5 Ways Legal Professionals Can Change Practice Areas

Question:

I’m eager to advance in my legal career, but the practice area I’m currently in has limited growth potential. How can I get experience in a different specialty and improve my marketability to potential employers?

Answer:

You’re right. Legal hiring is steady across much of the country, but some specialties offer more opportunities than others. Based on surveys of lawyers in the largest U.S. law firms, the most legal jobs are in litigation, followed by business/commercial law, real estate, compliance and healthcare. There are also some exciting emerging areas, such as civil rights, cybersecurity, biomedicine and food law.

The question is, of course, how to switch from your current practice area to a high-growth or emerging one. Here are some ideas:

1. Look at related fields. The closer you can stay to your current practice area, the more skills and experience you can transfer to your target specialty. A tax attorney can more easily switch to corporate law than, say, an attorney in family law. Similarly, a paralegal who specializes in employment and labor has a good foundation for transitioning into business law.

2. Seek out different assignments. Look for in-house opportunities as a way to get experience in another practice area. For example, ask the litigation paralegal if you could lend a hand during discovery or pre-trial. You should also speak with your law office manager to see if you could be assigned part-time or temporarily to an area that is short-staffed.

3. Take on pro bono work. You can gain valuableexperience if you’re willing, for a time, to volunteer your time to support pro bono legal services. Check with your state’s bar association for available pro bono cases in your practice area of interest. Be sure to let your current employer know about any additional work you take on to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

4. Step up your networking. Interested in immigration law? Get involved with a nonprofit organization that supports these issues and related legal matters. Wanting to specialize in technology? Then try to attend a legal technology conference. Attendees and presenters at such niche events are excellent resources about how to get experience in their practice area.

5. Work with a staffing company. Specialized legal recruiters are good sources of information about how well your current skill set could transfer to another practice area. They can also advise you on how to avoid resume mistakes and the best ways to market your existing expertise to prospective employers.

Changing practice areas is a major step in your career, but it can be done. It’s a move that can bring tremendous job satisfaction and perhaps even a salary increase. Good luck!