Law Students: Create Your Own Niche

Law students can improve job prospects and build confidence by creating a niche area of expertise.

Two short years ago, my 1L school career counselor inspired me to find and focus on a narrow field of law. He went so far as to challenge me to strive to become an expert in something. For me, that thing has been social media. Social media and legal ethics, social media for law schools, social media marketing for lawyers, etc.

Creating a niche doesn’t have to be hard. Law students can take work they’re already doing in school and direct it along a common path. For instance, law students can coordinate the topics of:

  • Legal writing class assignments
  • Independent research projects
  • Seminar papers
  • Journal notes or articles

With that solid foundation, law students can easily spin off side projects in that area of interest. I recently got to present at a conference on social media and law for local governments. Today I helped teach a three-hour ethics CLE for lawyers on social media use. I was hired by two non-profits to create their social media policies, and eventually landed a job at the intersection of social media and law.

The cumulative experiences of researching, writing, teaching, and working in a specific topical area do two important things for law students:

  1. Improve your chances of getting a job you want. Law students know that the chances of finding a job after graduation are pretty slim. Anything that can make your résumé stand out is critical these days. Besides improving your looks on paper, diving in to a particular substantive area will likely mean you know who the key players in that field are, where they work, and why they might be looking for someone with your knowledge. Use that information to your advantage to try for jobs in the fields that interest you most.
  2. Give you self confidence to develop your career. As law students, we’re continually humbled by the Socratic method, junior-high-style relationships, dismal job prospects, and immense debt. Taking hold of whatever legal issues incite your passion, and using those to guide your career goals is very empowering. Even rather limited expertise may provided the necessary boost in self esteem to reach outside one’s comfort zone to strive for bigger and better things.

Certainly I’ve been lucky (and unusual) in that my passion and efforts correspond with media that’s made for sharing. For this reason, my name and any expertise that attaches to it have spread more readily than if my primary interest was, say, antitrust. But even if your passion is for a more esoteric part of the law, it can never hurt to strive to become an expert.

Law School, Legal Careers

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  • Chris_H

    This is dead-on. I’ve gotten plenty of interviews because of my niche-y background. While it wasn’t this way when job prospects were available, it’s almost as if the more niche-y the background, the more marketable the candidate — it definitely helps someone stand out.

  • Adam A. Kay

    Your points are well made. With the economy as it is, it’s now more important than ever for law students to be entrepreneurial with their careers. One point you make that deserves greater emphasis is passion for your niche. It’s not good enough to just develop any niche; it’s vital that you develop a niche in an area that engages and excites you. Feeling engaged by your work is the key to becoming a master at it. Without being engaged by your work, you’re heading down a dead-end. In addition, it’s important that whatever the niche you choose, you feel like you’re doing more than just building your own career. You must feel like you’re contributing to something worthwhile that’s greater than yourself. This will provide you with a sense of purpose that will keep you going through hard times, which are sure to arise. The difficulty for many law students is figuring out what it is they’re actually passionate about. The key here is to uncover and tap into your deepest personal values. When the niche you choose is aligned with your deepest values, then bingo: you’ve got the keys to success. Uncovering your deepest values, however, is not as easy as it sounds, and may require the assistance of a professional coach — particularly one who specializes in coaching law students and lawyers. The bottom line is this: if you’re going to develop your own niche, make sure it’s in an area you’re passionate about. And if you’re at all uncertain about what it is you’re passionate about or how to go best go about developing your niche, consider enlisting the support of a professional coach.

    Adam A. Kay, Esq.
    J.D. Life Coach
    http://www.jdlifecoach.com

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

    Laura,

    I would add to your list of ways to build niche expertise/credibility:

    • Join and volunteer in relevant trade associations or bar committees
    • Participate in any relevant clinics
    • Find practice area blogs and offer to write guest posts
    • Start a practice area student group
    • Teach or co-teach a CLE or conference panel
  • Taco Paco

    How about personal injury? Oh, wait that is filled with spades. Hmm, I know, how about suing children: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/10/29/4-year-old-child-can-be-sued-for-negligence-in-bike-accident/

    Now that’s some creative lawyering!!