How to Decide
It is unwise to limit your options until you have had a chance to actually work in a specific area of the law. The statistics on time spent working in a specialty suggests that even specialists must have other interests. If you work in a large law firm, you will be exposed to many areas of the law. Even paralegals who work for a solo practitioner will have varied assignments. Deciding on a specialty involves a combination of several factors — personal preference, opportunity, and legal trends.
Deciding on a specialty is a matter of personal taste. Your attraction to an area of the law should be more than just getting a job. Some people are attracted to an area of the law because of the intellectual challenge the field offers. Others are seeking a high degree of client contact. Still others are attracted to the attention to detail required in certain positions. There are areas of the law to fit everyone. Select one — or more — that allows you to do what you love.
Sometimes selecting a specialty is simply a matter of opportunity. You may be interested in family law, but the firm you work for already has an experienced family law paralegal. Your work is concentrated in civil litigation, and that becomes your specialty.
Beginning paralegals are often offered opportunities in fields that they never considered as a possible specialty. One friend recommends another for a job, an in-firm assignment is made based on availability, or the supervising lawyer takes on a client matter involving a different area of the law. Any of these events creates an opportunity to explore a different area of the law.
If you are not being exposed to different areas of the law in your current job, develop your own opportunities. Ask for more varied assignments, take continuing legal education courses in varied fields, or volunteer with organizations in a field that interests you. Cross-training in several different areas of the law provides the opportunity to transition smoothly to different specialty areas.
Some specialties are dictated by job trends. Certain areas of the law are developing while others are slowing. Several years ago, many civil litigation paralegals were specializing in tobacco or asbestos litigation. Those were “hot” fields at the time — there was a lot of activity involving many lawyers. Today, there is less demand for paralegals in these specialties.
Some law firms follow job trends. If there is a demand for a certain legal service, the law firm will try to fill it. Paralegals who work for these types of firms may be swept along with the trend into a new specialty area. Other firms do not follow job trends, either because of lack of interest or lack of capacity. These firms do not have clients demanding the latest service, or simply lack the resources to move into a new legal area. Paralegals in these firms will not have the option of exploring a specialty in a developing field of the law.