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Ask the Experts

Q: What is the best way to begin a transition into a different practice field? I am hoping to learn more about opportunities in a different area of the law than my current practice, and hope to transition out of this practice so that I can be better engaged with my work.

A: First, ask yourself why your current work isn’t engaging you. What don’t you like about your practice (and what do you like)? If you switched to a different practice area, would you be able to avoid the things you dislike about your current work? Would a new practice area allow you to fully utilize your skill set? Sometimes lawyers are unhappy and believe the problem lies with their practice area, but the problem is really their work environment: they are dealing with difficult coworkers or supervisors, not getting interesting assignments, or working unpredictable hours. If you like the substantive law and skills used in your area of practice, you may just need to change your environment (e.g., ask to work with other supervisors, seek out different types of cases or transactions, or consider changing employers).

If you are convinced it’s the practice area you dislike, your next step should be to conduct “due diligence” on other practice areas. Learn as much as you can about the substantive area of law to really test whether it’s of interest to you. Attend CLEs and read up about recent legal developments in the field. Investigate opportunities to do pro bono work.

In addition, do informational interviews with attorneys who practice in the area. Find out what their typical day looks like: is most of their time spent writing, are they in court often or not at all, how much of their day is spent dealing with clients, opposing counsel or other parties. What do they like most about their work, what skills you need to be successful and what are their biggest challenges? Ask what employers are looking for when they hire attorneys at your level. Make sure to speak with attorneys at your seniority level and above so you know how the work differs at various seniority levels. Also, consider seeing an experienced career counselor who can help you hone in on practice areas that utilize those skills that you have enjoyed using in your current role. If you are a member of the NYC Bar, you may be referred to a counselor at a reduced hourly rate through its Career Counselor Referral program.

And last, once you’ve done the necessary due diligence, ask yourself those earlier questions again. Will this new practice area utilize my skills? Will I be able to do the type of work I want to do (and avoid most of the things I don’t like)? If the answers to those questions are yes, go for it.

You’ll be more marketable to potential employers since you’ll have done your due diligence and gotten exposure to the field.

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