Practice area transfers

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA, Inc., a full service law practice management agency.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing.  Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Some say that tort reform hurts the business of personal-injury law.  When economic factors trigger different types of legal service needs, many service providers shift gears to new legal practice areas.  There are several considerations and options for practice area transfers.

You have all likely known a colleague who worked in insurance defense and that’s how you know generally know and remember them.  Imagine that you see them a few times in court on insurance defense cases.  All seems well with your friendly insurance defense guy until one day he takes an in-house counsel position at the insurance company.  Not only will your friend not be in court as often, his day is likely going to change drastically.

Like the insurance defense attorney, we all develop specialized skills sets in practice areas by continuing to gain practical experience in each practice area.  Over time we become valuable attorneys when we have navigated complex and various matters and have developed a feel for your area of law.  When considering transferring to another practice area, it makes sense to assess the assets you possess in one area of law and consider whether they are transferrable.

Your practice area may be dead, you will have to transfer, ask the attorneys who used to live off of real estate closings.  This can be an inevitable situation and if you find yourself in this predicament, fear not, resources are quick and easy to find.  Many general practitioners have built trips to the law library into their schedule so they could quickly research a potential client’s case in an area of law they’ve not previously navigated.  If you have to involuntarily change course in your career, make sure you locate and learn from a trusted and ethical attorney in your new practice area, someone who can help you avoid some pitfalls.

When the other side is greener, you may feel persuaded to change.  If you dislike transactional work, civil litigation may sound really appealing to you when you want to draft great pleadings and take cases to the appellate courts after a battle at trial.  The reality of litigation may be quite different than you expected on the day to day routine and set of unique obstacles.  Try asking a small firm litigator if they have time for lunch.  Seriously, if you take someone to lunch they may impart some wisdom to help you make an informed decision.

Testing the waters of partnerships requires trust and patience.  Partnering can be tailored to each unique work relationship.  You can add a partner with another practice area and you can learn from your new partner as you go and eventually you can pick up their new practice area.  Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job until you’re sure the new setup is going to last.


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