Lessons From The Lawyer-Coach
Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming the first Texas lawyer credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). She has served as Vice-Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and as leader of the Houston chapter of ICF. You can follow her at www.Twitter.com/LawyerCoach or at www.Facebook.com/LawyerCoach. You can also e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Narrow Your Niche to Broaden Your Client Base
By Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC
Carolyn Elefant blogged recently about one of my favorite topics: niche marketing. Susan
Cartier Liebel has already blogged about niche practices in this blog. One might
think that this topic has been sufficiently covered already, but I regularly coach solo and small
firm lawyers who resist the concept. So I know that most lawyers don’t understand what they
are missing, and why they should seriously consider establishing a niche.
The Power of a Niche
I first recognized the power of niche marketing for professional services on a trip to San
Francisco over 10 years ago. While wandering from Ghirardelli Square to the Embarcadero, I
stumbled upon a dentist’s office with a storefront shingle. That was unusual enough, but it had a
slogan about “dentistry with a woman’s touch” and a logo with a pink heart. Through the window
I caught a glimpse of a tastefully decorated entry. I had an instant picture of what “a woman’s
touch” in dentistry would feel like, and I wanted to change dentists right then, despite living
2,000 miles away.
I imagined having a dentist who really understood and catered to my wants. Soothing music and
potpourri would waft through the waiting room. The staff would make sure that I got attention
and felt comfortable. I would not be left lying back in a dentist’s chair in a freezing exam room,
fatiguing my arms by holding a magazine above my face, trying to amuse myself while I waited
forever for the dentist to show up. (That was way before iPhones and Blackberries.) If I did
have to wait, staff would ask me what would make my wait more comfortable, and the dentist
would apologize. She would probably send me home with chocolate (being near Ghirardelli
Square), unless that’s just verboten with dentists. If I had any kind of procedure that required
pain medication, one of her staff members would call me later to make sure I was doing OK.
On top of all that, as a consumer, I would have the opportunity to support a fellow professional
woman in a predominantly male profession.
Of course, I don’t know what that dentist’s office was really like, but as this example illustrates,
establishing a niche-based target market can make it a lot easier to identify what your potential
clients want. It allows you to offer service that your clients perceive as head and shoulders
above your competitors, without necessarily having decades of experience.
The Narrower, the Better
Niche marketing helps you isolate Google search terms that don’t lead to a jillion competing
website destinations. The more narrow the niche, the easier it is to market. The niche clarifies
which trade shows or conferences to attend, which publications to write for, and which
organizations to speak to. In short, marketing a law practice niche is efficient and cost-effective.
If you still don’t quite understand the power of niche marketing, I commend you to the book Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort by Steven Van Yoder. Although this book does not focus on lawyers, one of its first success stories describes a struggling lawyer who sky-rocketed her business when she honed in on a target market of clients who needed a lawyer’s help in credit report repair. She found that
speaking at conferences for mortgage brokers generated enough referral to fill her practice.
A compelling law practice niche marketing example appeared in a Texas Lawyer article years
ago. Kimberlee Norris developed a niche of representing sexually abused Jehovah’s Witnesses.
You can’t get much more narrow than that. After falling into that niche, she enhanced her
Internet presence on the topic and joined a related listserv. The article reports that cases came
pouring in, and she spoke to over 1500 potential clients in less than one year. Today the firm
has a national reputation in sexual abuse cases.
A Marketing Strategy, Not a Practice Limitation
Especially in a depressed economy, lawyers fear that niche marketing will limit their ability to
get other business. I assure them that this is a marketing strategy, not necessarily a practice
limitation. You don’t have to turn away other work. Although the website for the Love & Norris
firm highlights their sexual abuse practice, their practice area page references other personal
injury and commercial litigation matters they have handled. As Carolyn Elefant described,
establishing a reputation in the narrow subject of offshore renewable energy gave her exposure
that also led to other work in related fields.
Social Media and Niche Marketing
Harnessing social media makes niche marketing even more powerful. You can join a related
LinkedIn or Facebook group and build relationships with potential clients or referral sources
there. Tweeting on the topic may attract the attention of journalists and conference planners.
The publicity from interviews and speaking opportunities can broaden your client base. Blogging
on your topic will showcase your knowledge and improve the SEO (search engine optimization)
of your website. Read the blogpost of my client, Thomas Fox, for a detailed description of how
he capitalized on the visibility of social media to build a solo practice in a well-defined niche.
If you are a new lawyer, look at Susan and Carolyn’s posts for ideas on identifying a niche that
can give you an edge over more experienced lawyers, or email me for a little help. Experienced
lawyers: look at your previous clients to see what they may have in common. One of my clients
discovered that in his litigation practice he had represented a number of Pakistani convenience
store operators. Can you see how much easier it is to reach out to a well-defined audience like
that than to market a general commercial litigation practice?
Have a little fun with it. Please do share your creative ideas, and feel free to ask me for a little