According to Carrie Heller, the president of legal recruiter The Heller Group, specialization is the key to a lucrative legal career. “Certain lawyers have managed to really carve out a niche, where they have expertise that few others have, and that is where you’re going to be able to charge the highest hourly rate,” she says. “It all depends on how good you are, how much of a niche you’re in, and how respected you are.”

In the search for that crucial area of expertise, she says lawyers have to follow their hearts. “Go for an area that you’re really interested in, because that will lead you on a path where you’re going to excel, and hopefully then you’ll make more money. You have to have a strong passion for what you’re doing to build a very strong practice,” says Heller.

That’s particularly true in a still uncertain, and at times volatile, market, says recruiter Carrie Heller. “It’s a market that is going up and down quite a bit and I think it’s in conjunction with what’s going on in Europe with places like Greece and Portugal. Everyone is on the sidelines, waiting to see how this will all play out before they make some major hires,” she says. “No matter what market we’re in, firms are always looking for talented lawyers, but a solid book is extremely marketable right now. People are looking for a strong portable practice to strengthen their own firm.”

The yin to M&A lawyers’ yang, the current popularity of insolvency law reflects uncertainty in the markets. According to a Robert Half Legal survey released in March, restructuring and insolvency was one of the top three areas in which law firms planned to hire new lawyers. “I’m certainly finding quite a few firms looking for insolvency expertise. And a lot of companies are in the process of restructuring,” says Heller.

According to Heller, the field’s fluctuating fortunes have resulted in a shortage of qualified lawyers in commercial real estate. “There’s this gap for the mid-level real estate lawyer. It’s an ongoing issue, that there just weren’t enough people getting into it at some point, so the firms are missing that mid-level real estate type of lawyer,” she says.

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