"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing." — Abraham Lincoln to Isham Reavis, November 5, 1855.
So you’re finished with law school, you’ve conquered the bar and, if you’re lucky, landed a job in a field of your interest, or just a job, period. Next up: Become a great lawyer, find your niche and leave your mark in the legal community. Some questions should cross your mind at some point, if they haven’t already. What will you focus on as your niche? Do you even need one? In my opinion, developing your successful niche is basically about developing a personal brand, something to distinguish yourself among your colleagues. Therefore, if you want to be remembered and recognized as an attorney, finding your niche is an important endeavor.
What mark will you leave on the legal community? The question of how one competently approaches this task varies. If you ask 10 people, you may very well get 10 different answers. While you probably do not want to limit your options at this point in your career by choosing something too narrow early on, you should put some thought into what you want to be known for and, along those lines, the areas in which you excel. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the niche I’d like to occupy, and while I am not 100 percent certain of what it is, I am confident that I’m on my way. I’ve narrowed my search by following three steps.
First off, take risks and step out of your comfort zone. Face your fears by trying things others haven’t tried before. Think outside of the box. Use the competitive drive that got you through law school to your advantage. Ask yourself what your unique offering to the legal field will be. What new perspective will you bring to the table and what distinctive characteristics about you make your opinion and perspective valuable? If you simply follow what others have done before and fail to challenge yourself, you can be certain that at the very least you will not be recognized for being innovative. Figure out what you are passionate about and try to find an intersection between your passion and the law.
Second, use your unique background and skills to your advantage. This will, in turn, make you invaluable at your workplace. You can either do something better than anyone else or you can do something that nobody else can do, whether it’s in your job or your field. Figure out exactly what that is and you will increase your value. If you have a specific area of knowledge, try to use that to your benefit. I would recommend jotting down some notes and brainstorming about areas in which you are well informed. Your value in the work environment will increase by leveraging your unique expertise for the benefit of your clients.
For example, do you have qualifications in a particular area that can be useful to a specific type of client? A scientific background may be helpful for you to become an expert in environmental law or may make you well suited for a career in intellectual property or patent law. I have a background in performance as a classical violinist. After years and years of recitals and performances, this discipline has allowed me to conquer my nerves by relaxing and feeling comfortable in front of audiences, which some might say makes me well suited to speak in front of juries and my peers. Use your individual background and experiences to your advantage — all those years of dance practice or competitive sports have played a role in the person you have become today. Take advantage of those skills for your benefit.
By using your unique perspective and abilities, you will be able to find a way to stand out in your job and your field. This will help to develop your personal brand as an attorney. And your personal brand is not just what you say but how you present yourself to your peers, clients and superiors. If you accomplish the task of developing your personal brand successfully, it will be highly valued by your colleagues and clients. Tailor your brand to the category of individuals or clientele you are trying to target. Define the people you are hoping to represent and determine who is looking for the unique characteristics you have to offer. This will help to mold your brand. It’s simple economics: supply and demand. Figure out where there is a need and supply it.
The third step in the process is the most important, in my opinion. Be excellent when nobody is watching. Now, will this help you to find your niche? Perhaps not necessarily; however, it will give you an edge over those who cut corners. Work each day as though you were being considered for a promotion or a raise. Arrive early and stay late. Read articles or journals in different areas of law or business — this may lead you to opportunities or ventures you had not previously considered. Network every time you are presented with an opportunity. Ask attorneys you highly regard to go to lunch and listen to their stories about how they got to their present position (within their firms and the legal community). That’s what will make you different. Seize every opportunity you are presented with to gain experience or expose yourself to different fields of practice that you may not have considered previously. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you will find something that doesn’t even feel like work. Live out your passions and go the extra mile by working as though each day is a new opportunity to prove yourself.
Being excellent every day, although it is much easier said than done, will distinguish you among your colleagues. If nothing else, you will be known for your high-quality work product and earnest efforts. While it may appear as though nobody notices this effort, be assured that your superiors will take note of it. This will also help the development of your personal brand by distinguishing you as an excellent employee known for your work ethic.
Discovering your niche and developing your personal brand will give you a platform where you can shine as an attorney. It will allow you to have the opportunity to be successful by being yourself, offering remarkable value and living your passion. •
Priscilla E. Jimenez is an associate at the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability and medical negligence and malpractice cases. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or email@example.com.