Niche Please

I know. You don’t need to be reminded.

The class of 2011 is universally known as the class hardest hit by the recession, and subsequent classes didn’t fare much better. Less than a month into the class of 2011’s 1L year, Lehman filed for bankruptcy. The unthinkable had happened. It was a maddening twist of fate, and professional trajectories seemed to take a nosedive before they even began. Unable to land positions with prestigious firms, a fortunate few found employment, but took any legal job, earning meager salaries simply to cover living expenses and service student loans. A few years into practicing, those attorneys no longer feel lucky “just to have a job”–they’re anxious and uncertain about their futures.

However, traditional pathways to legal careers have changed. Legal employers are increasingly valuing specific experience. That’s the good news – employers are looking more to the lateral market as a resource. And, you can still take control of your careers if you focus your efforts, determine your strengths and assets, be able to frame your niche, and develop a personal brand to stand apart from the competition.

Get Smarter. Learn as much as you can. Be inquisitive and curious. Read about new laws in your area of practice, listen to podcasts, attend CLEs, speak with people in the industry, and understand business needs of employers and their clients. This will give you the chops to network and interview effectively.

Get Involved. Get involved in the practice community and be creative. Write articles, speak at bar associations, guest lecture a course. Take on leadership positions—if there aren’t any, create them. People control opportunities and information. The more people you know, the more likely you’ll be to uncover valuable opportunities.

Build Business Competencies. As important as it is to build your knowledge base and network, it’s just as important is to be “business ready.” Studies have determined traits desired by legal employers, many of which aren’t taught in law school such as relationship building, creativity/innovation, and strategic planning. Smart legal employers look at candidates as long-term human capital, so build these skills in your practice and volunteer positions. Be able to demonstrate your upward potential.

Target Your Resume. Another component of your brand is your resume. Its function is to show employers your value based on your experiences. You’re selling a product, so your resume should highlight relevant information, rather than be a compilation of everything you’ve done. Craft your resume to emphasize pertinent experiences and frame those experiences to bolster your candidacy.

You may not have your dream job, but wherever you are right now, it’s a footnote—you can make the transition. At McCormack Schreiber, we work with attorneys from every practice area, and those with a targeted focus and an entrepreneurial approach to their search often have the most success. The path won’t always be straight, but you’re playing the long game, so keep those eyes on the road.