By: Stephen Seckler, President, Seckler Legal Recruiting and Coaching
Years ago, I used to give presentations at law schools on the state of the job market. It is always a subject that interests law students and I didn’t mind weighing in. But after giving a number of these talks, I began to question their utility. Ultimately, I reached the conclusion that focusing on your interests is a much better place to start when looking for a job. Trying to predict what will be hot in the future is difficult at best and it is very hard to distil the entire hiring landscape down into anything useful.
In some ways, it can also be dispiriting to hear about trends in the market. For example, if you know that the demand is high for corporate lawyers with two to five years of large firm M&A and securities experience, it is not going to help you if you don’t have the qualifications to get that job. If you know that bankruptcy litigation is a hot area of practice, how does that help you if you have no interest in litigation or bankruptcy?
On the other hand, if you do have the interest, it does make sense to pursue practice areas that are active. At the very least, if you have curiosity about an area where there seems to be hiring, then go explore. In other words, having a sense of the market can help.
So What are the “Hot” Areas of Practice?
If you are interested in data privacy, there is a lot going on in that space. If you have a general interest in corporate transactional law, it seems reasonable to predict that this will be a busy area of practice over the next 12 months (although as we saw in 2008/2009, that can change quickly). If employment law, trusts and estates or family law interest you, those areas seem to be doing well. In Massachusetts, the life sciences industry is very hot (lots of opportunity for IP lawyers, corporate lawyers and other practices that support the industry).
On the other hand, if you are interested in litigation, be aware that this area of practice is generally down because of court closures (but that may change too as COVID related litigation begins to explode.) Bankruptcy has not yet peaked, but it seems likely that this area will continue to be busy by the second half of the year. Similarly, commercial real estate seems to be a less busy practice area with demand for commercial office space in the city on the decline. The pandemic and changes in the way businesses will structure their work from home policies is making it challenging to predict when commercial real estate will be back. Residential real estate, on the other hand, is booming.
If this all sounds a little wishy washy or not that practical, then we are on the same page. As I said at the outset, it is very hard to predict hiring trends into the future. I believe it is a lot more productive to start exploring where your interests take you.
What if You Aren’t Sure What You Want to Do?
The truth is, until you get some work experience, you won’t really know what it is like to practice in a given area. If you’ve done a summer clerkship, participated in a clinic in law school, or worked as a paralegal prior to law school, you may have some sense of this already. If you haven’t, then start doing informational interviews with lawyers in different practice areas and come up with some educated guesses about where you might be happy. Once you have some clues, then pursue those opportunities.
Doing What You Like Will Advance Your Career More Quickly
If you like what you are doing, you are more likely to put time and energy into doing a good job and getting the training and experience that will help you advance to the next stage of your career. If you chase jobs just because you think you can get hired, you may be less motivated to make that investment.
At the same time, don’t ignore the realities of the marketplace. If you love sports and you are vying for the one available job in Boston where you’ll get to represent professional athletes, make sure to have a Plan B. You may be the lucky one. But you are more likely to be employed after graduation if you also match your interests with market realities.
Careers are really a lot less linear that they may appear. Most of us end up experimenting along the way until we find what we like. For a good podcast on the subject, listen to my interview with Jose Sierra who suggests that careers are more like whitewater rafting than a canoe ride. I also invite you to visit my website for many more career resources. Feel free to reach out to me for in informal career consult. I always enjoy hearing from law student and attorneys who are starting out. See www.counseltocounsel.com.