Developing a Niche

Developing a Niche

As the law grows more complex and competition among attorneys intensifies, it’s important for new law practices to establish a niche.

A niche law practice focuses on a specific type of client. It can be defined by practice area, by legal issue or by client demographics. Elder law, for example, is a niche practice because it is focused on legal issues facing older adults. Marketing experts often recommend defining as narrow a niche as possible and establishing yourself as the go-to lawyer for that niche.

Why Have a Niche?

Many lawyers resist developing a niche. They are reluctant to commit to just one practice area, and they fear they will lose potential clients if they market themselves in only one area.

But there are some very good reasons to develop a niche. By honing in on one area of law, you can more easily develop expertise. You will gain more experience in your area of practice by repeatedly handing the same types of cases, and your focus will enable you to do a better job of keeping up with new developments in your area of law.

This focus can also help your bottom line. You will become more efficient at what you do, and it’s likely that you will identify ways to increase your efficiency even further. If you charge flat fees, that efficiency will translate to higher profits. Depending on your practice, you may be able to charge higher rates because of your specialized expertise or because you are the “go to” person for that area of law. This is particularly true if your niche is highly technical or specialized.

Although it’s counter-intuitive, narrowing your focus can actually get you more clients. People are drawn to those who have specialized expertise, and they will seek you out if they think you are “the” lawyer for a particular type of matter. And most niche practice lawyers report that clients outside their niche also seek them out for related work. For example, a law firm that represents fathers in child custody disputes may also end up with a significant number of mothers on the client roster.

Finally, niche practices are easier to market because it is easier to identify your ideal client and market in a way that speaks directly to them. And your marketing message will be more focused and effective.

There are downsides to niche practice, however. Niches can be more vulnerable to changes in the economy or in legal practice. Amendments to the bankruptcy code caused problems for bankruptcy practitioners several years ago. Merger and acquisition lawyers may have difficulty during recessions.

Choosing and Marketing a Niche

The key to choosing a niche is to select something that you are interested in and that is economically viable. You’ll have a hard time sticking with your niche and marketing yourself in a hot area of law that you don’t actually like. And all the commitment, expertise and enthusiasm in the world won’t help if there isn’t enough demand to sustain your practice economically.

You might start by assessing your experience and the type of work you enjoy. For example, you might have handled numerous trademark disputes at your prior firm, giving you the qualifications you need to become a trademark defense lawyer.

Alternately, you can identify an area of law that is growing and in which you have some experience and/or a high level of interest. Foreclosure defense in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis is an example of a niche based on a new hot area of law.

You might look at the clients you currently have and try to identify a common thread. Perhaps you are a divorce lawyer who has several clients that are women in the military. Or a business lawyer whose clients are developing healthcare-related products. Investigate whether there are sufficient other potential clients to support a niche based on this type of work.

Or you can develop a niche based on your own interests, hobbies or life experiences. For example, a personal injury lawyer who rides a motorcycle might become the motorcycle injury lawyer. Or a former structural engineer might develop a niche handling construction defect cases.

To market your niche practice, envision your ideal client and identify the marketing channels that are most likely to reach that client. The company that needs trademark defense might be active on LinkedIn, while the young woman in the service might be more likely to find you through a military publication or on Facebook. And the motorcycle injury lawyer might get the best visibility on motorcycle publications, websites and forums. In addition to advertising and social media marketing, look for opportunities to speak to groups that might include potential clients.

And be patient. It takes time to develop and market a niche and establish yourself as an authority.