Law in Contemporary Society
In the last class I asked Eben regarding vocations and finding our niche as a lawyer. I would like to hear more opinions on the subject.

Many times I have heard how important it is to specialize in a specific field. I have also heard several lawyers to say that they didn’t choose an area of law, but instead they just finished working on it by chance.

Before coming to Columbia I worked as a corporate lawyer, but now I am looking for my niche. I like several areas of law and, honestly, more than thinking about which one I prefer, I am thinking about which one could be my niche. An area in which I can be very good at and that allows me to sell an expertise instead of just “hours”.

I am wondering whether this is the correct approach to choose my specialization. When I was younger, I always thought about it the other way around: first I was going to choose the area that I liked the most, and then I was going to specialize on it. Today, I believe that I will be happier having actual control of my career, which I could do working on something that allows me to get clients.

I liked when Eben said that we don’t need to have only one specialization. My concern is that if I change my area of practice now and I make the wrong decision, I may end having four years of experience, without being a true specialist on anything.

I don't think that there is a "Niche vs. Vocation" trade-off. While, unlike you, I have never practiced law, it seems to me that a niche certainly helps but is not necessary. Passion for the work matters more.

Last year, I was a legal assistant/receptionist/IT assistant for a three attorney firm in Oakland. Unless you are from the Bay Area, not one of these lawyers graduated from a law school that you have heard of. Two of them graduated from a law school that is not ABA accredited. The firm does not specialize in a particular practice area; each of the lawyers essentially have their own practice. One of the lawyers is a full-time mediator and arbitrator specializing in injuries resulting from auto accidents. Another one of the lawyers specialized in construction defects.

While all of the lawyers live comfortably, the most financially successful lawyer does not specialize in anything. She takes any case that was available. While I was there, she had cases in family, probate, personal injury, contract, entertainment, copyright, and corporate law. Her specialty is in taking clients that had pursued the case on their own, ran into a few problems, and hence, needed professional representation. As far as I can tell, there is no shortage of people who need a good lawyer. The part of the law that she finds interesting is "the clients and their stories."

Although she has no specialty, she consistently bests other lawyers who have a "niche." From what I could tell, most of the specialty lawyers seemed burned out from doing the same type of case over and over and are not as vigorous or creative as she is. I think she genuinely cares more about the cases and the clients than the opposition.

I think almost any area of law has potential clients; that's why the area of law exists. If you do what you are passionate about, then you will be more successful than someone who doesn't care.

-- JohnAlbanese - 25 Mar 2010

As you said, the purpose of “finding a niche” is to attract clients, so I feel that we should not narrowly interpret Eben’s idea of finding a niche as to just finding a specialization. My interpretation of what he said is that, in order to attract clients, we must find something that we can do better than others. As the attorney mentioned by John, if she can practice a variety of areas of law and still beat other lawyers, then her “niche” is to do a variety of areas of law.

Moreover, I feel that “finding a niche” will be a trial and error process because you just won’t know whether you are good at something without trying it first. Of course, it is impractical to try out all areas of law. But I think through researching different areas of practices and networking with lawyers from those practices, we can probably narrow down our choices and whether you choose the right one is a risk that you just have to take.

Finally, if this is any comfort, I think that you cannot choose a “wrong choice.” People make decisions based on a present perspective and currently available information, but they evaluate this decision in the future based on a future perspective and future information. What seems “wrong” in the future is quite possibly “right” now. The same can be said about any choice that you can make now, so there is no need to worry about making a "wrong" choice with respect to the future.

-- RyanSong - 28 Mar 2010

I don’t think specialization at an early age is necessary. I think that if you try different areas of the law, it will make you a better lawyer. It will give you an overall understanding of the law that law school or specializing in one field alone cannot really provide us with in the beginning of our careers.

I think that it is correct to say that for most of us this will be a process of trial and error until we find what we are passionate about and good at. That process is important in and of itself. If we choose, we can at that point choose one or two areas to specialize in and gain the necessary experience to become an expert, which will make us a very valuable asset to our clients. I have to agree with John that passion for what we do, rather than just having a job, is the most important thing.

That said, there was an interesting article written on the history of specialization, and how it reflects how lawyers perceive themselves as professions:

-- SuzanneSciarra - 30 Mar 2010


-- FranciscoGuzman - 25 Mar 2010


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r6 - 17 Apr 2010 - 18:02:30 - NonaFarahnik
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