Future Fridays: Hitch Your Niche To Another Law Firm

The niche practice as the future of law is also yesterday’s news. Meaning that the benefits of niche practice have been well documented forever, nowhere more extensively than at Chuck Newton’s Third Wave Blog, which is jam packed with dozens of niche practice ideas.

But I don’t like re-blogging old territory. So here’s a little twist on the niche. Instead of starting a niche practice with the goal of becoming, in the words of Seth Godin, the best in the world, why not incubate a niche as you might a start-up, with the end goal of selling it out to another firm.

That thought occurred to me after coming across this news story-cum-press release a UK-based general corporate law firm which acquired a specialist dental law practice. According to the article:

The acquisition and the addition of corporate lawyer David McEwan as part of the deal will allow Schofield Sweeney to offer services to dentists, dental agents, accountants and financial advisers.

The marriage of the two firms makes sense.  With the addition of a dental practice, the general firm obtains the both the skills and reputation of a specialist which would have taken years to build up, and may have been impossible to do anyway without working against the firm’s ability to market to a broader array of client. As for the dental practice, it gains resources to serve a broader range of its clients’ needs, as well as those of potential referrals. 

I’ve long suggested that large firms could outsource innovation to smaller firms. But that’s not gonna happen anytime soon – big firms would rather hire pricey consultants than seasoned practitioners to get the job done. Still, that doesn’t preclude solos and smalls from developing niche practices on spec – initially as a stand-alone, with the prospect of selling them out down the line.

If that’s the approach you intend to take, you’ll want to engage in some advance planning. You’ll want to be scrupulous about maintaining conflicts lists and developing resources – specialty guides, checklists and systems – that will make it easy for an acquiring firm to take on your practice, especially if you intend to step aside.

The benefits of niche practice — higher rates, a way to LegalZoom proof your practice against generic providers, and increased intellectual satisfaction are indisputable. Still, many lawyers shy away from the niche because they fear that their chosen practice focus is too narrow to be sustainable.   Maybe getting hitched is the solution to this potential hitch in starting a niche practice.