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Develop a Niche

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We see many resumes from attorneys who are 7-10 years into their career and are in the unfortunate position of needing to find another job because their tenure at their current firm is running short.
Develop a Niche

By Paul Danielson – Recruiter


We see many resumes from attorneys who are 7-10 years into their career and are in the unfortunate position of needing to find another job because their tenure at their current firm is running short due to the typical “up-or-out” policy and the fact that they have not developed a client base.

In most cases, these attorneys will have an extremely difficult time finding a lateral position at another law firm for the exact same reasons they are being pushed out of their current firm: a law firm is a business, and it is not sustainable for the firm to pay a senior-associate salary to an attorney who is merely billing work for a partner rather than generating their own business.  Additionally, the increased billing rates for each additional year of experience means that the type of work that you could previously use to fill your hours as a junior or mid-level associate (document review, 50-state surveys, due diligence, preparing deposition outlines) will become less available since clients balk at paying higher rates for a senior associate to do the work a more junior associate is fully capable of performing.

The best way to prevent yourself from falling into the “up-or-out” trap where lateral opportunities become scarce or nonexistent a decade into your career is to develop business.  Now, this is much easier said than done, and even long-time partners can have difficulty developing and maintaining a client base significant enough to sustain their practice, much less make them an attractive lateral candidate.  So what are your other options?

Many attorneys look to go in-house, but those positions can be just as difficult to come by since they are so desirable and competition for them is fierce.  Similarly, if you have not been developing business, it is likely that a big part of that problem is that you have not been networking and developing strong contacts, which is how the vast majority of attorneys who move in-house learn about and interview for their in-house positions.  I have written before on the importance of networking, but it is one of those things that is nearly impossible to overemphasize in terms of how important it is to your long-term legal career.

The other option is to develop a niche practice.  We have had quite a bit of success placing more senior attorneys who lack a portable book of business but have significant experience and expertise in a niche area of law.  If a firm has an existing client base that is in need of this expertise, it may be worth it for the firm to bring on an expert practitioner in the area in order to keep that part of the client’s business within their firm, rather than having to refer it to a competing firm who will likely try to poach the entirety of that client’s business.

Again, the opportunities are not as frequent or as easy to obtain as a general lateral opportunity for a candidate with a portable book, but it will significantly increase your attractiveness to potential new firms if you have a specialty practice that cannot be filled by a generalist or a more junior associate who lacks your level of experience.

Thus, if you find yourself in the mid-level part of your career and you do not see yourself willing or able to develop a client base that will sustain your career moving forward, I would highly encourage you to develop a specialty in a particular area of practice within your more general field.  Many senior attorneys come to us and say they can “do it all” because they have jumped from practice area to practice area, or they have taken a wide variety of general assignments from the partners at their firm simply to fill their hours requirement as they wait for the inevitable “up-or-out” push.  The problem with this approach is that it puts you in a category of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of other attorneys who can also do “a bit of everything” and have no business.

If you specialize, however, you may have fewer options in terms of firms that fit your specialty, but for each of those options, you will be among a handful of attorneys who can fill those roles, and thus significantly increase your odds of finding work as you get more senior in your career.

If you already have a niche practice and are looking to make a move, or if you just want to discuss what types of specialty practices are in demand so you can plan for your future, you can always reach out to one of us at BCG.

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.

Best of luck with your legal job search!

 

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.


About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.


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