For several years, one of the biggest shifts in the legal job market is the steady demand for specialized expertise. The career potential is high for skilled talent with industry or practice-area specialization. Both employers and clients are looking for efficiencies and value found in subject matter experts.
According to a Robert Half Legal survey, 60% of lawyers said their organizations have experienced at least some difficulty in finding skilled legal talent.
For law students, the opportunities lie in understanding what's driving the market, identifying a specific career path as well as pursuing course work and experiential learning opportunities that best prepare you to be practice-ready. I recommend adapting to the new era of law by finding your niche within a growing sector.
Here are the top 10 trending practice areas:
1. Healthcare Law
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Healthcare sector has netted more than 1 million new jobs, creating significant opportunities for legal professionals. Career settings can range from hospitals and government agencies to health law practice groups representing corporations, pharmaceutical manufacturers or biotechnology companies. This practice area often intersections with public benefits law, contract law, and civil rights. Policy and casework covers subjects like access to care, insurance coverage, drug safety, ethical choices (usually around beginning and end of life), and embryonic stem cell research. Also, as healthcare management systems become more modernized and technical, legal expertise will be even more in need.
E-discovery, or electronic discovery, is now a $2 billion industry driven by the mass storage and accessibility of electronic data - a career that didn't even exist 10 years ago. Critical in litigation support, e-discovery processionals identify, collect, process, review, preserve and produce electronically stored information (ESI). In this digital age, ESI can include e-mail, search history and social media posts. This intersection of information technology and the legal process is invaluable to tech-challenged clients and counselors.
3. Immigration Law
From serving in a traditional law practice setting, government agency, or legal service program, the demand for immigration lawyers is growing rapidly. Governmental policies are being debated daily and understanding how these laws affects foreign nationals with respect to civil liberties, labor issues, litigation, and human rights advocacy, is complex and critical. This specialization covers forms-based practice as well as litigation.
4. Family Law
Those specializing in this area require a high level of knowledge and experience due to the varied issues. Many states require advanced certification for those practicing in this area of law and/or passage of additional examination to ensure competency. Casework includes: child custody litigation, collaborative divorce, mediation, enforcement procedures, and adoption. Family lawyers often work in traditional practice settings, courts, and even educational settings.
5. Elder Law
The population of Americans who are getting older and living longer is growing significantly. The U.S. Census projects that by 2030, more than 20 percent of the population will be 65 years and over. As the demographics shift, the specialization of Elder Law is becoming more in need. Elder Law plays a critical role in advocating and protecting the rights and wellbeing of older adults, many of whom have complicated medical issues. This area of law may also interact with Healthcare and Family Law as it involves such areas as medical care, insurance, wills, end of life, trusts, guardianship, etc.
The growing interest in sustainability and increase in environmental regulation has opened doors in this practice area. Career opportunities may lie in helping corporations understanding their environmental liability, at an NGO advising litigation against malicious companies, or drafting legislation on energy policy. Work for energy lawyers will likely increase as oil and gas industries grow and externalities like climate change and greenhouse gases create greater environmental issues. Advanced knowledge of regulations, commercial contracts, and relevant statutes is essential in this specialty.
7. Labor and Employment
The relationship among employees and employers is complex - and as a result, the available careers in this sector are not slowing down. Many corporations are growing their in-house labor force expertise while others become increasingly dependent on outside firms. This specialization may cover issues related to benefits and compensation, discrimination, unemployment, collective bargaining, and safety.
8. Non-Profit Management
For those interested in the non-conventional route, many J.D. graduates choose to use their knowledge and skills to enter public service in the form of non-profit work. These leadership opportunities combine analytical and problem-solving skills with a passion to effectuate change. These career options can include legal consulting, such as public defense or civil legal services, or issue-specific advocacy and international issues.
9. Veterans Affairs
While the population of current and former U.S. military personnel is relatively small, their need for specialized legal counsel is great. Recent claims to a faulty Veterans Affairs Administration have left service members underserved in the areas of healthcare, education, and life benefits. Job growth in this area is significantly increasing as there is an influx of service members leaving the military. A number of non-profit organizations and programs have also been created to answer the call to serve for our service men and women by providing pro-bono assistance.
10. Private Business and Industry
This area of law encompasses several growing legal specializations, including Corporate Compliance, Mergers & Acquisitions, Corporate Law, and Intellectual Property. As businesses and industries change, the practice of law within this space mirrors its evolution. Several trends are affecting the career opportunities in this area, including globalization, mobile and social media, and government regulation. Specifically, companies are looking to develop their in-house capabilities, which will create a steady increase in corporate counsel careers.
Thus, it's no longer sufficient to rely on the same old Socratic method and the assumption that substantive skills will be learned on the first job after law school. To increase your market value and earning potential, take the proper steps in meeting the needs of a demanding and competitive job market by conducting important research and plan accordingly. The more knowledgeable you are about marketplace forces allows you to strategically focus your capabilities and improve your career opportunities.