Another Pitch for the Niche
I’ve posted before on the value of a niche practice to a successful law practice, but two items in today’s news make me realize that it’s time for an encore. First up, this Los Angeles Times story describes a 26 year old biglaw associate who heads a team of lawyers at a large firm — all because he came up with the idea of a video game practice area. Today, the group handles a variety of issues, including licensing, IP, legal issues related to virtual worlds, contracts, tax, immigration issues associated with foreign workers and consumer fraud and class actions. Second, here’s a story
about Texas lawyer Zandra Anderson, who decided to spealize in dog law, after she was pushed out of medical malpractice and personal injury work by tort reform legislation. Today, she has a statewide practice, Texas Dog Lawyer.com.
Most lawyers resist niches, fearing that they’re too limiting – both intellectually and from a marketing perspective. As to the first point, niches, though deep also run broad. Most niches require knowledge of a variety of cross over practice areas. For example, a dog lawyer encouters issues related to wills and trusts (i.e., who will take care of a dog after you’re gone); custody in divorce cases not to mention regulatory issues governing veternarian practices or animal control and of course, dog bite cases. In many cases, a niche lawyer may need to team up with other attorneys to handle these diverse issues.
A niche also makes you more marketable, not less because it makes you memorable. Here in DC, one of my colleagues David Kaufman is an attorney who does Business Brawls – litigating business deals gone bad. I’ve been at networking lunches and even though there may be 20 other people who do litigation, the one person everyone remembers is David or “that business brawls guy.” Though I’ve never asked him about it, I’m sure that he winds up getting other types of litigation matters just because of the memorability factor.
Niches have at least two other benefits. First, they give you broader range. As a niche attorney, you can often capture a state wide or even national market instead of just competing on a local level. Second, niches are great for the ego because they allow you, in the words of Seth Godin to be “the best in the world,” even if that world is narrow. For a lawyer starting out, being the best “event and party planning lawyer in Illinois” or the best entirely virtual, non-profit lawyer in the country can offer a huge boost to the ego.
Remember, you don’t have to do the niche all the time – starting out, your niche may not account for more than 10-20 percent of your revenue. But even a narrow focus can get you broad exposure for your entire practice.
Do you have an interesting niche, or idea for a niche? Please share it below.
Thanks for the post, Carolyn. Niche law is particularly effective for the reason that most lawyers are general practitioners. I practice internet defamation law, and by being able to rattle off recent cases during phone conversations with opposing counsel, I believe I’ve been able to gain a psychological advantage over my opponents. My suggestion to other solos, pick a niche where the law is in a state of flux. That way, you get the benefits of mastering a subject area while avoiding boredom.
I have been developing a niche practice in legal ethics for nearly 2 years. I agree completely that having a niche allows one to focus oneâ€˜s marketing efforts more precisely and to choose which listservs, blogs, reporters, and treatises to spend your time and money on.
Wearing my ethics hat, I would remind your readers that although the underlying purpose of oneâ€™s marketing can be to establish in peopleâ€™s minds that the lawyer is the â€œbestâ€ in a particular area, lawyers should not actually call themselves the best at anything because they may run the risk of violating ethics rules that prohibit lawyers in many jurisdictions from making unsubstantiated comparisons of their services to those of other lawyers.
I have found myself in a niche that I never would have predicted. I defend claims against youth-serving organizations (day care centers, summer camps, etc.), and handle a lot of general personal injury litigation in my state. But I have gradually begun assisting lawyers all over the country with child abuse cases. It’s an area that I learned well during many years as a social worker, foster parent, and criminal prosecutor. I discovered when I moved to private practice that most lawyers are so freaked out by the entire issue that they do not learn the underlying research, particularly in child sex abuse. They rely on their expert witnesses, or even worse, the treating therapists, and simply do not know how often, or how far, they are being led astray. I’m still working on a short description of my niche (“child abuse cases” just sounds icky), but am finding the intersection between law and mental health to be fascinating. It’s also personally rewarding when I can talk opposing counsel into finding a competent therapist for their client rather than a professional witness.