Every young associate is eager to hit the ground running and become a  valuable contributor to his or her firm. Attorneys in the early stages of their  careers hope to be included in new cases, projects or meetings with prospective  clients. Excitement about being involved in client meetings, negotiations and  strategy sessions can be a major boost of self-confidence, and if this eagerness  and excitement can be targeted and carefully cultivated, associates can find a  niche for themselves and fill a void in the firm's lineup. This article offers  some tips for young attorneys desiring a seat at the table.

Ask Questions to Identify a Need

Talk to partners and senior associates about the growth and expansion plans  for your department and the firm as a whole. Attend department and firmwide  meetings and long-term planning sessions. Participate in planning discussions.  Most importantly, ask questions:

• Is there a particular area of the law that the firm would like to further  develop?

• Is there an existing practice group that the firm plans to promote or  expand?

• Is the firm actively seeking to hire an expert in a particularly finite  area who will need the support of knowledgeable associates?

• Are there current clients that are underserved or seeking legal advice  elsewhere because the firm does not have the resources or the knowledge to  provide the representation that the client needs?

If the response to any of these questions is yes, then young associates  should view these areas as immense opportunities for success and take action.  The first step in becoming a valuable contributor is identifying what the firm  needs. Young attorneys can always learn new areas of the law; the key is  learning which areas are most valuable to the firm.

Explore a New Area of the Law

When young associates graduate from law school, they have the basic building  blocks of practice, but few have a specialty per se. Being flexible and open to  new areas of the law makes young associates more attractive, and more valuable,  to law firms. The willingness to learn something new can set young associates  apart from other attorneys in their departments.

Once the aspect of the law that the firm plans or needs to develop is  identified, young associates should explore whether they have some connection to  the targeted area—any unique experience, whether in prior jobs, classes in  college or law school, in the topic area or contacts in the particular area.  Attorneys should endeavor to learn all they can about the particular area of the  law and utilize any and all resources at their disposal to do so. There are  multiple avenues to pursue: reading scholarly articles, doing research, keeping  up on changes in the particular area by monitoring recent court opinions,  searching for continuing education programs or attending seminars put on by  other firms, panels or professionals, and scoping out any possible competition  from other firms.

Another piece of good advice for young attorneys is to set up a news alert  to ensure they are the first to learn about changes in this area of the law as  soon as they occur. Also, it is important to join listservs. There are typically  groups of attorneys, lawmakers and other professionals who monitor a particular  area of the law and provide ongoing updates and information related to the  particular area. By joining these types of groups, young associates can place  themselves at the forefront of emerging areas of the law.

Share the Information

Share it. Once young attorneys identify a firm's need for a particular area  of the law and school themselves on that need, it is important to let others  know. The first step is to start within the firm. Teach other members of the  department about the particular area of the law either through a presentation or  the distribution of a memorandum. This is important, because taking the time to  put on a presentation or prepare an outline for other members of the department  creates a natural connection in the minds of members of the department between  the young attorney and that information. The next time a partner or senior  associate comes across an issue in this particular area, the young attorney will  likely be the first person he or she calls. This is a great way for younger  associates to get in front of clients sooner, since they are the ones with the  knowledge.

The next step is to share this newfound knowledge with the firm's existing  clients. A great option that a lot of firms utilize is the client alert, a short  blast of information either in the form of an email, a post to the firm website  or a flyer that is distributed to a targeted group of clients that will find the  particular information useful. This is a great tool for young lawyers because it  gets young associates some name recognition. If a client of the firm sees a new  name on an email or flyer distributed by the firm, the client will also begin to  associate the particular area of the law with the young associate. Young  associates should approach the marketing department at their firm to determine  if these types of notices are utilized.

Last, and most certainly not least, the ultimate goal is for the young  associate to get published. Whether it be an article in a newspaper, a magazine  or a targeted blog, once the attorney is published, the public will come to view  him or her as a thought leader in the particular area of the law. Regardless of  the fact that the young associate only recently entered this area of the law,  once published, the young attorney is a credited author in that field. The young  associate has proven to have the information that is in high demand and has  taken the initiative to promote that knowledge.

Attorneys can find assistance with this in their firm marketing departments  as well. Often, publications in a particular area will open additional  opportunities for young associates. Whether those opportunities result in  clients reaching out to the firm with new questions or opportunities for new  business, or even speaking engagements for the young associate, these are  opportunities that would otherwise have gone wasted if the young associate did  not have the initiative to explore a new area of the law.

If young associates want a seat at the table and want to be considered  valuable contributors to the firm, it is never too early to set themselves apart  as leaders in particular areas of the law that the firm has expressed a need to  address. If an attorney can fill an existing void, whether by learning an  entirely new area of the law, supporting an up-and-coming practice group within  the firm by learning the specifics of that practice or learning the specifics of  the practice of a new partner in the firm who will need the support, they will  only continue to open the door to more opportunities and rightfully claim a seat  at the table.

Tips for Finding a Niche and Making a Name in Your Firm.pdf

Katherine Missimer is a member of Obermayer Rebmann  Maxwell & Hippel's business and finance department, where she focuses her  practice on representing businesses, nonprofits and for-profit corporations and  health care entities in corporate, real estate, financial and regulatory  matters.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

Reprinted with permission from the January 23, 2014 edition of THE LEGAL INTELLIGENCER © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 347-227-3382, reprints@alm.com or visit www.almreprints.com. # 201-01-14-06