Should paralegals have a specialty? Finding your niche

In the legal industry, niche specialization can enable professionals to distinguish themselves as leading experts and make it easier for clients to decide who to work with. This is why some of the most successful law firms in the country are the ones that practice in a specific area of law.

But it’s not just the attorneys who can specialize. How can a paralegal or legal secretary find and hone their specialty, and why would they want to specialize?

Benefits of specialization for paralegals

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “The more narrow your niche, the easier it is to establish yourself as the authority in that specialized area of law.” This is as true for paralegals as for law firms.

For a paralegal, specialization can be achieved through a combination of education and on-the-job training. Paralegals may choose to work for a general practitioner early in their career, and later choose an area of law that they particularly enjoy. Others decide to specialize immediately.

Personal preference or customized needs of the law firm are circumstances that may prompt a paralegal or legal secretary to consider specialization. Some of the top advantages are:

  • Certification. There are several organizations and universities which offer paralegal certifications as well as certificates for specialization. This can be added proof of expertise of your knowledge of relevant laws and procedure.
  • Advantage in the job market. Having in-depth experience in an area of law gives paralegals an edge when applying to law firms that also specialize in that area. It shows that you are already highly capable in your chosen field, and sets you apart from the other candidates.
  • Higher earning potential. Some specialized paralegals, such as those in intellectual property, securities law, and commercial law, can earn a higher salary than other specializations or generalists, depending on the geographical location.

Potential specialties for paralegals

Paralegals and legal support staff have many choices regarding what to specialize in, including:

  • Criminal defense, a specialty that is often of interest to “Law and Order” junkies as well as those with stellar research skills who enjoy the demands and rewards of putting a case together, seeing it through trial, and maybe even preparing it for appeal.
  • Business law can appeal to those who enjoy working behind the scenes and outside the courtroom. Some areas of law that fall within this specialty include banking, finance, bankruptcy, real estate, antitrust, contracts, and corporate law.
  • Estate planningfor those who wish to help clients prepare a legacy for those left behind when they pass away. These professionals assist in the drafting of wills, trusts, advance directives, and other legal documents related to final wishes and the distribution of assets upon death.
  • Family law, which assists clients with divorce, child custody issues, and adoptions. Those who work in family law gather evidence, question witnesses, attend hearings, and prepare and file documents related to the legal responsibilities of family life.
  • Intellectual property is the area of law involving copyright, patent, and trademark law. Those who work in intellectual property spend much of their time collecting data for copyright registration, preparing applications, and assisting in litigation involving potential copyright infringement.
  • Employment law may involve wage and hour violations, complaints of discrimination, employee benefits, and unemployment compensation.
  • Immigration is a fast-growing and complex area of law concerning the path to U.S. citizenship. Immigration paralegals assist attorneys in advising clients regarding changes to immigration law and help them choose the best course of action regarding citizenship.
  • Electronic discovery, commonly known as e-discovery, is rapidly evolving and changing the role of paralegals. More and more often, in-house teams need a dedicated project manager to head up e-discovery operations. With their backgrounds in law and technology, paralegals can frequently fill these roles.

Possible downsides to specializing

Specialization is not for everyone. Although there are many advantages to focusing on a niche, there might also be disadvantages:

  • Insufficient opportunity. Depending on your geographical location, there may be too few attorneys who practice in your chosen specialty.
  • Too specialized. Many attorneys still look for “well-rounded” employees who have experience in several areas of law, particularly those belonging to general practice law firms.
  • Changing trends. Trends in the industry can affect those who focus on related areas. For example, the recession of 2008 may have been a boon to those specializing in bankruptcy, but as the economy has picked up in recent years, that niche has declined dramatically.

If you decide to specialize in a specific area of law, consider what you enjoy most about being a paralegal, as well as which benefits will most apply to you. Specialization for paralegals can be a way to make the most of a career in law and to become a true expert in your field.

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Do you have an opinion on paralegal specialization? Tell us about it in the comments!

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About the Author

Lindsey Dean is the Content Marketing Manager for One Legal where she is fueled by coffee, tea, and food for the imagination.

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