Two roads running into the horizon and divergingYou are coming towards the end of your training contract and qualification is looming. The only problem is, you don’t know which area you want to qualify into. Sound familiar? It is the big qualification question.

As an ex-lawyer, I sympathise with the decision you have to make as a third/fourth seat trainee when trying to determine which practice area you actually want to specialise in. The significance of this question is not to be underestimated. The battle to actually qualify as a lawyer at all is hard enough. You have spent years studying through University and the GDL/LPC, you fought like mad to secure a training contract and then you worked really, really hard to try and impress partners during the training contract. However, despite how difficult all of this was, at least it was all relatively short term. Where you qualify isn’t. So after all of this time and effort, comes the really big question - what do you actually want to specialise in for the rest of your legal career? There are always a lucky few who have known that they want to be a litigator since that first university lecture on Donoghue v Stevenson… For others however the decision is less clear. Having been through the qualification process myself, I have put together a list of factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding on the practice area for you.

1. First and foremost, what do you enjoy?

A simple but crucial question. If there is an area of law that you enjoyed the most during your training contract then it is going to be a pretty obvious contender for qualification. If you enjoy your work, you are likely to be a lot more successful in your career and a great deal happier as a lawyer.

2. Second, think long term.


Location, location, location. If you think that in the long run you might want to escape the Bright Lights and move to a pretty little town in Devon, then capital markets or competition law probably isn’t going to be the best choice for you. Instead practice areas like real estate or family law might work better, as jobs in these areas of law can be found in smaller, more remote firms as well as the larger city practices.

In-house vs private practice

Do you want to go in-house in the next few years? Many lawyers choose to trade in life in private practice in order to pursue a career in-house. The best areas for this transition tend to be commercial law, corporate law and technology/IP/IT Law for example. Whereas real estate or pensions lawyers are going to find this move much more difficult.

International opportunities

Would you like to spend time abroad? In an increasingly globalised world, many lawyers are drawn to the prospect of working in sunny Sydney or bustling Hong Kong and are making the move overseas. If this is something you know you want to do then you might want to factor this in; corporate or finance roles crop up frequently, tax or pensions roles do not.

Recent trends and growth areas

Which areas of law seem to be on the up? It is thought that many children in school today are studying towards professions that don’t even exist yet. It is not hard to see why. Technology is rapidly changing our professional landscape and with this comes new opportunities. Data protection and TMT are areas of law that have suddenly exploded, with many firms now recruiting for lawyers with expertise in these areas. Partnership prospects in these areas are also likely to be greater because there are fewer lawyers who have specialised in them yet. It is a good idea to consider the long term future of your preferred qualification area.

3. Think about work-life balance

What type of lifestyle suits you? Any area of law can involve long hours – but some naturally have longer hours than others. If you are happy working long hours and get a thrill out of working on big transactions, then you might relish the prospect of working in finance at a top US firm for example. However, if this doesn’t appeal, then you might want to choose a practice area that has more stable hours associated with it and where you can perhaps work for a smaller firm.

Again, you might also want to factor in the future here. Whilst long hours might be ok in your 20s, what will happen if and when you want to start a family and how do you want to balance this?

4. Where are the jobs?

Finally, it is no good deciding that you want to be a media lawyer if there are no media jobs at your firm or any others. Whilst it is important to qualify into an area you enjoy, if there are no jobs in that area then you need to be realistic. There is no harm in exploring your first choice, but you might want to have a back-up too if your first choice is in a niche area and there are few or no NQ jobs.

Deciding on where to qualify is not always easy, but there are factors to take into consideration that should help you to see the big picture and guide you towards the best area for you.

If you are a 3rd/4th seat trainee or NQ and would like to have a confidential chat about the market and your qualification plans, please feel free to get in touch.

Mary Byrom
DD: 020 7400 2031