The Right Time to Specialize |

The Right Time to Specialize


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Summary: One of the most significant career decisions you will make as an attorney is which area to practice. Read on to learn when the right time to specialize is.


One of the most significant decisions you will make in your career as an attorney is which area to practice - Corporate? Litigation? Employment law? Health care? Tax? Your initial decisions regarding this aspect of your career will follow you throughout your profession - even as early as what classes you elect to take in law school and definitely what you decide to do with your summers (clerk for a judge; accept a position as a summer associate with a firm in corporate law, etc.).

Once you choose a path (specifically between transactional work and litigation), it can be difficult to veer off and would likely involve accepting cuts in your year level and salary.

You choose a direction and start to build your experience in that area. When is the proper time to further define your practice and move to specialize? There is no perfect, definitive moment for this, but rather a balance that you need to weigh within yourself. Ideally, the opportunity to specialize will come once you have had the opportunity to fully explore a variety of areas within your practice and one particular type of matter continues to peak your interest and enthusiasm. When you do this sort of work, you enjoy your day a little bit more. You look forward to handling these sorts of cases. You find the subject matter intriguing and would be happy (and not bored) handling these matters day-in and day-out.

In terms of your career track, I would suggest that the ideal time to specialize is around your 2nd or 3rd year as an associate. Essentially, the sooner you recognize that you want to focus on a certain area and begin courting the appropriate clients, the better for your career in the long-term.

Specializing is a terrific way to "make a name for yourself" and increase your future marketability to particular clients and potential future employers (whether other firms or in-house). You'll find that as you rise in seniority, clients and future employers generally prefer an expert in one field as opposed to a "jack of all trades."

As a second or third year, you should already be thinking about how to market yourself to clients and create relationships that will lead to business generation for your firm. By specializing, you focus in on your client base and can aim your business developing efforts toward this particular audience. As you grow into your specialty, it becomes more likely that you will be considered a "go to" person for that certain area. This absolutely increases your potential client base through repeat business, referrals, and reputation while elevating your value and clout within your firm. You potentially earn a higher degree of market visibility.

My single caveat to "the sooner the better" answer on this topic is that I caution any attorney starting their first year of practice in a group that is too highly specialized, unless this attorney is thoroughly confident that this is the area he/she wants to live. It can be extremely difficult to transition out of a niche practice area, especially without foundation of at least one year in a more general practice.

All of this considered, if you reach your third year and you do not have one particular area that you thoroughly enjoy, it may be best to stay within a general practice. Specialization is not something that should be forced or taken lightly. This decision will affect the remainder of your career, not only with respect to the type of work you will be doing, but the kinds of clients with which you'll be interfacing, opportunities for growth, prospects of lateraling in-house or to another firm, the type of firm or company that values you skill, as well as where you will be living physically.

Specializing is a great way to advance your career within the legal community. However, for genuine success, you need to love what you do. If you're not happy with your work, that will most definitely affect your future prosperity.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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