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Embracing change: Why lawyers should keep an open mind about their practice area

It’s important to maintain an open mind when it comes to one’s practice area, with lawyers being urged to continuously evaluate their work, ensuring it aligns with their interests and motivations.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 23 November 2023 SME Law
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In a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Gravamen lawyer and Coffee and a Case Note founder James d’Apice emphasised the benefits of having a more open and flexible mindset when it comes to specialisation.

“I think there’s almost [a sense] of accident, or fate, if you have a high-potential person, which is almost literally every young lawyer I’ve ever spoken to, who will be shoved down one particular road of a fork, and there’ll sort of be that snowballing effect.

“But for anyone who might have been shoved down a fork or even chosen a fork, over time [they might find] they’ve refocused and formed a view that they might have picked a different prong on that fork [in hindsight],” he said.

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“There are three examples that spring to mind of wills and estates practitioners who I’ve known over time, who began practice in a different area and made a strategic and thoughtful and considered, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, extremely wise choice to broaden their expertise into a different area. I don’t want to suggest that it is a mere accident of fate … but there can be those happy accidents where we have early experiences with a practice area that later comes on to be an area that really speaks to us.”

Mr d’Apice stressed that the key to ensuring a satisfying legal career is continually examining one’s motivations and interests. He suggests that lawyers should evaluate whether their work “sparks joy” and whether they are motivated to wake up in the morning.

“If we’re talking about people who find themselves in a niche they may not want to be in, there is often that kind of Batman element of either ‘die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a multinational tax avoidance specialist’ or whatever it might be.

“A lot of lawyers I know that practice in the corporate world, [they say], ‘Half the time I’m acting for the bad guy’ and throw that line away like it’s nothing. But it is something we often like to reflect upon and ought to reflect upon … [It’s] about listening to yourself and trying to be in touch with what it is about legal practice that really sparks joy, to adopt the Marie Kondo line.

“It’s worth not sleepwalking into being the greatest multinational tax avoidance lawyer of all time, unless that speaks to you.”

In addition, Mr d’Apice said enjoying one’s work is not only fulfilling on a personal level but also a competitive advantage, as it leads to higher-quality service for clients.

“It’s a competitive advantage. I mean, I have a confrontational streak to my personality, and I think a number of litigators do, and there’s an element I have of like, ‘If you like my area of practice less than I like it, how on earth can you expect to compare to me when I really enjoy learning more about it?’ I really enjoy talking about it, thinking about it, and that’s a nice touchy-feely element, but there’s a commercial side to that as well, right?

“My clients get the benefit of the fact that in my free time, it’s something that interests me to talk about and think about rather than getting the ‘Sunday Scaries’ and having to say, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got to go and do this work again’. So, there’s a real cold, calculated element to enjoying the work you do as well as the very genuine touchy-feely mental health satisfaction element as well.”

For lawyers who have found themselves in a position of wanting to change practice area, Mr d’Apice reassured listeners that “pivoting is not particularly problematic” and should instead be seen as a potential avenue for them to evolve in their careers.

In conclusion, Mr d’Apice said embracing a niche practice area can lead to a sense of identity and confidence in one’s expertise.

“It gives you just a little bit of confidence in what I might very loosely call your elevator pitch or your headline or your ability to think about yourself,” he said.

“… It gives you a little bit of confidence in yourself to say, ‘Well, this is kind of the sort of person I am’, and having sort of identified yourself in one sort of area, it can become, and it has, in my experience, kind of become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here:

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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