What’s Your Niche?
By: Emilie Ridge
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “niche” as a noun that can be pronounced either as “nitch” or “nesh” (long e) and describes the word as “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted.” www.merriam-webster.com
Just as the word “niche” can be pronounced in two different ways, focusing on a niche in a poor economic market can take your career in two different directions. Honing in on a particular niche in a business or client market can be an innovative way to start or specialize a business or practice. However, I have found recently that once you have established yourself in a particular niche, it can be difficult to separate yourself from it.
Many people have expressed their interest in my background in immigration law. The practice where I worked was focused mainly on the information technology (IT) field and its related business immigration. My supervisor built the practice from the ground up, focusing only on these IT companies. I perfected the workings of business immigration, performing my duties as a law clerk at this firm throughout my four years of evening law school. I now qualify as an experienced immigration law professional. However, in a decidedly harsh job market for students just graduating from law school, my valuable experience no longer elevates me as a promising prospect for an associate position, but rather excludes me as being specialized in an area in which employers are not currently in need.
At the same time that I find my specialty restricting my career goals, many legal journals and articles are focusing on the solo practitioner and the success stories of those who did, indeed, find their niches in a difficult economy. After several years of daily columns in the legal community regarding job losses and low job placement for recent grads, there is now a rash of articles praising the solo practitioner and offering young graduates fresh takes on the wide variety of practice areas available in the legal field. These recent articles are showing young attorneys that there are other options available beyond the stereotypical law firm position and they highlight the importance of the niche as an employment strategy. A recent article in the American Bar Association Journal, entitled “Legal Rebels: Riding Solo,” noted specific areas of law in which attorneys have found a needed service in tough economic times. The article focuses on how these solo practitioners are building a new and exciting practice through the “power of innovation.” These innovators include an attorney focusing on members of the military and their families who are having trouble with the armed services. Another example includes a case in which the attorney, who after a trip to Tanzania, decided to shift his focus to helping companies pursue a green agenda, and still a third focuses on animal rights.
Business innovation does not take a break during a bad economy either. Business ideas during down times typically focus on certain niche areas and take advantage of the opportunity. First, competition is high in a harsh job market, so ideas that enhance presentation or appearances in a cheap and easy way could be a hit! During a recession, just getting by day-to-day may become a theme, but a business niche as well. Focus on do-it-yourself ideas or innovations that focus on simplifying an everyday problem. Think of the steam buddy iron to eliminate dry cleaning costs. Finally, take the following food for thought: the beginning of the tech boom of the past decades began during the recession of the early 1980s. Microsoft was born during the recession of 1974 and semi-conductors first came to market in the recession of 1957. Even during the Great Depression, the United States witnessed the founding of Hewlett Packard and Texas Instruments.
Great entrepreneurs see a problem or opportunity and act on it – even in a down economic cycle. The need for innovation never goes away. These examples demonstrate small niche areas of law and business that are viable during an economic downturn. If you are able to find the right niche or business area, it can be profitable and you may find that it’s a better fit for you and your abilities than what you initially imagined.
Emilie Ridge, Esquire is now a licensed practicing attorney who has found that desired associate position. firstname.lastname@example.org