Like many articling students before me, and the many that are sure to follow, I started my articles completely unsure of which practice group I wanted to go into.

I quickly realized that the best way for me to determine which area I wanted to practice, beyond taking on work from as many practice groups as possible, was to talk to lawyers that had already established themselves in a particular area – subject matter experts if you will.

And so, my task began. I asked various senior associates out to coffee and going into each conversation I had two goals:

  • to find out as much as I could about each practice area; and,
  • to determine what helped each person decide which area to practice post-articles.

During my conversations I not only learned why one blend of coffee was superior to another, I also discovered the following 3 things: 

Many go where the job is.

It’s simply the reality of the situation. Some lawyers don’t figure out what their “passion” is, and for those who do, sometimes the group they’re interested in just isn’t hiring. Most articling students can’t afford to turn down a job opportunity and so, post-call, they take a job in a practice group that has the space to take them on, with many staying in that area. This is just the way the business works.

Aim to Develop your Fundamental Skills.

For lawyers that weren’t able to get into their desired field, many went into practice areas that used the same skills they would need in the field they wanted. This later made it easy for them to successfully jump from one practice group to another.

For those who didn’t know what field they wanted, they developed the skills that they had enjoyed learning during their articles. For example, Jane Doe didn’t know which area she wanted to go into but knew that she enjoyed being in court and liked working with a particular type of clientele. That was enough for her to take a job in a field that she knew she didn’t want to be in forever but would allow her to develop the skills that she could later use when transitioning to her dream practice.

No practice area is perfect.

Every practice area has its strengths and weaknesses. Many said looking for “the one” was comparable to finding your future partner. You have to find the practice area that’s “perfect for you” and accept that it comes with its shortcomings and flaws. The best way to determine what you value is through doing some soul-searching. Making a 10-year plan can help put things into perspective and may help you decide which practice area you want based on the lifestyle you seek.

People often make the mistake of looking outside their immediate circles when networking. When, in reality, the people who can best advise us on whatever issues we are facing are the people that have been in the same position as us. Speaking with lawyers from various practices during the course of my articles gave me a better understanding of each practice group, allowed me to build my network within the firm, and gave me great advice to determine what it is that I want out of my legal career.

After several lattes, 9 months of my articling term, and many in-depth conversations, I still haven’t quite figured out which area I want to go into. I find several of them appealing but can’t see myself practicing one area forever. With a month left in my term, I’m using this time to discover what it is I truly value and hope to pair my values with a practice area that makes me happy.

Stay tuned, it will definitely be an interesting journey.