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Finding the right fit: generalist v specialist

Finding the right fit: generalist v specialist

When it comes to a lawyer's practice, there are advantages and disadvantages to being either a generalist or a specialist, but deciding on which suits best may come down to the firm, writes Ben…

When it comes to a lawyer's practice, there are advantages and disadvantages to being either a generalist or a specialist, but deciding on which suits best may come down to the firm, writes Ben Carter

Lawyers usually become specialised early on in their careers. How specialised the lawyer may become is greatly dependent on the type of firm the lawyer joins at the beginning of their career.

At top-tiers and large mid-tier firms, lawyers will join a team in a certain area after being admitted or completing their rotations and nine times out of ten this will be the area of law the lawyer will stay in for the rest of their career. This may or may not be by the lawyer's choice.

At smaller or general practice firms, lawyers are often the "jack of all trades" because their client base is mixed and varied. They need to be able to turn their hand with ease to such diverse areas including litigation, family and criminal law.

So, broadly speaking, the type of firm a lawyer joins at the start of their career will dictate if they become a specialist or a generalist. The advantage of being a specialised lawyer is that you can quickly become an expert in your field. Your skills in your discrete area will be highly valued by both your employer and clients.

However, moving out of your specialised area can be difficult and providing advice on legal issues if the matter moves into a different direction may be problematic.

The advantage of being a generalist is that you will be able to handle work for a varied client base and it will be highly interesting because it will often change from one day to the next.

A generalist will develop excellent all-round legal skills and be able to handle most matters from start to finish - no matter what direction the matter takes.

However, a generalist may find it hard to compete against a specialist either as an opponent in a matter or for a specialised legal job.

So, it comes down to the type of firm you want to work for. If you are feeling like you are becoming too specialised or not specialised enough, look to make a change, either by being frank with your current employer or by looking to move to a new firm.

Ben Carter is a senior recruitment consultant at EJ Legal

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