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DABMAN

Switching between fields of law

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Hi guys sorry if this has been answered before (please redirect me if it has) but I was wondering how common and how difficult it would be to switch between different fields of law once youve become a practicing lawyer? Also what are the major hurdles between switching fields e.g knowledge gap, network?

Thanks

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I'm not sure about how common. But plenty of lawyers practice in more than one area, so it's certainly not a problem to "switch" fields.

In terms of difficulty, I suppose it depends on how different the field you plan to switch to is. For example, I know a lawyer who started in personal injury and switched to employment after 10+ years doing personal injury without a problem. I also know a lawyer who started in employment and switched to family after 2 years of practice without a problem. Naturally there will be some learning curve but if you're a competent lawyer, you'll have enough basic skills to make the switch fairly easy. 

Logistically, I think switching practice areas is even easier if you're working at a full-service firm. That way you have a reputation already for being a solid lawyer at the firm, you know the other lawyers in the group you want to join (hopefully), and maybe even had the chance to collaborate on files with them. In that case, as long as you get the go-ahead from management, you can basically just pack up your desk and head over to their group and start working. No need to network and go looking for a new place of employment. 

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Thanks for your detailed response. I was also wondering is there ever like a law field "combo" for lack of a better word i.e lawyers specializing in 2 (or more) particular fields rather than one so as to open themselves to a larger clientele? 

Also how hard is it to develop a clientele base? What are some tips in growing it? 

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2 hours ago, DABMAN said:

Thanks for your detailed response. I was also wondering is there ever like a law field "combo" for lack of a better word i.e lawyers specializing in 2 (or more) particular fields rather than one so as to open themselves to a larger clientele? 

Also how hard is it to develop a clientele base? What are some tips in growing it? 

I know one person that practices criminal, real estate, and family. Although, their specialty and main area is crim

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You can certainly maintain a practice in multiple areas of law, and many lawyers do. But in terms of having done one exclusively and then trying to move to another... depending on the fields of law you are coming from and going to, it can be either easy or more nuanced and complex. 

For example, switching between civil litigation fields (commercial, estates, personal injury, family, insurance, bankruptcy and insolvency, etc) is done often and is very easy since the basic principles are the same. Switching from solicitor work to litigation or vice versa is more difficult because it's a different set of skills. Or, for example, from criminal law to any other area. 

It also depends on how junior you are. The more junior you are the easier it is to transition. If you have been called to the bar for 5+ years though and have only ever done criminal law, it will certainly be harder to transition, but mostly in terms of finding a firm that will take you and train you in a new area. Then you'll have to spend a large amount of time re-learning the field and won't be as profitable. One person at my firm is a 10+ year call and recently made a switch from immigration law to commercial litigation. I think they are treating him like a 5 year call, so he's essentially had years of experience erased. It had a steep learning curve but he's doing it.

 

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It's a hard question to answer without a bunch of caveats.

A sole practitioner could be both a barrister (both civil and criminal) and a solicitor (for both individuals and corporations) and could be switching between the roles multiple times a day.

A Bay Street tax associate might specialize in corporate income tax her entire career, and wouldn't touch an HST question because she considers it too far outside her practice area, despite the fact both are "tax law".

The reality for most lawyers is somewhere in the middle. I'm a commercial lawyer (solicitor), but I switched practice areas (still doing commercial law, just a different type) early in my career and, aside from some self study and uncertain moments, it was no big deal. 

A friend of mine in big law started in litigation but moved to corporate in a big firm; there was a learning curve, but he's a successful corporate lawyer who also has a healthy dose of litigation knowledge.

To sum up: Is it common? No, but it's not exactly rare, either. In fact, it's a necessity for some lawyer. Major hurdle is having relevant knowledge/a willingness to get caught up to speed. That hurdle is made much, much easier if you have a group of lawyers willing to work with you/teach you the relevant area. 

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7 hours ago, SS624 said:

You can certainly maintain a practice in multiple areas of law, and many lawyers do. But in terms of having done one exclusively and then trying to move to another... depending on the fields of law you are coming from and going to, it can be either easy or more nuanced and complex. 

For example, switching between civil litigation fields (commercial, estates, personal injury, family, insurance, bankruptcy and insolvency, etc) is done often and is very easy since the basic principles are the same. Switching from solicitor work to litigation or vice versa is more difficult because it's a different set of skills. Or, for example, from criminal law to any other area. 

It also depends on how junior you are. The more junior you are the easier it is to transition. If you have been called to the bar for 5+ years though and have only ever done criminal law, it will certainly be harder to transition, but mostly in terms of finding a firm that will take you and train you in a new area. Then you'll have to spend a large amount of time re-learning the field and won't be as profitable. One person at my firm is a 10+ year call and recently made a switch from immigration law to commercial litigation. I think they are treating him like a 5 year call, so he's essentially had years of experience erased. It had a steep learning curve but he's doing it.

 

Hi SS624 thank you so much for your detailed response I learned a lot.

This is a slight side step from my posted question but I was just wondering why I keep on hearing the number of years you practice in law being used as a measurement stick as opposed to let's say the number of clients you had or the significance of the projects you worked on? I've seen this happen in discussions regarding  the trend of increasing wages and years practiced like its some kind of 1:1 ratio, don't wages usually correspond to how well you perform in your job rather than the number of years you work there (at least thats the sense I get when I read those discussions)? Hopefully this makes sense thanks. 

 

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11 hours ago, DABMAN said:

Hi SS624 thank you so much for your detailed response I learned a lot.

This is a slight side step from my posted question but I was just wondering why I keep on hearing the number of years you practice in law being used as a measurement stick as opposed to let's say the number of clients you had or the significance of the projects you worked on? I've seen this happen in discussions regarding  the trend of increasing wages and years practiced like its some kind of 1:1 ratio, don't wages usually correspond to how well you perform in your job rather than the number of years you work there (at least thats the sense I get when I read those discussions)? Hopefully this makes sense thanks. 

 

For your first number of years practicing as a lawyer (I would say 1 - 7 at my firm), your year of call is very important. To quote the word you used, measurement stick, it really is just that.

One key point is that year of call typically sets salary. Most firms advance associate salaries on a lock-step grid depending on year of call with some deviation for how profitable you are and how hard you work. For example, at my firm you make $90k as a 1st year call, $110k as a 2nd year, $130k as a 3rd, and $150k as a 4th.  How well you perform your job may be more reflected in a bonus than in your salary. If you vastly underperform in comparison to your peers at your level, you may not go up in the lockstep  and then you fall behind your peers for salary.

Year of call also sets expectations as to what you should be learning and doing at your firm. For example, my firm has guidelines for the types of experiences an associate should be seeking out depending on their year of call. E.g., watch a trial as a junior associate (1-3 year call), involvement in a trial as an intermediate associate (4-5), and second chair a trial as a senior associate (6-7). 

Critically, your billing rate also goes up every year. So a 1st year call will bill, say, $200 per hour while a 4th year call bills $350. The firm gets to charge more for higher year calls, but then clients also expect them to be more experienced and do their work faster. Clients also expect partners to be distributing work according to complexity and cost - like a simple assignment should go to a 1st year because it will cost less.

Also, If you are looking to move laterally from one firm to another, you will typically see job postings advertise for their ideal the ideal years of call they are looking for (1-3, 5+).

At your 7th + year of call, that's also when you start to seriously be considered for partnership material and your profitability really matters.

So, yeah, while other metrics like the number of clients you have, the significant of your projects, etc., are important, typically your year of call will be the most important measuring stick for a long time. 

Edited by SS624

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1 hour ago, SS624 said:

For your first number of years practicing as a lawyer (I would say 1 - 7 at my firm), your year of call is very important. To quote the word you used, measurement stick, it really is just that.

One key point is that year of call typically sets salary. Most firms advance associate salaries on a lock-step grid depending on year of call with some deviation for how profitable you are and how hard you work. For example, at my firm you make $90k as a 1st year call, $110k as a 2nd year, $130k as a 3rd, and $150k as a 4th.  How well you perform your job may be more reflected in a bonus than in your salary. If you vastly underperform in comparison to your peers at your level, you may not go up in the lockstep  and then you fall behind your peers for salary.

Year of call also sets expectations as to what you should be learning and doing at your firm. For example, my firm has guidelines for the types of experiences an associate should be seeking out depending on their year of call. E.g., watch a trial as a junior associate (1-3 year call), involvement in a trial as an intermediate associate (4-5), and second chair a trial as a senior associate (6-7). 

Critically, your billing rate also goes up every year. So a 1st year call will bill, say, $200 per hour while a 4th year call bills $350. The firm gets to charge more for higher year calls, but then clients also expect them to be more experienced and do their work faster. Clients also expect partners to be distributing work according to complexity and cost - like a simple assignment should go to a 1st year because it will cost less.

Also, If you are looking to move laterally from one firm to another, you will typically see job postings advertise for their ideal the ideal years of call they are looking for (1-3, 5+).

At your 7th + year of call, that's also when you start to seriously be considered for partnership material and your profitability really matters.

So, yeah, while other metrics like the number of clients you have, the significant of your projects, etc., are important, typically your year of call will be the most important measuring stick for a long time. 

Hi SS624 thanks for replying again 

What surprised me the most besides this lock-step grid thing you introduced was also how high your 1st year call salaries are in at your firm. Do you mind telling me what kind of law you practice and how reasonable or unreasonable the 1st year call salary you mentioned is in the spectrum of law fields?

Also when you mentioned about the partnership part (years 7+) what benefits does a partnership offer over the associate position (sorry if this question is basic). Also what are characterisitics of profitability? (I assume one would be your ability to attract clients?)

 

Thanks again

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