One of the highlights of being a solo is the ability to choose your niche. Picking an area of law that you can actually enjoy instead of one that you simply tolerate is a huge bonus for me. After all, I like what I do and I want it to stay that way.
For lawyers who want to do good by doing well, picking a practice area is also about 1) identifying a need in whatever community you find yourself and 2) finding a way to meet that need. As noted by A.G. Jackson, part of your goal as a business owner (and yes, even do-gooder attorneys are business owners) is to:
“find a need and fill it. [Because] successful businesses are founded on the needs of people.”
However, in order for that relationship to work (i.e. for attorneys to use their skills to meet the needs they identify) – the community you are targeting has to 1) recognize that the need exists and 2) see you as someone who can help them meet that need.
But what if your client base is comprised of people who have grown accustomed to not having that need met? What if you’re surrounding community has adjusted to the injustice that gave rise to the need in the first place?
I encountered this first hand when I began speaking with my target market. Quite frankly, when I spoke about issues like consumer rights and debt collection abuse – prospective clients looked at me like I had two heads. My target market had become so accustomed to the machinations of unscrupulous payday lenders, interest rates that would make Satan blush and other types of economic abuses, that it was commonplace.
When I began talking about the fact that debt collectors are prohibited from treating people like criminals because they owe money – people literally laughed out loud. When I described the protections afforded by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other consumer rights support systems – people in my community literally did not know how to respond. Many thought the FDCPA was some new legislation written into law by President Obama’s administration. Once I told them the law was more than 30 years old – they thought I was joking.
Now here is the dilemma: no matter how passionate you may be about your practice area – if your client base hasn’t a clue as to how you can help them then your practice will be short lived.
Before I could effectively serve my target community I had to first educate them about what the law could actually do. Shiny brochures and glossy pictures were not going to cut it. Like all distinct communities, mine speaks a particular language and processes messages in a particular way.
My first step was to create a community specific marketing campaign that was two fold. Before I could offer a solution I had to provide information that educated them about economic rights in general. Only after they understood their power and legal options could I begin talking about how the law could help.
I started by joining in the conversations that my target community was having about debt. I took off my lawyer hat and began frequenting the places where those conversations were taking place, like churches, libraries, schools and community forums. I didn’t join as an “attorney-with-the-answers” but as a fellow community member who shared many of the same issues and fears that they did.
Once I better understood where my target market was coming from – I began translating those conversations into an educational marketing campaign. My goal was to provide as much informational material as I could offer with an eye towards empowering prospective clients.
I started with a blog that addressed many of the issues I uncovered in those conversations. Next came an online radio show designed to tackle some broader economic justices issues that couldn’t fit into a blog space. Recognizing the need for more substantive education, I created a workshop series that targets churches, community organizations and other groups where my prospects are located.
At the end of the day your community is simply better off when its members understand their rights. And if your community’s legal needs have gone largely unanswered for an extended period of time – educational marketing can be both your best friend and cheerleader. Being passionate about your practice area is a great place to start. But you have to be able to translate that passion in a way that has practical implications for your audience.
In addition to literally helping you to tap into a market that was previously neglected, educating them about their power makes for a more energized and self-determining community. Once they begin to recognize that they have rights they will come to know when those rights are being violated. And if you’ve done your job as an educator your market will come to see you as the person who can help them in that time of need.
Regardless of how you define your community when it comes to choosing your practice area, one of the most important things you can remember is that successful law practices are founded on the needs of people. Finding the need is just the beginning. Helping your community understand the need and how you can help fill it will determine your ability to grow.
How are you finding and addressing the needs of your community? Please share in the comments.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.