Tuesday, June 20, 2006

 

Specialization

I may have mentioned something about this earlier in the blog, but I got a question about it and it’s probably something that a lot of people who are thinking about law school are wondering.

The questions: 1) How relevant are specializations? and 2) How easy is it to get a job in a specialized field? Is it naive to think that going through school with an IP (Intellectual Property) specialization will land me a job doing IP work?

1) Specializations are not relevant at all and also are very relevant – it depends on when you’re asking yourself this question and if you want to go into one or two very specialized areas (I believe patent law and admiralty law are two that you can get/need special certifications – might be wrong on that). When you’re in law school and at the time that you graduate it doesn’t really matter if you have any idea what you want to specialize in – it is probably good to have a general idea, but is not necessary. It is not necessary because lawyers are licensed to be lawyers, not lawyers. My understanding is that any lawyer can basically take on any case they want, with some special exceptions (like those special certification ones mentioned above and death penalty cases). Thus, even if you’re a criminal lawyer, you can still write your friend’s will and represent your sister in an auto accident. Whether you would be the best to do so is another question, but you would be able to do it. So in general, specializations aren’t really relevant. That said, almost every lawyer specializes in some particular field, whether it be divorce, appellate law, litigation, slip and fall accidents on the Magnificent Mile, whatever. Thus, specializations play a role in just about every lawyer’s life but can always be changed. You can figure out your “specialization” while you’re in law school, based on a job you have at the time, whenever. My suggestion for law students would be to have an open mind about what field of law you want to practice while you’re in law school, try to eliminate some particular areas that you really don’t like either through classes or clerkships, and realize that your specialization might not really be your choice but instead the choice of whatever firm decides they want to hire you (unless you start your own firm, of course).

2) As can be seen from my response to question 1, almost all jobs are specialized in some way. However, the amount of specification really depends. For example, some lawyers are civil corporate litigators. This means that they would usually take on any civil law case, involving a business, that is ready to be an actual lawsuit or already is a lawsuit. That’s a pretty broad specialization. A more narrow specialization would be something like asbestos litigation attorney or an IP attorney (which can be further broken down into patent attorneys, trademark attorneys, etc.). As to the part of the question involving IP law specifically, I should first note that I know very little about IP law, IP firms, or the career paths of IP students. However, what I do know is that it is a much more specialized field in the sense that many law students who become IP attorneys have engineering backgrounds. My understanding is that this is because the lawyers need to be able to talk to their clients (who will usually be those seeking patents) about particulars of a process or product that would involve more technical knowledge. This isn’t to say that if you don’t have an engineering background you can’t be an IP attorney, but I believe that having that background helps. Many IP attorneys seem to also seek IP certificates and, as mentioned above, might need to get a special certification to practice in certain areas. So, to answer the particular question, just having a background in IP/engineering probably won’t land you a job doing IP work because almost all of the IP attorneys have a background in IP/engineering; however, it is very helpful (nearly a prerequisite) to have an IP/engineering background to do IP work.

I hope this answered some questions. Keep them coming – this blog is really for anyone thinking about potentially going to law school or currently in law school. I obviously don’t represent the opinions of all law students, but I’ll try to do the best I can to give a knowledgeable response.

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