“Can I call you to bail me out of jail?” and “what type of law do you want to specialize in?” These are the two most frequently asked questions I get after explaining that I am a Candidate Attorney. The first question is easily answered (of course I can) but the second question – defining your niche – is slightly more daunting.
Much like choosing what to study, some people are absolute in their decision almost immediately. They can confidently introduce themselves as Mr. Up-and-Coming, who is going to redefine the basis of environmental law during that awkward introductory lecture. For the rest of us seated at the back of the auditorium, however, that kind of clarity is the stuff of legend. We’re just hoping to get through the next four years of an honours degree without failing anything, while maintaining some kind of minimum wage job.
After joining the professional workforce in 2019, it became abundantly clear – rather abruptly – that textbooks and practice are completely different animals. There’s the rosy dream of working in litigation; looking like you’ve just stepped off the set of Suits, getting orders granted in favour of your client. This, realistically, materializes into arriving at court to find that your matter hasn’t been placed on the roll because the clerk of the court can’t find your file. Let’s not forget the aching feet, gruesome blisters and another adjournment for your Section 65 Financial Enquiry because the debtor forgot to bring a copy of his bank statement.
Sifting dreams from reality
Sound familiar? I feel the only way to confidently answer this daunting question is to gain as much experience as possible. And the best way to gain this experience is to be as curious as possible. If you’re entering the legal world like me, this means getting to court as often as you can, building relationships with Magistrates, Registrars and Clerks, and actively connecting with your colleagues. Be mindful of opportunities to grow your knowledge base; volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to do in the office, read extensively and keep abreast of practice directives and amendments to legislation.
[If you’re not an aspiring attorney, that’s okay. Many of these points apply to finding your niche in any field. Maybe not befriending your local Magistrate, though. 😉 ]
In my first year of articles, I worked in wills and estates as well as agency. I was also exposed to various spheres of litigation, including bank work; things such as debt review and vehicle repossession, property attachment, debt collection, divorce, insurance and damages in motor vehicle accidents. Towards the end of the year, after much deliberation, I transferred my articles to a firm whose sole practice area is conveyancing. I’ve loved every minute of learning about the transfer process, and I am almost certain that I have found my niche. My move has highlighted the importance of a positive office environment; we are an incentivized, young, well-qualified team of attorneys who are passionate about our work. That makes going to work every day incredibly easy.
Consider both experience and environment
Back to the big question. In my modest eighteen months as a young professional, I learned that there are two major aspects to be considered when deciding on your specialty: experience and environment. I might have continued to work in litigation, attending court routinely and drafting endless opposing affidavits from the same precedent but, being determined to expand my knowledge base, I jumped at the opportunity to gain valuable conveyancing experience and learn something new about a completely different aspect of the law. This opportunity meant that I joined a team who are excited about coming to work every day and are really clued up about the ins and outs of the industry.
Research suggests that the younger generation are likely to change jobs every three to four years. Personally, I think that’s a great idea. Change it up until you find exactly what you are looking for; where you are able to grow your expertise and where you find the perfect balance of experience and environment. I think I have found my perfect combination and I can confidently answer that daunting question. I specialize in conveyancing and I love it.
If you’re still searching for your answer to the big question or trying to define your niche, the best thing you can do is learn a little bit about a lot of things. Be agile, willing to adapt, and before you know it you’ll find yourself specialising in something you love.
What’s been your biggest challenge in trying to decide on a path in your career? Let me know in the comments!
- Ceding your articles: Jumping ship or broadening horizons? - May 18, 2020
- Defining your niche: The big question for young attorneys - April 18, 2020