Dear Amicus Agony,
My practice is in commercial litigation. Sometimes, I worry that this gives me a narrow outlook on the economy as a whole since my time is spent focusing on the specific features of my clients’ cases. I do not want to have only a one-dimensional set of skills – how can I acquire a deeper understanding of the economy, and more skills that are relevant to the marketplace?
Dear Perturbed Pete,
Assuming that for the time being you have no plans to stop practising commercial litigation, the solution lies in making the most out of your matters at work, as well as being intentional with your free time. For the former, although every matter and client will be different, do your best to consider not only the legal and strategic aspects of each case, but also how your clients’ business operates and the commercial consequences behind your legal strategy. If the circumstances allow, speak to your clients about their business and participate in their commercial strategizing. As for the latter, read widely about those aspects of the economy which you are interested in acquiring skills in. Seek out opportunities to speak with businessmen and professionals about what they do – you never know who will be willing to open up unless you ask!
Ultimately, certain skills can only be acquired and honed by having actual experience in that field itself. Just as how your practical courtroom skills are developed by virtue of your position as a litigator, you cannot reasonably expect to gain business experience without actually being in business yourself. If this is truly what you believe you are passionate about, you can consider taking the leap of faith to pursue it – but only after careful consideration of the pros and cons involved.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a young associate working in a team of lawyers specialising mainly in criminal law. However, I feel that I am being pigeon-holed in the early stages of my career, and I would very much like to explore different practice areas, before settling on an area of specialisation that interests me. After all, it’s a big world out there and there are so many different areas of legal practice that I have yet to try out. Should I quit my job and move to a new firm to ensure that I am able to receive such exposure?
Bird in a Cage
Dear Bird in a Cage,
You have raised the perennial question of whether the grass truly is greener on the other side. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.
Moving from one practice area to another is a serious decision, and you should first take some time to analyse the push/pull factors underlying your desire to move. If you intend to switch to obtain a higher salary or for reasons of perceived prestige, you may well be switching jobs yet again one year down the road.
Once you’ve thoroughly examined your motivations and have decided that you would like to undertake a new practice area, the first step would be to raise this issue with your partner. It would be best to schedule a face-to-face meeting and provide an indication of the topic of discussion, so that your partner is not caught by surprise.
During the meeting, carefully outline the practice areas that you’re interested in and why. Be open to feedback from your partner as he or she would have valuable insights into your strengths and weaknesses as a lawyer. Once your partner is aware of your interests, he or she may be able to take on and put you in charge of matters that appeal to you, or even attach you to another team in the same firm that specialises in your preferred practice area.
In the event that this is not possible, have a frank discussion with your partner about changing firms. He or she may have their own contacts and be aware of openings elsewhere. Don’t rush into taking the first job offered, simply because of your desire to change practice areas. Speak candidly with your peers and others in the industry, so that you can make an informed decision before moving. It is also important to be aware of market forces. In a booming economy, it will be easier for you to make a switch, and conversely less so when the job market is tight. Change can be scary, but with the right motivations and frame of mind, you can be richly rewarded.