However, there is a flip side to this. And we do not always talk enough about it. I intend to correct that today.
Yes you specialize with razor sharp focus when you start because that is the only way for you to stand out as a young lawyer. That is the only way to get the better jobs, build a CV that tells a coherent story, get your initial clients, build a brand.
Imagine that you are up in the dock for a crime you haven’t committed and need to get bail. Would you trust the generalist lawyer, or the lawyer who is highly specialised in getting bail in that particular court, and has a great track record before that judge? If you have a large M&A transaction coming up, upon which millions are riding, will you get a generalist lawyer or trust someone with 20 years of M&A experience, someone who has negotiated 100 other such deals?
I think you get the drift. Specialization is a must in the legal industry. Not specializing is hardly an option.
The sureshot way to stagnate as a lawyer is to stop learning about related fields after you specialize. Let’s say you are an M&A lawyer. You know A to Z of the skills and knowledge needed to see a transaction through. You know how to structure a deal, you know how to draft and negotiate relevant agreements, you have mastered the due diligence process and you also can do all the compliances. You will surely find it easy to do well as a M&A lawyer because you have all the basic skill set (btw, if you want to learn these skills step-by-step, we have a course on M&A and investment law for you).
However, these are skills that every garden variety transaction lawyer possess. What is going to make you stand out?
It could be your knowledge of securities law or tax law. It could be your knowledge of labour law even! If your clients begin to trust you, they will turn to you for all kinds of advice. But let’s just take a hardcore M&A deal scenario.
Let’s imagine that you are in the middle of a transaction involving some factories, and the labour unions go on strike to stop the deal. What would be the impact of this on your deal? Are there ways to rescue the deal, or restructure it? Can you weigh in on the collective bargaining? Is it possible to get the strike declared illegal under the Industrial Disputes Act?
Imagine that one of the investors are looking to raise funds for investment by pledging certain shares. Do you know how the transaction will take place? If these shares are publicly traded, what are the various restrictions that SEBI regulations may put on such a transaction? Do you want to be able to answer your clients query yourself or will you have to refer him to a different lawyer?
Vast knowledge across various areas of law is often why grey-haired lawyers with decades of experience are worth what they charge. And many young lawyers fail to invest enough in acquiring knowledge in diverse areas of law on a continuous basis because they do not see an immediate connection with their everyday work.
If you want to be a top lawyer, never stop learning. One of my mentors, Murali Neelakantan once told me a story about this. Murali is a knowledge acquisition machine, always learning, always curious. If he reads in the newspaper that there was an allegation of impropriety in the passage of a bill in the parliament, he would read up the law behind it. He would read the rules, the constitutional provisions, and even maybe some commentary until he has understood how it actually works. Of course, he had no idea that this would be relevant someday to his work.
After all, he was a capital markets lawyer back then. And then he went on to be the global General Counsel in several companies. Why would such knowledge be useful to him?
One day, a client, during a conversation, had questions about the passage of a bill in the parliament, which could impact their business. In the room full of lawyer, guess who was ready to explain every step of the process? Who knew about the importance of a leave to present a bill? Who could rationally predict how long the process may take?
Of course the lawyer who did not restrict his learning to a very narrow field of specialization.
Please note that this is not an argument against specialization. I am a big advocate of specialization. I only want you to not to have a myopic view about what you need to learn to be successful as a lawyer. First specialize enough to do one area of work competently, and then aggressively keep learning about the associated areas of law too.
If you are going to be a corporate transactional lawyer, should you learn tax? Absolutely. How else will you come up with amazing deal structuring ideas that blow everyone’s mind?
Should you learn IP law or technology law? I bet you should, because a lot of your deals will be related to media companies and tech companies. Do you not want to have an extra edge over other transactional lawyers when the biggest deals in the market show up?
I am not saying go and study space treaties. You can learn the things that seems relevant though slightly tangential to your work. However, do not hesitate to go and learn about space law if that fascinates you. No learning ever goes in vain. We have no hard proof of this, but we just say that it is a great mindset to develop.
Here are the courses in which enrollment closes in a few hours. Hurry up if you do not want to miss this batch:
Executive Certificate Courses
Certificate Course in Legal Practice Development and Management
Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy Certificate
Certificate Course in Consumer Litigation
Certificate Course in Trademark Licensing, Prosecution and Litigation
Certificate Course in Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) Litigation
Certificate Course in Companies Act
Certificate Course in Labour, Employment and Industrial Laws for HR Managers