This month’s buzz word must be “niche marketing,” (see here for my earlier posts on interesting niches). Last Thursday, I listened in on the Nader Anise teleconference that I posted about here last week. The mystery guest was The Pet Lawyer, Molly Gaussa and the focus of the call was Niche Marketing (Nader is offering a kit, Niche Your Way to Wealth, email at email@example.com; I haven’t seen the material so I cannot endorse it). And here at LexBlog, Kevin O’Keefe points us to this post from Duct Tape Marketing on niche blogs, which offer a great way to attract clients, as I posted here.
As a lawyer with an expertise in offshore renewable energy for a dozen years, you can’t get much nichier than I am. And based on this experience, I have some advice about what works and what doesn’t for niche practice as well as what to expect.
1. Know what to expect from your niche.
Niche practices will generally gain you notoriety, but they’re not always money makers. In my niche, offshore renewables, the market is still nascent and many developers can’t yet afford to hire attorneys. There have been other benefits from this niche, including exposure and speaking engagement that have lead to billable work in related fields. Plus, I’m in on the ground floor of an industry poised for take-off. The point is that a niche won’t always generate lots of money but it will carry other opportunities, which may be reason enough to pursue it.
2. Niches are narrow in focus, but broad in skills they encompass.
Niche practice sounds tempting because you can focus on a narrow area. But that’s not entirely accurate. A niche practice may encompass one specific topic, like historic preservation law, animal law,billboard litigation or veterans’ law, to name a few. But beneath the surface, these practice areas encompass a variety of skills. For example, someone specializing in animal law (or petlaw) might need to be familiar with family law (to handle pet custody cases), tort law (for dog bite cases) or estate planning (to ensure that owners can provide for a pet after their death). In my own offshore renewable practice, I’ve found that in addition to familiarity with permitting issues, I need to be familiar with financing and corporate matters (to structure deals and investment), patent law (for developers with an invention) and even maritime law (to advise on maintenance issues). Since many of these practice areas are specialized, I’ve tried to set up affiliations to outsource matters outside my expertise. If you enter a niche practice, be prepared to handle all of the issues it may generate or affiliate with other lawyers who can take on the issues for you.
3. Don’t Niche Too Narrowly
As interesting as your niche practice may be, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. For example, if you decided to start a niche as a “hurricane lawyer,” you might have some dry years (no pun intended) if there aren’t any disasters. Other niches similarly ebb and flow; offshore renewable field picks up when oil prices are high and slows down when prices are low and new technology can’t compete.
As with every other marketing idea, niches are a great practice opportunity, particularly for new lawyers and solos, because they can launch you quickly to the top of your field and generate lots of buzz and exposure. But if you step into a niche field, keep clear on your expectations and what kinds of skills you need for success.