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Trends in the Law: Specialization in the Law

This blog is another installment in the series “Trends in the Law” and focuses on the increasing specialization in the legal field.


It used to be that law school graduates routinely “hung out their shingle,” starting their own general practice that included a wide variety of work, ranging from wills and estates, to real estate, to contracts, to family law matters. A lawyer grew his or her practice by accepting work and clients of all types, and “cross-over marketing” was achieved literally by handling a client’s real estate transaction—usually a home purchase or sale—and then drawing up their will and estate plan when needed.

But law, like everything else, has become specialized over the last several decades. The advent of the internet accelerated this trend in a couple of important ways. First, traditional general practice areas such as wills, basic contracts (e.g. landlord-tenant leases), and divorces that are uncomplicated (e.g. decrees of dissolution) are now available online. Companies such as LegalZoom, Shake, and CleanSplit work with attorneys and provide forms for these basic legal needs online, making it virtually impossible for lawyers to practice profitably in these areas any longer.

That is not to say that attorneys are not still relevant in areas such as estate planning, contracts and family law. It is to say, however, that their role has shifted to one of counselor rather than drafter. It is no longer cost-effective for an attorney to draft a simple will or contract, but it is still worthwhile for an attorney to review an estate plan and a real estate transaction. An online form lacks the experience of an attorney as well as the knowledge of the overall case at hand to make informed decisions about whether a particular contract or transaction is in the best interest of a client.

The second way in which the internet accelerated specialization is that it leveled the playing field with respect to marketing. Firms began using the internet to advertise directly to clients via websites and blogs, and small firms could have as big of an online presence as large firms. Even more revolutionary was the fact that the potential client base went beyond traditional community borders; on the internet, potential clients were anyone, anywhere. Therefore, if a firm wanted to cast itself as a specialist in a certain type of litigation or transactional work, it could grow its practice beyond its city or even county limits, making the specialization more feasible.


While it can be frustrating to have to go to different lawyers for different legal needs—medicine is much the same way today with a specialist for every type of medical issue—there are some advantages to the high degree of specialization in law. Specializing in a certain practice area allows an attorney/firm to increase their knowledge in that area. Increased knowledge should lead to increased efficiency and decreased costs. For example, an attorney or firm that represents plaintiffs alleging employment discrimination knows the relevant law, procedure and courts. The client does not have to pay for the attorney to “get up to speed,” and the attorney and/or firm may have established relationships with opposing counsel, court personnel and judges that can go a long way in facilitating better case outcomes.

For the attorney and firm that specializes in a certain area of law, the advantages are numerous. One advantage is increased profitability; statistics show that specialty firms tend to be more profitable than general practice firms. Increased profitability ties in with and is due in part to another advantage: increased competitiveness. Firms that specialize are more competitive than those that have general practices. This competitive edge can be from better marketing, as discussed above, and from an attorney or firm that specializes being able to distinguish itself in a crowded legal field.


Specialization in law has increased to the extent that what used to be considered areas of expertise before are now further divided into sub-categories of specialization. For instance, Elder Law, a recognized specialty area of law, now has further areas of specialty such as Elder Financial Abuse, a specialty area that protects seniors’ assets from being taken while they are in care or being cared for by less than scrupulous caregivers. Medical malpractice, another recognized specialty in law, is now further divided into medical sub-categories such as obgyn and surgical medical malpractice, two high risk areas.

There are a few new micro-specialities that have sprung up in response to emerging areas in business and law. Technology law practice protects business’ online presence with respect to intellectual property and other proprietary material online. Another micro-specialty is the developing practice area surrounding medicinal and recreational marijuana. Practice in this area often deals with the conflict between federal and state law, driving while impaired, and the monetary issues of a business that cannot place its immense profits in banks due to illegality at the federal level. Semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle technology and the laws and policies that will need to be in place once they become the standard mode of transportation is an area of law that will continue to grow, both in specialty firms and at in-house opportunities.


If you or someone you know has been injured, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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