In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”, Sean Covey asserts: “We are free to choose our paths, but we can’t choose the consequences that come with them.” Pondering decision making and consequences is a philosophical exercise. Fortunately we only need to think about choosing a legal field to enter, not the mechanics of making a decision.

Motivation

What motivated you to choose law as a career? The question is academic, its salient point being that you have committed yourself to a field of study which will lead to a career in law.

Which legal field you will concentrate your efforts in is also subjective.

Being totally objective, how do you choose what type of law you will practice?

Objectivity

Removing yourself and all subjective elements from this question, let’s look at practical reasons for choosing a particular area of law to specialize in.

According to Gihan Fernando, Assistant Dean for career services at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., a recently graduated law student with a specialty degree should not expect extraordinary salary because he/she specialized. He avers: “Down the road there is probably some variation, but firms pretty much pay new associates the same regardless of their specialty area.”

Jim Dunlop, a former attorney now serving on the National Finance Committee of the John McCain presidential campaign, reinforces Mr. Fernando’s statement: “First year associates in private firms generally receive the same starting salary regardless of what type of law they practice.” Their assertions reflect data tracked annually by NALP – the National Association for Law Placement. Unless you have formulated long term goals and are working directly toward them, specializing in any particular field of law is a non-issue from a financial perspective for any newly graduated lawyer. With salary removed as an objective, what else is there?

Location

Where do you intend to practice? The types of cases prevalent to one geographical area might not weigh in another.

If you intend to practice in Sunny Florida, mecca to retirees, you might see a lot of family disputes, immigration cases and environmental concerns.

Maybe you have dreams of Hollywood, or would like to take a slice of the Big Apple. In that case, intellectual property law could be quite lucrative.

If you aim to live in our nation’s capital and have a taste for politics, or perhaps you already have an internship in your state’s Senator office, constitutional law might serve you best. What if a job overseas with the State Department is what you aspire to? In that case, international law is the branch for you.

Or maybe you were born into a family of lawyers and intend on following tradition. In that case, whatever branch of law your family’s firm specializes in would be the specialty you pursue.

Money

Salary consideration for newly graduated students is a non-issue, as already discussed. However, money to pay for school may well influence your decision to specialize.

You may be a grateful recipient of scholarships and/or grants to help fund your education. You may not be in dire financial straights at all but some students are and graduating quickly is a motivating factor in choosing a law field to enter.

Time

Some students already have a family and a child to support. For them, time is of the essence. Thus, accepting a 2-year degree and working as a paralegal is their best option.

Decision

  1. As an attorney fresh out of school, salary is not necessarily a consideration.
  2. Intent to follow family tradition renders the question moot.
  3. Factors that do weigh in your decision of which field to enter: where you intend to practice and how much money and time you have to invest in your education.

Variety

According to Discoverlaw.org, once you complete your school’s core curriculum you are free to choose from a variety of courses.

Patents law, civil rights law, criminal law, tort law, educational law, labor law, tax law… one could spend at least an hour enumerating all the different types of law. Unless you have a concrete goal in mind or an offer from a firm specializing in a certain branch of law, you should explore the many fields available to you.