You’re working on your law degree, and you’ve concluded that you’d rather be a solicitor than a barrister. You've started researching about the SQE as your route into the field, but now comes the next big question – which area of law should you focus on? Ask yourself these questions to help narrow it down.
Will you enjoy the work?
This should be your top priority when choosing your area of legal practice. If you enjoy the work and care about the subject you’ll be interested and motivated throughout your career.
To begin with, listen to your instincts. You almost certainly have some idea of what areas interest you. Are you drawn more to family law or corporate law? Most people (even people with no plans to get into law) would be able to answer that question.
There are too many types of law to list here – from banking to bioethics, intellectual property to immigration. Make a list of all the areas you can think of, and narrow it down to a handful you’re legitimately interested in. Then move onto the next few questions.
Does it suit your personality and skills?
Different areas of practice suit different skill sets. As a personal injury lawyer, you need to be personable, understanding and convincing. It’s an area for people with outgoing personalities. Tax law is more suited to people who like quiet, focused work and don’t feel the need to be surrounded by other people. Financial law is for the numerically-minded, while family law relies a great deal on common sense.
The best way to investigate the skills you need in each field is to speak to practising lawyers. Your university may be able to put you in touch with alumni who went into your field of interest.
Learn more about key skills and qualities you need for commercial law.
Do you have the right academic background?
Your studies so far can help or hinder you in certain fields. For example, if you want to move into intellectual property law it’s a great advantage to have done a computer science degree followed by a law conversion. For those who studied law, if you had the opportunity to specialise in the area but chose not to, you’ll have some explaining to do at interview.
Fortunately, for most areas of law a particular academic background isn’t crucial. You’ll really start focusing during your Training Contract.
What type of firm do you want to work at?
If you have your heart set on one of the Magic Circle firms, you need to consider corporate and finance law – but as we said earlier, the most important thing is that you find the work interesting. The prestige and the pay cheque can’t make up for years of not enjoying your work.
Taking a more international focus could make you more attractive to the US firms, renowned for offering the highest salaries.
If you’d rather work outside London, you could focus on corporate law for one of the national firms. The other option is to go for a smaller or high street law firm, where you’ll have more responsibility and more access to partners. For those, you should focus on things the average person might need - wills and probate, conveyancing, family, personal injury, employment, immigration and criminal law.
What kind of work-life balance do you want?
At the big law firms you can expect to earn a high salary by putting in serious hours. Corporate lawyers can enjoy the camaraderie within the firm itself, but you won’t see a lot of your friends and family. Criminal law is another demanding area – you could be needed at any hour of the day or night, so you’ll constantly be on call.
For those who want a life outside of work, it’s best to choose one of the specialisms found at high street firms.
Do you value stability and predictability?
The work of corporate lawyers is affected by the economy. If you’re looking for a stable job, choose an area like wills and probate. It offers constant work, no matter what happens to the markets.
What are your future career goals?
In 15 years, do you see yourself jostling to be made partner of a major firm? Do you see yourself with your own practice? Or do you see yourself still fighting for a cause you believe in? Think ahead when making your decision; once you specialise it can be very hard to switch to a different path.
Get all the advice you can. The more people you talk to, the better you’ll understand what’s in store for you in each different career path. Go to careers fairs and sign up for work experience. To get a headstart, use our application deadline page full of commercial law graduate schemes to get started.