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A Targeted Concentration

A short time ago Phil Hodgen responded to an e-mail from a third-year law student interested in international tax. Phil offers some great suggestions on ways to break into the field. One remark in particular caught my attention:

You have to dislodge something existing in that person’s life to create an opening for you.

Phil recommends finding a mentor. Someone willing to guide a young lawyer. Someone who has been around the block a few times. Someone who will keep a young attorney in check.

The challenge is catching a prospective mentor’s attention. Lawyers worth reaching out to may often receive similar requests and already have overbooked schedules. Why give you the time of day?

That’s where Phil’s comment above comes in. I offered one possible way to accomplish this.

Before I discuss the proposed steps in greater detail, we need to understand the current legal market to manage expectations.

It’s brutal.

Young attorneys know as well as anyone that the market is oversaturated with others like them. Today, attending a prestigious law school and performing well there probably isn’t enough to land that coveted first job:


You don’t advance a young career by looking back to lament about the decision to attend law school. Face the facts and look forward. Lacking in ideas? Here’s a suggestion:

Discover a promising nuanced area of the law and learn it. Then write about it.

Call it a targeted concentration. Think of it as way to separate yourself from the crowd. In a good way.

Any niche won’t do, of course. There are the too narrow, the too outdated, the too covered.

The ideal niche is underdeveloped and has significant room for growth. There should be little or at best mediocre legal commentary on a subject facing complex and unresolved legal issues. And those issues must or will matter to people.

Start with a general area of the law that interests you (e.g. intellectual property, insurance, real estate, tax) and then read respected periodicals, blogs, etc. What are some emerging issues? Who cares about them? Ask around.

This exercise could eventually lead to the dislodging and engaging. By demonstrating a genuine interest in a targeted area, you are far more likely to catch the attention of other practitioners with common interests.

This process takes time, patience, and persistence. Allow your efforts to develop organically. Don’t force the issue. People will begin to take notice and listen.

You have the ability to take significant control of your career’s direction. Only you stand in the way to seeing it through.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Good advice taxdood. To second your point, I found I was successful to look in less coveted areas of law. In my instance, I began developing an interest in criminal law, interning at DA’s and participating in clinics. I was also willing to travel to different parts of the country, which helped my chances quite a bit. Only one offer came from the state where I went to law school.

    The end result was I got 4 jobs offers when I graduated in 2009. Sure it doesn’t pay as well as corporate work and the market is tougher now, but millions of Americans still go to work everyday. There’s no reason that law students can’t be among them.

  2. Matthew Rappaport
    June 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    This is the best post I’ve read from you so far. As you know well, I’m still working on developing my niche, but I’m looking every day.

    • June 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks, Matt. A niche should always be developing and evolving. Keeps things interesting.

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