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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: Do lawyers train to specialize in a specific type of law?

My daughter is thinking about becoming a lawyer.

Do lawyers do training like after medical school to specialize in a specific type of law?

Upon graduating from medical school, students begin doing a residency for a few years. The law does not do the same. Once a person graduates from law school and passes the bar examination, they are then free to go out and get a job in the public or private sector. However, a great training source is a judicial clerkship. When you work for a Superior Court Judge, you see all types of different cases come before you in civil court and all the different types of cases in criminal court and family court as well. Working hand in hand with the judge reviewing briefs that are submitted and writing up summaries for the judge is great training in not only how to write, but how to analyze the law.

I believe a judicial clerkship is a great way to start off one’s legal career. One other reason I say that is when you are doing all of these different types of cases, you will hone in on the type of law that you want to pursue when you go out and get a job. In today’s climate, the cases that are attracting a lot of interests are employment type cases such as laws against discrimination, whistleblowing and things of that nature. Those cases, from what I can see, doing mediations for six years, are prevalent and makeup the majority of the cases that I see.

Of course, business law meaning either setting up and managing a business or being involved in business litigation of all sorts is an area of law that will never go away and will always be thriving. If on the other hand, someone wants to work in the public sector, then getting a job as an assistant prosecutor or a public defender will give you the most immediate experience.

Finally, I do not encourage young lawyers to open up and start their own practice. I think it is risky not only financially, but otherwise. It is always good to have a mentor to go to when you have an ethics issue or a problem case to get guidance, especially during a young lawyer’s first two or three years in practice. Therefore, I tell young lawyers who call me for advice that if they want to go into a private practice to try to get a job with a firm with a good reputation that does many different areas of law to see which area of law they might settle into. I hope this answers your question.

As a witness in court, can I listen to other witnesses before I give my testimony?

I am interested in the outcome.

Normally, a person who is going to give testimony in a trial usually waits outside until they are called in as a witness. Many times, the lawyers will ask the Judge to sequester the witnesses who are going to testify, especially in a criminal trial. The reason is quite simple. The lawyers normally do not want a witness hearing testimony from another witness which they may then adopt as their own testimony for some reason. In my experience in a criminal court, the vast majority of the time that was one of the first things that lawyers would discuss with me before a trial was to sequester all witnesses until they were called in to testify. Also, the fact that you were interested in the outcome of a trial, may also be a reason you should not be in the room to see other witnesses. The lawyer that issued you a subpoena to come to court will discuss all of this with you either before or on the day of your testimony.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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