How To Identify The Practice Areas You’re Most Interested In

If you are to stand any chance of securing a vacation scheme place or training contract you must identify the law practice areas you are most interested in before you make your applications.

To do this you must develop solid foundation knowledge of ALL the different practice areas in which you could potentially train.

This might sound obvious but in my experience, many of those who are unsuccessful with their applications have not done this well enough.

In this post, I will explain why it’s essential to have a sound knowledge of all the practice areas and how you can acquire it.

Why A Basic Knowledge of ALL Practice Areas is Essential

If you don’t develop this knowledge before you apply for a vacation scheme or training contract you are unlikely to be invited for an interview.

Why?

Well, try some of these reasons for size:

  • Your Decisions Will Not Be Informed – your decisions when filtering down which practice areas you would like to train in will not be informed decisions. Your future employers want to see evidence of informed decisions. When it comes to that “Why this firm?” question, your answer will be much flimsier than an answer from someone who has developed their knowledge about which practice areas they are genuinely interested in and why.
  • You Won’t Find The Right Fit – without this knowledge, it will be nigh on impossible to determine which firms would be the right fit for you – this is one of the main keys to getting an interview.
  • You Might Miss Something – you may not discover less well-known practice areas which could be perfect for you.
  • You Will Most Likely Make Poor Decisions – you might decide a practice area is NOT for you when in fact it could be exactly the right area for you. I regularly see candidates make this mistake based on a misunderstanding or a misconception due to too little knowledge of the practice areas.

What To Focus On During Your Research Into Practice Areas

You must learn about the practice areas when doing your research so you can identify those areas you’re most interested in.

This will help you start to filter down the list of practice areas to a manageable size and ensure you are making informed decisions along the way.

As a minimum, I recommend you focus on developing your understanding of the following:

  1. Scope of Work – read the descriptions of ALL the different practice areas. What does the work entail? Which types of clients would you work with? What would you do day to day if working in each area?
  2. Where To Do The Work – develop your understanding of the different types of law firms, companies or other organisations where you could work with the different areas of law.
  3. Who Does The Work – develop your understanding of the different types of lawyer in each practice area and the different skill-sets required by different practice areas. Reading lawyer profiles, interviews with them and articles written by them across the range of practice areas will help with this.

What To Note During This Research Into Practice Areas

When you are reviewing this information you should be noting the following, amongst other things:

  1. Skills & Competencies – note skills and competencies needed for each practice area – what would it pay to have strengths in? Then reflect on whether you have them or have an interest in developing them going forward.
  2. Where Would You Fit In – note the sort of work and lawyers you identify with most and why. What resonates most with you? Which types of lawyers do you see as most like you? What sort of work and lawyers share your values?. By spending time thinking about this you are much more likely to apply to a firm with which you are the right fit – thereby greatly increasing your chances.
  3. Latest News & Developments – reviewing all of these practice areas is a great way to build your commercial awareness and general knowledge about the legal profession and commercial world. Many of the resources recommended in below give a great overview of current issues in each area. This will be gold to you as an applicant, and hopefully as an interviewee at a later stage.

How To Develop a Solid Understanding of the Practice Areas

The main way I recommend you develop this foundation knowledge in the first instance is the most efficient way – online research.

In particular the following excellent resources:

  1. Lawcareers.net – a comprehensive guide to a wide range of practice areas which includes information about the types of person and skill-sets certain areas will suit.
  2. Chambers Student – a detailed guide including what lawyers in a practice area do, the realities of the job and current issues in the area.
  3. Lex100 – smaller and more focused on commercial areas of law but with each area described by trainees and lawyers actually working in the area. Great to get another angle on each area.
  4. TargetJobs (scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “show more” button) – another comprehensive guide with a real insight into each practice area given by those who have been there, seen it, done it. Many of the entries are written by those at the top of their field ranging from senior partners in private practice to lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Services.

Return on Investment (of time…)

If you haven’t already identified which practice areas you are most interested in, or you have but have not developed this basic knowledge on all the practice areas, then there’s work to do.

I appreciate it can be time-consuming but it’s work that some of your competitors will be doing so you should too if you want to stand a chance in the race.

Grab a coffee, get rid of distractions and start reading.

In my experience, if you do this research and focus on the core knowledge above you will stand a much better chance of being invited to interview than if you don’t.

I know there will still be some of you who won’t do this because you think you know enough already. But those of you who spend the time on this may well find you put yourself ahead of those who don’t when it comes to the queue for vacation schemes and training contracts.

Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one to one coaching to those struggling with training contract, vacation scheme or paralegal applications and interviews. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>

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