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by Vault Law Editors | March 31, 2009

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Question: I'm a first-year law student. I'm concerned about the economy and the effect it has on the job market or will have when I graduate. Are there areas of practice that are recession-proof? It seems that law firms have more litigators than anything else, so should I bend my studies in that direction?

Bill Seaton: Einstein was a great man, great mostly for his theory of relativity, which states, drastically paraphrased, that what you see depends entirely on where you stand. Practice area popularities come and go and even during recessions general rules might not hold. Prevailing wisdom is that recessions favor litigators and boom times favor transactional lawyers. In this recession, demand for IP lawyers has held up, though that wasn't necessarily the case in the last recession. Add to that the fact that you have no idea what the economy will be when you graduate and that, Lord willing, you will have a long career that will see whatever specialty you choose wax and wane through various economic changes, social upheavals, legislative amendments and out and out serendipity. In short, I don't recommend that you choose a specialty according to some formula for sustainable demand.

As for litigators, it is indeed true that a survey of job advertising shows that about half of all firms seek litigators of one flavor or another. That percentage is big enough that even in a recession, which supposedly disfavors them, litigators are a high-demand breed, relatively speaking. Does that mean you should set your sights on being a litigator? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that litigation is for type-A personalities or that you have to have been born with an extra "rude" gene to do well in the mano-a-mano combat that is litigation. I have met some surprisingly mild-mannered litigators alongside some others who fit the stereotype to a tee. So you can't really do a personality assessment test to determine if you fit the bill. That begs the question of how you decide.~

I am still idealistic enough to say that you should be looking for the branch of study that most naturally captures your interest. Or maybe that's not so idealistic. Perhaps it's purely pragmatic to pursue that which will fire your ambition and hold your attention over the years and through the rigors of actual law practice. The less your job is the application of arm's-length rules and the more the personal pursuit of true mental involvement, the more likely you will achieve a high degree of career satisfaction and success.

That being said, as a first-year law student, your curriculum is probably set for you. Not having finished your first year, you haven't yet been exposed to all the core practice areas. While you certainly should be thinking about your eventual specialization, you just aren't at the decision point yet. Immerse yourself in your studies, talk as much as you can with fellow students, professors and as many practicing lawyers as possible. Then ask yourself which were the most engaging conversations, and the answer will come to you.

Bill Seaton is the co-founder of EmplawyerNet, which offers the largest legal jobs database anywhere, with over 6,000 job listings. To ask Bill Seaton a question, read his message board, or check out past articles, visit Bill Seaton central.

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