The pros and cons of specialising; how soon to decide on specialisation; how to support a specialist practice; which set is right for you if you want to specialise; which specialisation is right for you; ways in which to develop expertise; websites, journals, specialist associations; getting known

You may have known that you want to specialise in a particular area of practice for many years. The days of general common law sets are over so you are likely to have some broad specialism based on the sort of work your chambers does.

  • Specialisation allows you to develop expertise and to stand out. You may find you get to do more advanced and complex work sooner in your career. However, it poses the potential disadvantages of losing the opportunities of a wider practice or of being in practice in an area where there is a smaller stream of work. Some chambers with mixed practices require their most junior tenants to do a bit of everything so there may be less choice. You will know if you are in a set with specialist teams early on, and may have the opportunity to cover different specialisms in pupillage.
  • There is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain a more general practice. For some practitioners a mix of work presents more opportunities to hone their skills. Others develop a specialist practice through developing “cross-over” work between two or more areas of law.
  • How to specialise? Specialisation may provide an opportunity to develop pre-existing interests or to find a new area entirely. There are traditional routes into specialisation: doing a secondment at a firm of solicitors, regulator, or government agency which does the sort of work you want to do is an obvious one. Sometimes specialisation will occur naturally as your practice develops; if you enjoy and are good at a particular area of law, solicitors will want to reinstruct you. Find out if there is a specialist bar or law association and go to its meetings. Engage in academic debate or write journal articles.
  • If this doesn’t seem right for you then get to know solicitors who do the sort of work you do, find opportunities to network with them and to impress them. Give up time to write, blog or study to develop real specialist knowledge. If some members of Chambers specialise in a particular area already, specialising could be as easy as getting to know those members of Chambers, and letting them and the clerks know that you would like to specialise in that area. This could lead to an opportunity of being led on a case involving that particular specialism. Remember that it can take a few years to develop a specialist practice – be patient.
  • If you find yourself in a set that does not support the specialism you want to pursue, consider whether to move to a different set. It is easier now than it used to be to move from one set to another, but remember that you will need to show a good track record (cases, financials, and solicitor support) and evidence of real interest in the area that you want to pursue, if you are to persuade a new set to take you on.

Sarah Knight’s advice on specialising:

“You’re just starting out. It may be that you are already struggling to muster enthusiasm for certain types of case, but try to keep an open mind. It is too soon to specialise. You need to be exposed to a rich pageant of work before you will really know. You are likely to feel more comfortable and excel in certain areas, in which case you will be repeatedly instructed in that type of case. Give yourself time to find your feet with areas of law that may seem uncomfortable at first. It won’t be the first time that a rookie barrister ends up specialising in a field that was his/her least favourite to begin with.”

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