Selecting a practice area is one of the most important first steps in one's legal career. For law students, this choice may seem overwhelming given the breadth of practice areas. At Kirkland, we encourage prospective summers to take a step back and research their options, including speaking with attorneys and peers who were summer associates at the firm, meeting with career counselors at their law schools, and consulting helpful publications and rankings on practice areas.
Understanding where your interest lies prior to your summer can help you maximize your experience. Our summers enter our program assigned to one of four areas—litigation, transactional, intellectual property, or restructuring—and have freedom and support to explore the various specialties within each practice area over the summer, providing them a clearer sense of how to direct their careers when they return as associates.
We asked Corporate Partner Tushin Shah for his tips on researching and selecting a practice area. Read on for his insights.
1. Did you go into the summer associate interview process with a specific practice area in mind? How did you research practice areas to prepare for your interviews?
Tushin Shah (Corporate Partner, M&A and Private Equity): During my summer associate interview at Kirkland, I interviewed primarily with corporate attorneys, and really clicked with the people I met. What they said about how the group and the deal world operate truly resonated with me and largely encapsulated what I envisioned for my career. As a summer associate, I was able to take on assignments in a number of corporate sub-areas, including M&A, corporate governance, and asset backed securitization, which led to my decision to focus on private equity and M&A. The firm didn’t put pressure on summer associates to specialize in any sub-groups; instead, one of the goals of the summer program was to confirm you were comfortable in the broader practice group and get a view into some of the practice groups' sub-practice areas
2. What are some resources that you recommend when researching practice areas?
Tushin Shah: When I was in law school, a lot of the classes—especially as a 1L— focused more on litigation, and they were more theoretical and not primarily geared toward practical application/skills. You have to be cognizant of what it means to be a litigator or a corporate attorney or restructuring attorney (or any other type of law you intend to practice). Classes in law school may not give you a full—or any—picture of what it is like to practice in that area. The way I filled in the blanks was by talking to practicing attorneys at various levels of their careers. I leveraged alumni networks (law school and undergrad) to reach out to as many lawyers as I could, primarily to ask questions and learn about their experiences. I asked questions like what is your day like, what does your practice entail, what are the most rewarding parts of your job, what are the most difficult parts of your job, what is your level and tenor of client interaction, etc. This process helped me confirm my understanding of the corporate practice.
3. What are some useful questions candidates can ask during the interview process to learn more about a firm’s practice areas?
Tushin Shah: The first thing I recommend doing before asking any questions is making sure you actually research what the firm does and who the attorneys are that you are meeting. I interviewed at firms that were more specialized—for example, there was a firm that was very focused on project finance, which is a very niche industry, and knowing that in advance helped me better prepare and ask the right questions. In terms of specific questions to ask, a good one is ‘I’ve heard [xyz] about practicing transactional law. Has that been your experience?’ Additionally, I found it helpful to understand how deals are staffed and how expectation levels / roles on deals change over time as you progress in your career Another question that I had success with was asking, ‘What was the most trying day you've had in practice, and what is the most rewarding day you've had in practice?’ You get an honest answer, get insight into the culture of the firm and a better understanding of that firm and practice group.
4. How did Kirkland’s summer program help you develop in your practice area?
Tushin Shah: The firm does a really good job of giving ample practice experience and making sure you’re on enough matters without being overwhelmed. I was able to sit in on broader team meetings, client calls and negotiation calls. That exposed me to the soft skills necessary for a transactional practice, and also reminded me that I wouldn’t be sitting in front of a computer drafting documents all day. The firm also did a great job of making sure you get to know a wide array of the attorneys in the broader practice group at every level, and not just the attorneys you’ll generally be working directly with at the start your career.
5. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you tell yourself when you were in law school and deciding your practice area?
Tushin Shah: You don’t know what you don't know, and until you actually practice you can't fully understand how a practice will be, so it's important to keep an open mind on alternatives and to simply gaining knowledge. I have seen people, for example, start in litigation and in their sixth or seventh year of practice, they decide it isn't for them and they to switch to corporate. So don’t be afraid to make calls and connect with others to learn more about each practice.
This is a sponsored blog post by Kirkland & Ellis. To view the firm's profile, click here.
Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume
Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews