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How Lawyers Choose Their Specialism at the Start of a Legal Career

What are the things which lawyers took into consideration when choosing their specialism?

We spoke to some of the leading lawyers in their fields and the reasons ranged but the general themes were:

  • An area of law was more suited to their personality
  • Previous exposure to a certain legal specialism
  • A sense of duty and want to help people
  • Interaction with clients
  • A tenacity to succeed

Choosing the legal specialism can be determined by many things and in some cases it can even be more by chance and exposure. From representing mothers who’ve been unfairly treated as an employment lawyer to helping patients who have suffered at the hands of negligent medics as a clinical negligence solicitor, there’s a department to suit all.

Choosing employment law as a specialism

The fast-pace and varied nature of the work is something Marsha Thompson enjoys about working as an Employment lawyer.

Having worked as a lawyer for nearly a decade, Marsha, who is also a mentor for the Black Solicitors Network, has acted in a number of high profile cases. In one she brought a successful unfair dismissal case against a member of foreign royalty. She said: “I have worked in various other areas prior to my training contract including clinical negligence, personal injury, housing, criminal and family.

“I didn’t feel suited to criminal or clinical negligence/ personal injury. It was really sad to see some of the injuries and trauma people went through. I found it difficult to deal with these matters. Family was also not one which was suited to my personality.

“When I started my training seat in employment, I liked it immediately. Employment is an area which affects most people and helping them to resolve employment disputes can have a massive impact on their lives. No day is ever the same and it is not very procedural as it can be in other areas of law.

“It was important for me to gain work experience in lots of areas in order to work out which one was for me. Employment just felt right!”    

Choosing criminal law as a specialism

For James Farrell, becoming a solicitor in the Business Crime and Regulation department was simply a change in seating arrangement.

Having spent three decades in the Metropolitan Police, James was used to liaising with clients and legal professionals. In fact, he trained to become a solicitor while working full time as a Detective Inspector. And he believes his background is really beneficial to his current role.

He said: “Having worked as a police officer for 30 years really helps, I know how police officers work and can help clients understand what’s going on.

“I did my law degree with the Open University while I was in the police and then did my LPC part time. When it came to my training contract, I had a property seat first and then employment but I’d always wanted to specialise in crime.”

Choosing court of protection as a specialism

Working in the department which makes decisions on financial or welfare matters for people who are unable to do it themselves has reminded Mohima Miah why she decided to study law.

She said: “I’d always wanted to work in the Court of Protection department long before I joined Slater and Gordon. I wanted to become a solicitor to help people and feel like I’m giving back and I get a real sense of that in this team. We help people who are vulnerable or who lack mental capacity by making important decisions on their behalf.

“In the last department I worked in I didn’t feel I was touching people’s lives as much as I do in this role and I had considered giving up being a solicitor and doing a counselling course. Now I feel like I’ve really found where I want to be.”              

Choosing family law as a specialism

Applying to do a training contract was a great move for family solicitor Rachel Darrell. The training contract, which is a compulsory period of practical training in a law firm for law graduates before they can qualify as a solicitor, allowed her to work in different departments before finding where she wanted to stay.

She said: “I started as a paralegal with my own case load of industrial disease cases. I got a training contract after I’d been there 18 months but just after, they brought in an exemption so you could qualify with relevant experience. I was just going to do my application to qualify and stay in the Serious Injury department because I enjoyed it and thought that was what I wanted to do. A senior lawyer within Slater and Gordon advised me to do the training contract route so I had extra strings to my bow.

“I did a seat in abuse and liked it and then moved into other departments. I did a seat in family and knew that was where I wanted to be.

Family law is so interesting. The cases are often very convoluted with issues including children, property and wills. Because of this, I’ve had to do more legal research than ever before! I’ve always wanted to deal directly with people and that’s what I love about this department – the relationships you get with clients is really close. Many of them are at the lowest point in their lives and it feels good to help them.

“The firm gave me a really good opportunity with the training contract and I’m glad I gave it a try. Just having an understanding of the firm as a whole and how different departments work really helps.”

Choosing personal injury as a specialism

High pressure is no hindrance for Personal Injury lawyer Nicholas Hagi-Savva.

He has more than 14 years’ experience dealing with individuals who’ve suffered catastrophic injuries. He said: “I chose to specialise in personal injury because I find it easy to build a good rapport with individual clients. I enjoy the pressure that comes with working with people with serious needs as you know you have to get things right for them as individuals, based on their circumstances, not just generally.

“I have settled a couple of cases recently after clients approached us late in the day in terms of limitation (the fixed period of time during which formal civil proceedings must be started). They had come to us after having been dropped by rival firms so turning those around brought me particular pleasure because we have helped people at a very stressful time when they have a more pressing need time-wise.”

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