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.
Attorneys in transition should assess and decide on a practice area and market their strongest brand. Too often attorneys gain experience in one practice area then jump around to test the waters in other substantive areas. You can do this to broaden your skills sets, so long as you are careful not to leave a trail of confusion.
If you are passionate about work in a certain practice area elaborate your practical experience and promote the sum of your potential contributions. People can tell whether you are committed to certain work. Likewise, they can often tell when you are trying to sell yourself in a practice area that may not be a natural match.
Brand management requires you to communicate what you do on a consistent basis. If you’re found hopping around various practice areas you will appear fragmented and wishy washy – not the impression you want to make if you are a serious attorney.
Too often popular practice areas attract mismatched talent. When I started law school in the late 90s intellectual property was a rather unknown practice area. The only people interested in copyright, trademark and patent law were the students with science backgrounds who attended The John Marshall Law School for their acclaimed IP department. Today, and largely through social media and online exposure, intellectual property is a really “hip” practice area, attracting many who think trademarks are cool. While I’m certainly not disputing the “cool” factor, the work can be quite challenging and is not for everyone. Consider the “cool” factor long term.
After carefully assessing your background and developed skills sets, consider natural practice area matches. Be careful not to let financial considerations be your guide. Family law, for example, can be very lucrative; however the market is highly sensitive to economic swings and geographic location. Those who went into family law to make big bucks often end up cursing their decision if they are not personally invested in truly serving the best interests of domestic relations.
If you engage in substantive work outside your practice area make sure you learn the subject well before you accept a client for same. Malpractice may not pay a claim if you are operating negligently outside your abilities. The ABA offers several publications concerning ethics and considerations for attorneys who need practice area resources. Remember that experience can never be substituted with an IICLE volume.