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Make a Change with Practical Guidance
This article was originally published in June 2018 with updates made on March 9, 2023.
Are you feeling pigeon-holed into a single legal subject? After carving out a niche in a particular practice area, it's not uncommon for attorneys to want to diversify their expertise or to even try to switch practice areas. While the process may seem daunting, taking on a new area of law is possible with the right mindset and resources. Small law firms in particular are well-positioned to be nimble and to branch out in their expertise.
If you’re a legal professional aiming to break away from the constraints of a single legal specialization, there are a few tactics to help you learn law specializations in demand.
But first -- what are some common reasons to make a big switch?
There are plenty of valid reasons to want to switch practice areas, ranging from a need to make a strategic career move to simply a heightened interest in another area of law. Below are three common reasons an attorney might decide to make a change.
Burnout affects attorneys just as much as it affects individuals in other professions. The more interested you are in your work, the easier it is to find joy in the mundane. Preparing pleadings and billing clients might not be the most thrilling of exercises, but if you truly find your practice area interesting, then it’ll be easier to mitigate feelings of burnout — and the better your work product will be. The same is true with respect to client satisfaction. The more engaged and intimately familiar you are with your practice area, the easier it is to advocate on behalf of your clients. In fact, mitigating burnout can lead to greater law firm efficiency overall -- introducing a new practice area might be what you need to revitalize your practice.
Not everyone has the pleasure of starting their legal career in the field that they are most passionate about. An attorney may feel stuck in the field of practice they found themselves in after their first job offer, or they may have chosen a field that was not their passion but was the most stable and practical choice for starting to pay back hefty student loans. Or perhaps the practice specialization you chose was your dream job when you started, but after years of experience, you are looking for a different type of challenge. Despite the potential anxiety of changing practice areas, rest assured that there is no reason to hold yourself back. The move can actually be fairly easy and fun if you have the right tools to support the change.
It’s no secret that some practice areas are more lucrative than others. From complex litigation to life sciences law, there are certain areas of practice that have a higher billable rate due to demand. If you’re looking to break into a new practice area, take the current market landscape of your jurisdiction into account before making a decision.
Any new area of law you start to explore will be unfamiliar at first. It will require a new skill set, but with experience and willingness, you can make a focused change in your practice area without unnecessarily disrupting your professional life.
Did one of the reasons above resonate with you? Get ready to switch practice areas with these tips:
Once you have pinpointed exactly why you want to change your practice area, you need to consider your personality and aptitudes. If you hate confrontation, thinking on your feet, and public speaking, then maybe litigation isn’t for you. If you enjoy numbers and advocating for a roster of clients you have solid relationships with, then maybe corporate law is where you should set your sights. This self-awareness is critical as you consider your options because you’ll be investing a lot of time to learn a whole new area of the law — especially if you’re further along in your career.
Once you conduct a critical self-analysis, you need to make a plan. If your law firm has the resources for you to change your practice area, then approach a trusted mentor or human resources personnel for guidance. If you have a solid track record of picking up new tasks quickly and have conducted the research on making the switch, then there’s a better chance that your request will be taken seriously. In addition, if you know of a need at your firm in that practice area, pitch yourself as the candidate to fill that vacancy.
Don’t wait for an opportunity to fall in your lap before you start investing time to learn about your practice area. To accelerate your learning in a new practice area, consider using a practical guidance tool. There are specific services designed to help you master the necessary skills to thrive in your new area of practice. With easily digestible material and resources to help you keep a pulse on important legal trends, a practical guidance tool gives you a better chance of absorbing and mastering new skills.
Start Learning with Practical Guidance
If you’re ready to start learning today, check out Practical Guidance, the most trusted practical guidance tool on the market.* This service is more than just a toolkit. It provides practice notes, annotated forms and checklists, and clearly outlines how to accomplish even the most unfamiliar matters.
With coverage in 22 different practice areas, Practical Guidance offers the greatest diversity of law specializations in high demand. For example, if you are a family law attorney working on child custody and marital cases but have a desire to explore business law, you can receive ample information about everything from business formation to dissolution as well as the tricks of the trade for negotiation, operating agreements and ownership interests.
If your existing practice requires you to dive deeply into rules of evidence, discovery, procedure, and motions of criminal law, Practical Guidance can help you shift course into the world of corporate law. Learn everything you need to know about entity maintenance, market trends, financial advising, reporting and compliance. If you’re ready for a smooth transition into a new practice area, start with Practical Guidance.
Just because you have been in specific areas of law for the majority of your career doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Although making the switch can seem difficult and intimidating, that doesn’t have to be the case. Exploring new practice areas requires you to first analyze your existing skill set, professional credentials and personality traits. Contact LexisNexis for a free trial with Practical Guidance or take a free trial of Lexis+ -- including Practical Guidance -- to preview a beginning-to-end research solution today.
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