follow up to her excellent post, The Art of the Hustle. Today, Jeena’s sharing 10 tips that will help you decide what type of law you’d like to practice.

Take it away!

I recently gave a talk “What I Wish I Learned in Law School” at Golden Gate University. I talked a lot about The Art of the Hustle. During the talk, one student asked me if I had any tips for figuring out what area of law to pursue after graduation. She shared that when she considered the question — what area to practice after law school — it made her feel anxious.

I know this feeling well.

Figuring out what practice area to go into after law school is a BIG decision!

And when you’re in law school, there are so many options, it’s hard to narrow it down. Additionally, this question is intimately tied to the bigger question — what work will I do for the rest of my life that will support me financially and gives me satisfaction?

If you’ve been struggling with this question, take heart. Despite being out of law school for more than 10 years, I still contemplate the question “What do I want to do when I grow up?” The difference between asking the question now vs. when I was 24, just graduating from law school is that the sense of anxiety doesn’t exist anymore.

I now love the question because it means that there’s flexibility in my life and choices.

Here’s the thing. Chances are, whatever area of law you choose for your first job will most likely not be the area of law you practice for the rest of your career. In fact, there’s a good chance that you’ll choose different areas of law and shift gears many times during your career.

10 Tips for Deciding What Type of Law to Practice

Having said all of that, here are my top 10 tips for figuring out the answer to the question: What Area of Law Should I Pursue After Graduation?

  1. Think Long Term. This isn’t a question you can answer overnight. It’s a big question and requires some careful thought and planning. If you press your brain to come up with an instant answer, that will only lead to stress and anxiety. So, think long term. Give yourself six months or more to explore the question with leisure. The good news is that law school trains you to be flexible so you can change practice areas and move around.
  2. Make a Plan. Determine the amount of time you’ll give yourself to explore this question. Ideally, you’re still early in your law school career so you have many semesters ahead of you. But even if you’re in your last semester of 3L, there’s no need to panic! Take some deep breaths, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and make a plan.
  3. Talk to Practicing Lawyers. A great way to gain insight into an area of law is by talking to those who are already doing the work. When you’re in law school, you have an advantage because many lawyers will be willing to speak with you and give you advice. (Lawyers, not surprisingly love to give you advice.) Come up with a list of practice areas that you think you might want to pursue, then go on LinkedIn, Avvo, or Google and do some research on lawyers that are practicing in those areas. Reach out to them by phone or email. Asking for a lawyer’s insight is also a form of flattery.
  4. Talk to Your Professors. You have amazing resources at the law school — use them! Reach out to the professors who are practicing in those areas you’re interested in and interview them. Better yet, see if you can work on a project for them. Reach out to the professors even if you’re not taking their class!
  5. Listen to Yourself. Do you find yourself getting excited about one assignment and avoiding another one? Even if it’s not subject related, this may give you clues. Do you enjoy working collaboratively in teams? Or do you enjoy working solo? Do you enjoy oral advocacy or writing appeals? Do you enjoy working with individuals or large companies? Pay close attention to what you enjoy or dislike.
  6. Think Outside the Box. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there are two tracks — litigation or transactional. There are many different opportunities for those with JD so think big. The field of law practice is evolving, especially as more technology is being incorporated into law. Take a look at interesting opportunities for lawyers outside the traditional law firm track such as Wevorce, ReInvent Law, and Law by Design.
  7. Quality of Life. The area of law you choose may have less to do with how much personal satisfaction you get from your job than your work environment. I’ve always found that who I work with, and how much autonomy I have, at a job was far more important in determining how much I enjoyed my job than the actual practice area.
  8. Understand Your Personal Goals. One of the best ways to get a handle on your professional path is to understand your personal desires. For example, where you want to live, lifestyle, family and numerous other factors are really important to most people. Make sure your professional choices do not create irreconcilable conflicts with your personal needs.
  9. Forget Finding the “Right” Answer. The answer to this question isn’t like a law school multiple choice exam where there’s a “right” and “wrong” answer. It’s a very complex question and your answer will probably depend on many different factors.
  10. Your Answer Will Change. I went to law school convinced that I wanted to work as a district attorney. I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else. Within about 6 months after getting the DA job, I knew it just wasn’t right for me. Despite knowing this, I didn’t find the courage to change course for years. Somehow, changing course made me feel like a “failure.” Now, I know that it takes courage to do what you love.

Thanks, Jeena!

More about Jeena:
Jeena Cho is a San Francisco bankruptcy attorney with JC Law Group PC. She’s working on her second book, The Anxious Lawyer for the ABA. Jeena also teaches classes on Mindfulness and Meditation for Lawyers. You can email her at jcho@jclawgroup.com or follow her on Twitter @jeena_cho.

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