Having spent a considerable time in the field of law, first as a consultant and then as an Advocate, I have, to some extent, developed a fair understanding of what the profession requires of its practitioners. As I was browsing through the pages of New York times, I chanced upon a rather depressing piece of news about the firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in New York which has started to encourage its counsels to look for suitable opportunities elsewhere which I suspect, translates into “Find a job before you are fired”. Currently being pursued by Greenberg Taurig for a possible acquisition, the tale of Dewey & LeBoeuf presents an interesting challenge to the conventional notions of law practice and the business dynamics which surround it.
I have been advised to specialize and focus both a sector (manufacturing, real estate, hospitality, etc.) and a practice (Trade Marks, Copyrights, Taxation, etc.). Yet when I step out of my shoes and understand where my inclinations lie and what specialisations would best suit me, I realize that specialisation, arguably, goes against the very fundamental expectations a lawyer is burdened with, which is to know the length and breadth of law. In hindsight, specialization condones and instigates, breach of ethics in one critical fashion, which is that a lawyer cannot reject a brief.
No doubt I boast of a keen interest in trade mark law. Yet I find myself constantly having to answer questions from even my corporate clients, which do not involve trade mark law at all. Heck, they do not even involve Intellectual Property or Corporate law sometimes. As advisers acting as officers of the court, lawyers are inherently required to be more than just practitioners of law; they are expected to guide whoever approaches them in whatever capacity to do the right thing. Often business who come to me for contract reviews or perhaps trade mark application indulge me in conversations where invariably I have to understand and advise them on various other laws ranging from indirect taxation to product liability. Without a general and fundamental understanding of the general scheme of laws, the people receiving our advise will find it, later on, to be not comprehensive or sufficient. Further more when we cite specialization to say no to a brief involving an area not being our specialization, it is doing disservice to the nobility of the profession of law.
I conclude by putting forward the argument that, it pays to develop an in depth understanding of a subject and it is okay to specialize without sacrificing the learning of the general framework of the law so as to be in a position to advice properly at all times. Specialization presents substantial value, but when one obsesses about it at the cost of becoming ignorant, it becomes a branding eyewash. We are first and foremost Advocates, before corporate legal counsels and hopefully this is a lesson which percolates down to all generations of attorneys.