Full Time Practice

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Jill of All Trades" or Specialist?

Being "Jill of all trades" in law is risky. The practice of law now is more competitive and demanding than ever before. The attempt to be competent and efficient in too many different areas can be a huge burden on a female attorney trying to juggle all of life's balls.

So how can one focus her law practice and avoid this dilemma? If you intend to work in a medium to large firm, obviously, make your preferences or interests known and work toward being assigned to that department. Choose a firm with a good reputation in your area of interest. If you are going solo or working in a small firm, you will have more control over your caseload and selection of cases. Either way, here are some suggestions:

1. Choose an area where your interest or experience will give you a bit of a head start. For example, I began my legal career in Family Law after having gone through a divorce. I am not suggesting that getting a divorce qualifies you as a Family Law specialist. However, it did give me insight into the process and issues in Family Law. I found that area intriguing and never boring. I have now practiced Family Law for sixteen years; it is still intriguing and not boring. Likewise, you may have had experience with a family probate, or have a background in tax, accounting, or business that will give you a platform from which to grow your legal skills.

2. Remember that focusing your practice takes time--as in years. Particularly if financial demands on you or your family require a steady income, you may not be able to choose only cases in your chosen field. Hopefully, however, the ratio of cases in your preferred field to cases in other areas will gradually increase.
3. To accelerate the process, advertise. In addition, join the section of your local bar association for your focus area, attend those section meetings and functions, as well as seminars, and network with other attorneys in your field. Your knowledge and comfort in the field will grow more rapidly.

4. Most state bar associations offer a specialization in particular fields of law. After you have been practicing in a particular area long enough to meet your jurisdiction's requirements, the "Specialist" designation on your letterhead, business card, and advertising will boost your appeal to potential clients.

I have found that focusing in one particular area is more fulfilling, interesting, and efficient than trying to be proficient in all areas of the law. It is worth the additional time and effort required. Limiting your practice to your preferred area(s) also promotes satisfying and respectful relationships with clients and peers. Good luck! --Deborah Hendrickson practices Family Law in Phoenix, AZ, and is a member of the WIL Committee of the international JRCLS, where she serves as Mountain area liaison.


  1. This is very helpful information, especially for me, a law student. Thank you.

  2. I really appreciate your thoughts on specializing. I have thought about specializing in adoption law. Based on your experience with family law, do you have any comments on how to specifically target that specialty?

  3. 3/14/11
    I apologize for the delay in responding, Erin. I have not had experience in my practice with adoptions, other than step-parent adoptions. Therefore, I would primarily only be able to recommend following some of the general suggestions in the blog article. In addition, I might also suggest that you research the area of adoption law in your state on the internet. By searching websites of reputable adoption attorneys and professional associations for adoption attorneys, such as the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, you will gain valuable information, links to helpful resources, and notice of events, seminars, and publications related to adoption law in your area. I believe adoption law would be a rewarding and interesting area in which to practice. Good luck with your plans!