Should you choose a concentration or specialization in law school? What do they entail? And what’s the difference, anyway?
You’ll find answers to these frequently asked questions and more below.
What’s a law school concentration or specialization, anyway?
Much like in undergrad, a law school concentration or specialization is an optional area of academic focus, like immigration law, tax law, or health care law. Law schools vary in whether they call these programs “concentrations” or “specializations,” but they’re often largely the same, with the terms used interchangeably.
Here are just a few examples of law school concentrations out there today: Albany Law School has Health Law, Estate Law, and more. Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law has Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship among its seven concentrations. And New England Law | Boston has two formal concentrations in Intellectual Property Law and Immigration Law.
What does a specialization/concentration entail?
Though it depends on your law school, concentrations and specializations will have a particular set of upper-level classes and experiential learning opportunities; some may be required, some may simply be recommended. In either case you should be able to work with an academic advisor in law school to plan your path.
If you meet the academic standards set by your school, you’ll typically receive a notation on your diploma, transcript, and/or other recognition when you graduate. Of course, because these programs vary, you should confirm what, exactly, a concentration or specialization really entails at your law school (or any law school you’re considering).
What are the benefits of having a concentration/specialization in law school?
Having a concentration or specialization can be a great way to hone your skills in a particular area of the law that you really love—and it can make you a more attractive job candidate too. That’s because you’ll graduate law school with the industry-specific knowledge and experience to hit the ground running, which is exactly what employers want to see.
“In today’s competitive legal market, students should seek to differentiate themselves and have a focused strategy for their academic and professional careers. Concentrations are a great way to do that,” says Sara Marshall, Assistant Professor of Academic Excellence at New England Law | Boston.
If you have a concentration or specialization, you’ll probably have unique opportunities in law school as well, like being the first to know about related internships, networking events, or speaker panels. You can also look for mentors, student groups, and volunteer opportunities related to your specialty. You might even publish a paper related to your specialty for your school’s law review. It all adds up to more relevant experience for you—and more attention-grabbing, marketable experiences for potential employers.
How do I choose a concentration or specialization in law school?
If you don’t have a specific legal concentration in mind already, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore your options in law school.
Pay attention to the classes, cases, and extracurricular experiences that pique your interest. Law school clinics are also a fantastic way to “test-drive” a legal specialty to see if it’s the right fit for you. If you’re still in undergrad, you might explore your options by attending campus pre-law events, pursuing related internships, or shadowing alumni in the legal field.
Finally, you should share your academic plans and career goals with your academic advisor, career advisor, and perhaps even a mentor. These individuals can help you chart your course in law school and beyond.
“I regularly meet with students who express an interest in pursuing concentrations and specialties, such as tax law and trusts and estates,” Marshall says. “I am the former director of a graduate program in tax law, so I love recommending the courses that would best prepare a law student for advanced study in tax law as well as a long-term career.”
Do you need to choose a concentration or specialization in law school?
No, you don’t. It’s not like declaring a major, and specializing in law school is not the right choice for everyone. But if you have a strong interest in an area of the law or a specific legal career path in mind, a concentration or specialization can better prepare you for the road ahead. A legal concentration or specialization can also be a helpful filter in your law school research.
If you’re not sold on having a formal concentration, you may have other opportunities to focus your studies in law school, like recommended course work that lets you explore an area of the law a little more (one example of this is the Pathways to the Profession programs at New England Law). You may not get a transcript notation like you would with a formal concentration, but you can still get meaningful exposure and experience in an area of the law that interests you. This can also be a good option if you’re trying to decide if you want to commit to a formal concentration too.
Just don’t be surprised if you, like many law students, end up falling in love with a legal specialty once you get to law school!
Which legal concentration/specialization is “best”?
There are many legal specialties out there, and they’re all worth pursuing in their own ways. It really comes down to what’s best for you and what you want out of your legal career.
Just remember that many factors beyond your concentration or specialty, from the experience you gain in law school to your location, can have an impact on your job prospects and earning potential too.
Will I be able to get a job in other areas of the law besides my specialty?
Short answer: yes. Granted, if you choose to specialize in law school, your academic and extracurricular experience will be a little more focused on that specialty. But law school is designed to give you the foundational knowledge and experience you need to succeed in the legal field, wherever it may take you. So if you decide to apply to jobs outside your concentration, you can tailor your résumé and cover letter to highlight the most relevant experiences for that position. (Your law school’s career services office can be a big help with that too.)
So, should you specialize in law school?
Whether or not you specialize or have a concentration in law school comes down to your interests and goals. If you’re passionate about an area of the law, it may be worth committing to it and growing your skills, experiences, and network as much as possible while you’re in law school.
But if you’d rather keep your options open, that’s okay too!
Again, talking to your advisors and mentors can be helpful in making this decision. Research your potential concentration/specialization too, and pay particular attention to the growth and demand in the legal sector you’re considering.
Give it careful thought, and you’re sure to make the right decision for you.