by Shirin Forootan
Many newer lawyers wonder if they will limit their career by specializing in a niche practice area, or whether involvement in the Bar is worth the investment. In this column, Shirin Forootan responds to questions about managing and planning a practice early in your career.
Q: How did you decide on practicing exclusively employment law?
A: During one summer in college, I interned at a very small law firm in Orange County where I was exposed to a variety of different civil cases. The employment law cases stood out to me and stuck with me, but I didn’t know at that time that I wanted to pursue employment law. During and after law school, I kept my options open by pursuing civil litigation generally since I wasn’t sure what practice area I wanted to focus on, and was concerned about pigeon-holing myself too early. After one summer and a few years at a big law firm, I was again exposed to different types of civil litigation cases, but the firm did not have an employment law practice. I did seek out a few pro bono opportunities involving employment law issues, since I found that employment law continued to interest me. In my third year, I decided to make the leap to join a firm that exclusively handled labor and employment law, and I haven’t looked back. Should I have trusted my gut and pursued employment law earlier? There’s no right answer. As long as you’re getting good experience and trusting your instincts, you will find the area of law that interests you most. Along the way, you will also certainly learn what does not interest you, which is equally important!
Q: Why are you so involved with the local bar association?
A: The OCBA has proved invaluable in planning and managing my professional growth. I cannot quantify in numbers or other measurable ways how much my bar association involvement has impacted me personally and professionally. But it has done more for me than I had expected. It has turned my “work” into my profession and into my community. Through its programming, the OCBA has been there for me when I was just starting out as a young lawyer trying to learn the ropes. Through its sections, it has been instrumental in helping me hone my skills in my practice area. Through its leadership opportunities, the OCBA gave me a platform to get up in front of a room full of people and tell them what I know, when those opportunities at my work were far and few between. When I felt mixed emotions upon becoming a mother during the time when my career was just getting started, it provided me with a group of like-minded lawyer moms whose input I desperately sought out. Over the past ten years, it has helped me shape my reputation into something very positive. I have found multiple job opportunities through my OCBA network. It has reaffirmed to the legal community that the well-being of a lawyer matters, a lot, which has allowed me to be okay with sometimes prioritizing myself. And when life as a busy lawyer, especially one with a family, takes its toll, a bar association can provide friendships—other busy lawyers like yourself that understand what you’re going through and are willing to carve out (billable) time to be there for you. Finally, it inspires you to give back, which makes you a better person, while you are on a never-ending path to becoming a better lawyer.
Shirin Forootan is an associate with Call & Jensen in Newport Beach, an OCBA board member, and is Chair-Elect of the Labor & Employment Section. Her practice is devoted exclusively to employment law. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“Dear Counsel” is an occasional advice column where seasoned attorneys are asked to respond to questions from newer attorneys. Please email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in a future column. You may also mail questions anonymously to Orange County Lawyer, c/o G. Gaffaney, P.O. Box 6130, Newport Beach, CA 92658. By submitting a question, you release copyright claims, and consent to editing the question for brevity or clarity. The OCL Editorial Advisory Committee has sole discretion over which questions to feature in a future issue. Responses are personal opinions, and are offered as such; no legal advice shall be construed from any such column.