Law schools, like colleges, vary in their educational philosophies. On one end of the spectrum are schools that believe that legal education should be broad and not specialized. For example, University of Chicago states that its well-rounded curriculum prepares students for any path by exploring a wide range of subjects.
But there is an increasing trend among many law schools to provide students with the opportunity to specialize, with the expectation that this will increase graduates’ marketability in the workplace. In addition, the ability to specialize offers law students an in-depth look at potential fields of interest for their future legal careers.
There exists a plethora of specializations at law schools, including Corporate, Criminal, Environmental, Intellectual Property, Sports, and Tax Law.
Benefits of Specialization
Legal jobs have steadily declined since the financial crisis of 2008. The employment rate for new grads began to show modest increases in 2014. Again, in 2015, employment of new grads was up 1%, but these increases are not indicative of the whole picture due to the decreasing class sizes. Other factors, such as outsourcing of more routine legal tasks and the increase of two tier compensation structures, are compounding the challenge.
As a result, the job market has grown more and more competitive. For a student coming straight out of law school, a specialized background can make you more desirable, and thus, more likely to land a better job. Students who specialize become experts, and experts are able to demand higher salaries and draw the interest of clients with bigger cases.
As the world changes, so must our education. As such, many law schools that once offered only general law are now introducing specializations. In 2012, NYU School of Law modified its third year curriculum to provide students with opportunities for specialization through coursework, work at a federal agency in DC, or study abroad. Its strategy committee described their goal as offering “professional pathways that prepare students to operate in a world that demands increasing specialization.” Similarly, Loyola Law School said they developed concentrations “to help students navigate the vast offerings” and to “equip graduates with a comprehensive understanding of the subject.”
What to Consider When Choosing your Specialization
With so many options, choosing a specialization may seem overwhelming at first. Before making that choice, consider all your options to determine which will be the best fit for you.
The first step is familiarize yourself with the concentrations offered by the law schools you are interested in. While researching concentrations, it’s good to obtain a strong understanding of the day to day work done in each field. In addition, many law schools don’t require students to declare their specialization from the very beginning. There is opportunity to experiment with course selection and find what interests you. Your decision should be thought-through and informed.
In addition to your interests, consider other aspects of fields that are tied to your specialization.
These include salary, hours, job availability, or even how the field could be affected by the economy. Some fields are on the rise, while others are declining. Certain fields provide students with more opportunity to earn higher salaries, which can be especially important since many students are in debt after law school. The best specialization is that which aligns with a students career interests and financial goals.
Sports Law, Environmental Law, and Intellectual Property Law are three fields that are currently on the rise. All three are very relevant to modern society and have attracted a lot of attention in recent years.
Sports law is one of the most diverse law specializations available. The factor that sets it apart from other specializations is the ability to practice many different types of law within one specific field. Sport lawyers can be involved with labor law, contract issues, unfair competition, antitrust law, torts, criminal law, international property rights, intellectual property rights, and drug testing. Professor Mitten, of Marquette Law School, commented, “The broad knowledge and practical skills JD students acquire through participation in our Sport Law program are readily transferable to legal and business employment in industries other than sports.”
With their combined knowledge of sports and vast expertise in law, sports lawyers also have the unique ability to go onto become sports managers, agents, or other professional positions in the industry. Additionally, the sports industry generates billions of dollars each year, and is experiencing steady growth; with that growth comes more work opportunity for graduates. Whether it be professional, amateur, or even the youth level, sports law is an integral part of keeping the system functioning smoothly.
Environmental Law is a specialization that makes an important and meaningful impact on the world. And as the effort to meet sustainable goals increases—and the public’s concern continues to rise—environmental lawyers are needed more and more each day. It involves a broad curriculum because there is a great deal of information necessary to solve the complex problems that environmental lawyers face. Environmental law involves basic law, existing policy, basic science, economics, and ethics.
Lawyers in this field encounter diverse work and opportunities. There is a plethora of work for environmental lawyers, and the opportunities will continue to grow as the environment continues to pose a strong concern for growing numbers of people. Environmental lawyers can work in many businesses, government agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or at the local level.
Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property law involves protecting the rights of inventors and authors in their creations, as well as businesses in their identifying marks (logos, slogans). This branch is traditionally comprised of four categories: patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets.
This branch of law is one of the most economically stable specializations available. A partner with IP firm Hovey Williams said, “What often happens during weak economic times is companies go back to innovating.” When this occurs, intellectual property lawyers become the most vital employees a company can have.
Intellectual Property Law is a very dynamic field in the legal profession. Professor Amy Landers, of Drexel Law School, commented by email that the field tends to deal with growth and development In addition, because many intellectual property lawyers also have backgrounds in science or technology, they often earn higher salaries than their peers.
Due to increasing interdisciplinary nature of careers, all students should have the foundation of a well-rounded education. The addition of a specialization, however, can be very valuable to each student’s education and can increase their opportunities in the job market. For guidance on graduate school and careers, contact collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!