Certifiably Niche

Today’s headlines are rife with plenty of tech topics that could conceivably form a niche practice. From sci-fi sounding topics — like  internet of things , wearable tech bitcoin and crypto-currencymicro-chip implants on employees — to changes in existing trends such as a rise in Hispanic-owned businesses to newer and less costly IVF procedures  to transgender policy  – potential niche practice areas abound.

So what’s the best way to go about mastering a niche law practice? One option, of course, is to register for a CLE or a class on a local law school on the topic. But there’s actually a far more effective way to gain an insider’s perspective of a new niche practice than signing up for a legal course: obtaining a certification in the substance by taking advantage of MOOCs  (massive open online courses) or more formal certification programs.  Here’s why:

Credibility and Commitment

Although it’s debatable whether a certification as  a privacy professional , LEED professional  or cyber-security expert  helps lawyers find formal employment, there’s no doubt that these credentials help build credibility for lawyers starting a niche practice.  Not only does getting credentialed show subject matter expertise to potential clients but it also shows commitment to the particular practice area.  With law firms large and small chasing trendy niches, lawyers with a certification can gain an edge.

Issue Spotting

Learning about a new subject from a non-legal perspective can also stimulate lawyers’ inclination for issue-spotting – which can in turn lead to new business. Back when I represented marine renewables developers, I would often attend technical and academic conferences to keep abreast of new technology – which in turn, enabled me to evaluate the efficacy of a particular policy or legal solution.

Become a Resource

Many times, clients seeking help don’t just want legal advice, but practical ideas as well. Consider a web design company continually retaining your firm to assist with collections and legal disputes. Sure, you can handle the problems in a one-off way, but if you had taken a course on Running a Web Development Business , you might be able to offer practical and proactive advice to your client to avoid and prevent legal problems. Same is true if you represent non-profits or small businesses – classes on fundraising and crowdfunding could help you find your clients ways to build their business – and pay you!

Welcome to Their World

Best of all, participating in certification or online courses that  aren’t geared for lawyers are the best way for lawyers to meet potential clients.  For in-person programs, lawyers can introduce themselves to the instructor and strike up conversations with classmates and learn more about the problems they encounter. In on-line classes, lawyers can engage in discussion on whatever platform is being used (listserv, Facebook page or Slack), and casually identify possible legal issues that arise from a particular topic or technology.

Once you determine that an online certification can help you with a niche practice, which courses should you take? Here, be creative. Although there are some longstanding, formal certifications – with CIPP  or  LEED being the best known – and others, such as data center certification emerging – there are countless other free or affordable online courses that will provide a certificate of completion.  Here are just a couple of examples:

  • A lawyer with a niche focused on serving the legal needs of female business executives might sign up for a class on Women in Leadership or Getting Beyond Worklife Balance .
  • While an employment attorney with a niche in workplace diversity could take a course on gender and sexuality in the workplace.
  • Lawyers representing entrepreneurs or startups could take one of the numerous business courses on entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • Finally, if you represent a demographic niche, don’t overlook the value of online courses on learning a language. Though learning a new language from scratch to represent a particular population may not be feasible, if you’ve grown up with a language at home or taken a couple of years of high school or college Spanish but never gained proficiency, an online course could get you up to speed. And certainly, clients will appreciate your efforts.

This post only scratches the surface of the wide world of certifications available to lawyers who want to cross train.  My upcoming program, SPOTLIGHT: Niche and Be Noticed will offer more tips as well as opportunities to exchange ideas as part of our mastermind group. The early prelaunch $299 rate is no longer offered, but if you register by July 31, 2017, you can enroll for $350.