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Finding Your Niche: A Perspective from a Mortuary Law Attorney

Emily Ann Albrecht

Finding Your Niche: A Perspective from a Mortuary Law Attorney
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When I explain to people (other lawyers included) the type of work that I do, they typically respond with something to the effect of “Wow, how interesting—I did not even know that existed.” Or they get weirded out and promptly change the subject. That is because I am a mortuary law attorney—meaning that I work with the death care industry. My clients include funeral homes, funeral directors, embalmers, cemeteries, crematories, alkaline hydrolysis facilities, and natural organic reduction (aka human composting) providers. It does not get much more niche than that, right?

As new lawyers, it is intimidating to figure out a particular practice area on which to focus. I began my career as an insurance defense litigation attorney at a midsized firm. One day, a senior partner sent out an email to the associates seeking someone to “do some research about dead bodies.” I was immediately intrigued, responded to volunteer, and was selected to do the research.

The more I learned about the case—an insurance defense matter involving a funeral home, funeral director, and embalmer—the more interested I became in continuing to work on it. Pleased with my initial research memo, the partner assigned me another topic to research, and so on. Meanwhile, I was having the time of my life and enjoying my work in a way that I did not know was possible. Death is something that I have been fascinated with as far back as I can remember. Having the opportunity to research and learn about things that I am genuinely interested in as part of my job was—and continues to be—one of my favorite parts of practicing law.

The partner could tell how immersed I had become in the case, and she let me second-chair the weeklong trial (which, I am proud to say, ended with a unanimous defense verdict). I certainly would not have had this opportunity otherwise that early on in my career. Celebrating the defense verdict was bittersweet because it meant that the case had ended. All I wanted was to work on those types of cases—so I set out to find a way to make that happen. After learning that very few folks practice mortuary litigation—especially on the defense side—I was determined to become one of them. Given the lack of mentorship possibilities, I instead seized every opportunity to immerse myself in and establish a presence within the funeral industry.

I joined local and national funeral industry trade organizations and began attending their networking events, especially larger conferences and annual conventions. I started a blog that attracted an editor from a funeral industry trade magazine who offered me opportunities to contribute articles for publication, which allowed me to gain exposure across the country. My articles led to paid speaking engagements at conferences. After a few years, I began submitting presentation proposals to national organizations. Eventually, I found myself speaking at the same annual conventions I used to attend. Keep in mind that all of this effort I put in was above and beyond my billable time—we’re talking hundreds of extra marketing hours per year. It was worth the sacrifice, and I loved every minute of it.

Are you interested in finding your niche? Start by selecting subject matters that are of particular interest to you and then researching how the law applies to them—the more unique and specialized the niche, the better. Focusing on a niche practice area is a great way to establish yourself early in your career in a way that is typically not possible in the larger practice areas, especially for young lawyers with less experience. Being a part of a smaller group of practitioners who deal with a niche area of the law will increase your exposure and value within the practice and create marketing opportunities that will eventually flourish into business development. It also makes being a lawyer a lot more exciting and enjoyable.