If you are a new solo — either right out of law school or someone with some legal experience who is looking to change gears — here are five tips on choosing a practice area.
1. New is OK. You do not have to practice areas of law you studied in law school. After months of agonizing and countless informational interviews, I concluded there are plenty of resources available to jump into a new practice area without a piece of paper condoning it. CLEs, deskbooks, bar sections, etc., are all available to get your feet wet.
2. Is the community a good fit? I spent a lot of time in the early days of my law practice trying to squeeze myself into the legal community I thought I should practice in, instead of embracing the ones that felt more natural to me. Some areas of law are a better fit for you than others. Some are more welcoming, some are more active, and some have more resources for new lawyers. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, it probably isn’t. A section of the bar that welcomes you and is willing to help you when you need it is incredibly valuable.
3. Can you make money? Picking a practice area that will allow you to keep your doors open is incredibly important. Maybe you are not in a position to take a lot of contingency fee cases or cases with a fee shifting statute if you win. Maybe flat fees or hourly fees or unbundled services are a better fit for your financial situation. Don’t be afraid to consider practice areas that complement each other, regardless of the economy, or that offer diverse fee models, so while you are waiting on a big settlement, you can make ends meet with flat-fee matters.
4. Do you like litigation? What you want out of your solo practice is critical in deciding which areas you will practice in. Do you want to do a lot of research and writing? Do you want to be in court? Do you like discovery, meeting with clients, or working with businesses instead of individuals? Do you want the ability to scale back when you need to? If you want to try a little bit of everything, maybe try some pro bono work that allows you to test the waters.
5. Niche if you want. I cannot tell you the amount of people that have told me I must niche and I must do so ASAP. I know very happy general practice attorneys who love variety. I also know very happy attorneys with a very specific niche. I think you should niche only when and if you want to. It is possible to have a “niche” when it comes to marketing, but be broader in practice. Your niche only has to make up a minority of your caseload.
In the end, your practice is yours. You should make the decisions that are best for your circumstances.