Solo/Small Firm

Finding Your Niche

A narrow focus can make you happier—and more successful

By Martha McIntire Newman

It seems counterintuitive: You can enlarge your practice by narrowing your focus. You can attract more clients, charge more, and market less by creating a niche within your general practice or specialty or by getting a foothold in an emerging area of law—and you will like practicing a whole lot more! Sound attractive? Let’s take a look at how to choose your niche so you can become the first lawyer to come to mind for clients seeking special expertise and for lawyers who want to refer business they cannot do.

A Specialty Is Not a Niche
The two are often confused, but not the same. For example, intellectual property law, or IP, is a specialty while an IP boutique that only works in technology has a niche practice.

Commercial litigation is a specialty whereas a litigation practice limited to business divorces is a niche. Family law is a specialty that has a much broader focus than representing only fathers in custody disputes.

Benefits of a Niche

  • You will be regarded as an expert because you devote all of your time to a singular field, which makes you more valuable than a specialist or generalist.

  • You will have less competition to do niche work because the pool of lawyers in that niche is small.

  • Price sensitivity will be less of a problem. Clients pay you more because of your unique expertise.

  • You take less time handling cases because you are not reinventing the wheel.

  • Clients will know exactly whom to refer their friends or business acquaintances to.

  • Prospective clients remember who you are and what you do when a need arises in your niche. That means you create and keep “share of mind” with them.

Points to Ponder Before Choosing a Niche

  • What is a subset of the type of law you are already practicing that few lawyers are addressing?

  • What types of cases within your specialty or general practice most interest you?

  • Are there emerging industries or new areas of law that have niche potential for you?

  • How many lawyers locally and nationally practice that niche?

  • Is there sufficient demand for the niche to be profitable?

How Do You Identify Your Niche?
Decide what clients you have enjoyed working with the most. Which ones have been the most lucrative? What kinds of cases have given you the most satisfaction?

Analyze your current client roster and figure out what legal issues come up most often in your cases. Ask contacts in different industries what legal problems they encounter that few lawyers they know can handle.

Conduct market research to determine demand in your geographic market for the niche options you are considering. Discover if there are lawyers in other markets who are focusing on those niches with whom you would not be a competitor. Call them to find out the extent of client demand for their niche services and the difficulties they have encountered in growing their niches.

Hot Niches for 2018 and Beyond
These emerging practice areas offer niche opportunities and growth potential:

  • Artificial intelligence, robots

  • Climate change litigation

  • Cryptocurrencies (e.g. bitcoin)

  • Cybersecurity

  • Drone law

  • Electronic rights for authors/artists

  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, and executive compensation

  • LGBTQ issues

  • Medical/legal marijuana

  • Online privacy

  • Social entrepreneurship

  • Social media/discovery

In her blog on myshingle.com, solo lawyer Carolyn Elefant lists 40 new practice areas that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Check them out.

Is Niching a Scary Thought?
You may be leary about turning away clients who don’t fit your niche. What if the niche is slow to grow or doesn’t work out? Meeting payroll and making a decent profit are priorities.

Remember this: A niche does not mean you have to exclude other kinds of work from your practice. You can work outside your niche while your niche is growing. Having a niche dictates where you focus your business development efforts and how you brand yourself, not on how you spend your billable time.

Why Is Marketing a Niche Easier?
It allows you to limit the scope of your business development to a sliver of clientele that has very special needs, thereby making marketing less expensive, less time consuming, and more attractive to clients who value the depth of your expertise over that of a general specialist. Clients are easier to win over because they trust you more than lawyers with varied practices. You are not marketing to the planet, but to a distinct audience.

Will You Do It?
Carving a niche takes focus, perseverance, study, and targeted business development. It is a building process that requires patience. You decide whether the financial benefits and rewarding work are worth it. TBJ

 

Martha McIntire Newman HeadshotMARTHA MCINTIRE NEWMAN is a former oil and gas litigator and owner of Top Lawyer Coach. Newman has been awarded the Professional Certified Coach credential by the International Coach Federation in recognition of her coaching excellence. She specializes in lawyer coaching, training, facilitating, and speaking in the areas of business development, emotional intelligence, career advancement, leadership, law firm management, and job interviewing. For more information, go to toplawyercoach.com.

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