Begin to gather information about practice areas and settings by reading everything you can get your hands on about the practice of law. Extroverts reading these recommendations may wonder why we put reading before talking – extroverts usually prefer talking with others to the solitary activity of reading, and want to jump right in to the “good stuff.” But reading about the practice of law before starting to speak with others about your career goals is important. Why? Because until you start reading about all the different practice areas and practice settings out there, you probably won’t even really know what you should be talking to people about – and you probably won’t have the vocabulary to take your conversations very far. A little reading will go a long way to introduce you to what is out there – to help you understand each area of practice just enough to ask questions that will let you learn more.
Several legal search firms and consulting groups have good quick reference guides to practice areas – but remember that these businesses work primarily with law firms, and often the very large law firms, so these practice areas will skew heavily towards the practice areas represented at large law firms – you will need to look elsewhere for more information about criminal practice, government opportunities, and legal specialties generally practiced in smaller firms (like plaintiff’s work).
With that caveat, two good sites for a quick overview:
Take a look at Chambers Associate’s practice area summaries online, or in our office in hard copy.
BCG Attorney Search also has practice area summaries online, or in our office in hard copy.
We also have a summary of law firm practice areas produced by attorney search firm Major, Lindsey and Africa in hard copy in our office (a companion to the “Ten Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Practice Area” presentation mentioned in the Self-Assessment step).
There are a number of excellent books that will give you a broader overview of legal practice areas and settings – several of which we have in the Career Services Office for students to review in the office or check out. We recommend you begin with these:
Lisa Abrams, The Official Guide to Legal Specialties – good info about a range of practice areas drawn from interviews with attorneys practicing in those areas.
Kimm Alayne Walton, Guerrilla Tactics For Getting The Legal Job Of Your Dreams: Regardless of Your Grades, Your School, or Your Work Experience! – Chapter 2 “Figuring Out What the Heck the Job of Your Dreams Is” has lots of great information –especially Appendix C on page 91, which gives a great roundup different practice setting and Appendix D on page 99 which explores the wide range of employment opportunities in government that most students aren’t familiar with.
Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky, Should You Really Be a Lawyer – Chapter 7 has a nice overview of practice settings and practice areas and Chapter 11 has some good advice about identifying the right type of practice for you.
Ron and Caryl Krannich, Jobs and Careers with Non-Profit Organizations – not specific to the law, but a good overview of the non-profit world if that is an area that is appealing to you.
Career Services Website
Our website includes a wide variety of information on some of the most popular practice areas:
Practice settings and practice areas overlap – for instance, in the area of criminal law, there are government jobs as prosecutors, public interest positions defending those accused of crimes who cannot afford counsel, as well as criminal defense private law firms – three different practice settings in the area of criminal law. So as you research, you will want to think not only about what areas of law sound interesting, but also what practice settings are most attractive to you.
On to the Talk section of Information Gathering . . .