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Ruth Carter, a second-year at Arizona State University College of Law, is already thinking of what she wants to do when she starts practicing in 2011—and she has an idea for a niche focus that may very well surprise you.
Carter’s inspiration arose from a unique performance group that she’s currently involved with. She’s a member of Improv AZ, which she describes as a “prank/flashmob group” that coordinates lighthearted public spectacles, like pillow fights in shopping malls, underwear-only subway rides and other whimsical events throughout Phoenix. There are actually roving bands of related jokesters across the globe. For this year’s International Pillow Fight Day alone, PillowFightDay.com lists participating groups in at least 74 cities, including 27 in the United States, from Improve Everywhere in New York to California’s Scene Diego. So where’s the practice opportunity is this, you ask?
These events raise myriad potential legal issues. Think trespass and assault for the pillow fights, indecent exposure for the pants-less rides and solicitation for the Facebook-based logistical instructions. Carter’s idea: Be the lawyer who identifies these problems and protects the various groups involved from running afoul of the law. That kind of highly targeted niche thinking really ups the odds of a prosperous career—and you, too, can properly position yourself for success if you can target an area that excites you and allows you to provide meaningful guidance to those who need it.
The crux is finding opportunities to introduce yourself to those who need your guidance. Fortunately, social media tools give you plenty of opportunities to do just that in today’s challenging business climate. Colleagues, peers and clients are all more inclined to meet online in this changing market because everyone is searching for creative collaboration. If you can offer your targets one or more of the following small, yet genuine, opportunities to collaborate, you are certain to distinguish yourself in the downturn.
Think Multiples for Tweets. The key to enhancing visibility is to connect not just with the people in your own network, but also with the people in the networks of others. Twitter, the social networking tool that lets users post messages—or tweets—of 140 characters or less, is a prime example of how this phenomenon works. Indeed, many will say that the ultimate value of “tweeting” is when the members of your network “retweet” (i.e., repost) your content to the people in their networks. If Improv AZ sends a short message to its group’s approximately 600 followers on Twitter and each of them forwards that message to their entire followings, the exponential impact is amazing. Think of how far you might enhance your network with a targeted tweeting strategy.
Be Someone’s Guest—Blogger, That Is. If you don’t (yet) have a sufficient online following, how about starting your visibility-enhancing initiative by contributing guest posts to others’ blogs? The culture of blogging is inherently collaborative and many in the community welcome new voices. Take advantage of that sentiment to ramp up your audience numbers. Select blogs that are relevant to your practice area or interests. Carter, for instance, might want to conduct a search on Blawg.com or BlogCatalog .com to find sites covering criminal or contractual issues in entertainment. Or she might consider sharing appropriate Phoenix-area content with regionally focused bloggers to grow her name recognition locally. The New York Times has even started accepting guest contributions from local writers.
Use the Q&A Way. Regardless of her direction, Carter could also use her guest spot to interview people that she wants to connect with, making the interviews available for everyone to see on a site for which she’s providing short-term content. She could do this with the founders of prank groups around the world, leading entertainment lawyers and prominent local government officials, thereby positioning herself as a thought leader in her niche simply by associating with authorities in the field.
Anyone can adapt this strategy to his or her practice. It simply requires a list of people you would like to meet and a common theme that would allow you to meet them. You can also record rather than write up these interviews (alkaps.audioacrobat.com is a popular recording tool) and post them on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook (with permission of the interviewee, of course). Doing so highlights an appreciation for their ideas and provides a tangible record of your collaborative approach to relationships.
Leverage a Law Student. Remember, great marketers all have help. So if your savviness in online tactics isn’t all that good, consider asking a law student to fill that role, since many are innately more proficient with technology and organic self-marketing than most professionals realize. This intergenerational collaboration is the ideal solution for lawyers interested in raising their profile in new ways and for law students seeking to distinguish themselves to potential employers.
A top assignment for your student assistant: Have him or her create or enhance your LinkedIn profile. Together establish a LinkedIn Group (i.e., an intra-site community built around a particular theme) to attract clients and prospects interested in your area of expertise. Also, consider experimenting with LinkedIn’s Answers tool to participate in conversations about topics on which you focus. While you’re exploring the social media world, have the student give you a tour of Facebook, too, to learn the possibilities of connecting and associating with your network on a more personal level.
Practice Active Thoughtfulness. Having found ways to connect with those who may be interested in your niche, you then want to engage in effective follow-up to strengthen relationships with key people you’ve met. A smart way to deepen the conversation is to set up a Google Alert that keeps you abreast of developments concerning them. Include their names, their company or employers’ names and keywords related to their interests. The resulting prompts from Google may provide you with thoughtful instances to connect in a more meaningful and personal fashion. The best opportunity often resides where the personal and professional intersect. Whatever your niche, bear in mind that there is tremendous upside in the downturn. Clients are experiencing common pressures and professionals are searching for stability.
Those who can offer members of a targeted audience occasions to stand out will enhance their profiles, build stronger networks, grow their practices and create lasting relationships. This is true even if your audience is made up of cadres of global pillow-carrying pranksters.
Ari Kaplan is a lawyer and the author of The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (Thomson-West, 2008). Principal of Ari Kaplan Advisors, he teaches business development techniques at law firms and law schools.