Should You Pursue a Concentration in Law School?

Laura Bergus just wrote a great post on how to choose law school courses. Personally, I think all students should take as many practical skills classes as they can. Another important issue is whether to pursue a concentration in certain area of law. Depending on your career path, it may not be worth it.

Are you sure you want to really want to practice that area?

If you are 99.99% sure that you want to be a patent lawyer, then get a patent concentration. Concentrations are also ideal for individuals with previous experience in another area. For example, if you were a bio-chemical-engineer working in the health care field, and you want to continue doing so, then health law is probably right for you.

If you have more of a general “I dunno” feeling, then maybe a concentration is not for you. If you cannot find an area of law that appeals to you, try and take as many different classes as possible. With a concentration, you are limited to how many “non-concentration” classes you can take.

Is there a current demand for lawyers in that practice area?

There will always be a demand for criminal lawyers. What about International Law? Do you have any connections that would lead to a career in international law? Liking a certain area of law is great, but getting a job in that field can be another story.

Another problem is that concentrations may not even help get a job in that practice area. It will not hurt you, but it might not be as helpful as you think. Many employers (especially in this job-market) want young lawyers with some real experience. Getting all A’s in your concentration is great, but the person who went out and got some real experience could have the edge over you because of experience.


  1. I agree that any law student should get into as many of the usually paltry number of practical, skills based classes that a law school offers regardless of specialty. Specialzing in a certain area of law in law school will only limit options in a brave new world of narrowing opportunities for new lawyers. I never would have suspected that I’d be a construction attorney when I left law school, but this is an area I now practice in and enjoy.

  2. Avatar Francis Barragan says:

    To me, that’s a double-edged sword. If you happen to be at the right time at the right place, you can make a great career out of that specialty.

    More often, I find that people stumble into a specialty and that become theirs. But some people stumble more than others across various fields. I swear though, most people I know didn’t know in school that they’d actually like doing X kinda work. They got hired, pulled in an area, liked it, and there they went.

    Skills class are awesome and they do make you a better professional. But do they lead to better chances of initial employment, which I believe is the biggest problem right now… I’m not sure.

    But then again, there’s no formula. That last sentence is not really helpful, but it is what it is…

  3. Avatar smith says:

    Simply put, as long as you have great grades, you can probably practice in whatever area of the law you want, regardless of how many classes you might have taken that deal with that particular subject matter. Is it a guarantee to break into that area? No – and that’s even with great grades.

    If you have shi! grades, you could have 20 classes dealing with one practice area and still not be able to land a job in that area. Will those 20 classes MAYBE help you? Sure, but rest assured, if a guy that graduated with honors wants that same job and has never even heard of that practice area, he’ll still probably get the nod over you if your grades are horrible.

  4. Avatar Randall Ryder says:

    @ Francis – you hit the nail on the head, most people (even those with concentrations) do not figure what they like doing until they do it. There is a big difference between studying an area of law and practicing it.

    @ smith – grades are important, but what about practical experience?

  5. Avatar Anon says:

    I’d argue that the real truism in smith’s comment is that classes != practical experience. I learned *far* more about being a lawyer in the clerkship than I ever did in the classroom.

  6. Avatar Kevin Houchin says:

    Not only should you, but I believe to be competitive in the legal job market – or as a solo, you MUST! Use law school to start building your personal brand. Use your writing/research opportunities to create papers that you share on your blog. Start providing value early.

    I did a BUNCH of research on this back when I was in law school. I think that was 2003. Here’s a link to the data if anyone wants to look:

  7. Avatar Carrie says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that your cover letter should match your transcript. If you “have always had an interest in employment law,” but you didn’t take the advanced course, you are immediately discredited. This happens all the time. If you do concentrate in one area and apply for a job in another area, you need to address the issue in your cover letter.

    • Aaron Street Aaron Street says:

      I’m dubious of the importance of a concentration in law school, mostly because traditional law students (those in their early-20s) rarely have a clear picture of where they are headed after school.

      I concentrated in International Trade Law in law school. It has had little-to-no value in my professional life since school.

  8. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Don’t despair if, despite advice to the contrary, you decided to get a concentration, Master’s or an LLM in a topic in which you no longer have interest.

    When asked in an interview “Why did you do that?” or “What value does that have to me?” sell your ability to go long and to delve deeply into a subject. It would help, of course, if you have some practical, hands’ on work in your subject area so that you could use to demonstrate the skills — if not the knowledge — which would be useful for the work that you are trying to get.

    Alternative replies (“It was interesting” or “I don’t remember”) are insufficient.

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