Picking The Hot Practice Area

You are a law student. Maybe you are close to graduating. Maybe you’ve been out for a bit. Whatever. You must figure out which practice area to pick. You think: “I need to figure out the ‘hot’ area of law and do that. That will make me in demand and I will have more job security and more money and will have a nice car.”

Maybe. Or you might just look sad and lonely in a couple of years.

Does anyone remember Y2K? I do. Around 1998 or 99, a lot of doomsayers were predicting all kinds of havoc being wreaked when the clocks and calendars were forced to roll into the year 2000. Apparently, most computers hadn’t been set up to handle a new millennium (they only tracked the year with two digits and not four) and were going to revert back to January 1, 1900. And that was going to cause banks to implode, missiles to accidentally launch, financial markets to collapse, and it would cause a dystopian future not unlike Mad Max. Fires would burn. Friends would turn on each other. And the sun would cease to shine.

The lawyers got ready. They called themselves Y2K attorneys, and they were ready for the onslaught of litigation resulting in the ripping of our social fabric as we pushed into a new frontier of lawlessness and cannibalism.

But then nothing happened and they all looked kind of stupid.

Okay, that’s an extreme example of a ‘hot’ area of law that didn’t pan out. But there are plenty of others that came and went. I remember when I was graduating law school, everyone was talking about biotechnology being the hot new thing. We were going to need bioethicists and patent attorneys to handle all this human cloning and to help protect the technology that would allow us to grow a house from a seed. Don’t get me wrong, there was (and still is) plenty of demand for patent attorneys who could handle life science-related technology, but I would hardly say that we entered a brave new world of genetically modified friends. It may still be coming, but my point is that it never really materialized the way people predicted 14 years ago so all the people who rushed into this ‘hot’ area of law may not have seen the tidal wave of work they were expecting.

Personally, I think that instead of finding the ‘hot’ area of law, you should pick something that interests you or one in which you have a unique skill set that will give you an advantage—within reason. I mean, if you live in Chicago, specializing in oil exploration law might make you a hard sell on the market. Or, if you like, just let the market pick for you. When you graduate from law school, you are basically a stem cell—capable of growing into any kind of attorney. If you go to work at a big firm, they may put you where they have a need and voila—you are now a real estate attorney. You have big rolls of paper all over your office and blueprints taped to your wall.

I guess what I am trying to say is, just avoid the hype when you are deciding where you would like to specialize. I really don’t think Y3K is going to be as big as they say.