Many new solo practitioners wrestle with the issue of whether to focus their practice in one area of the law to the exclusion of other areas. Some are afraid to walk away from any business and, therefore, think it best to go to market as a generalist.
Unless you practice in a very small town, this strategy is usually a mistake.
If you practice in a suburban or metro area, limiting yourself to certain practice areas is the best strategy. Here’s why.
That’s What Clients Want
When businesses or individuals realize that they need an immigration lawyer, do they ask their friends or colleagues, “Do you know any good lawyers?” No. They ask, “Do you know any good immigration lawyers?”
Are their online search terms “lawyer” and “location”? Here again, no. Instead, they are “immigration lawyer” and “location.”
Clients want lawyers with expertise or perceived expertise in the substantive area of their legal problem. They reasonably assume that lawyers who market themselves only for certain practice areas will do a better job than those who market themselves for many practice areas.
Your Message to the Market Is Clear
Perhaps the two most important settings for marketing your practice are when you network and when you write and design your website.
They key question to ask in either setting is this: How do you want potential clients and referral sources to remember you? Let’s examine each setting.
If you are networking with a criminal defense lawyer, whom you hope will send you future immigration referrals, which of the following do you think will be more effective?
“I’ll do anything that walks in the door and would appreciate any referrals” OR
“All I do is immigration and would appreciate any referrals”
The latter, for two reasons:
First, the criminal defense lawyer will want to refer matters to competent lawyers and will presume that you are competent if immigration is all you do. That won’t necessarily be the case for someone seeking any type of work.
Second, the message is easier to remember. How many lawyers do you know? How many immigration lawyers do you know? My short list is easier to remember for the latter than the former.
As for your website, let’s further assume that the criminal defense lawyer gives out a name to someone who needs help in the immigration arena. Will that person simply call you? No; they will likely Google your name first, especially if they are considering more than one attorney.
When they land on a home page or bio page, which lawyer is more likely to get the call? A lawyer with a website promoting all types of law or a lawyer with a website that screams, “All I do is help clients with immigration problems?”
Needless to say, it’s the lawyer with the second website.
You Should Get More Referrals, Not Less
Besides having a clearer message, there is another reason why specializing should lead to more referrals. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that lawyers need to be very careful about how and when to use the word, “specialize” because of ethics rules. See your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for more information).
Referral relationships should be mutually beneficial. The best ones are where the parties scratch one another’s back. If you turn away work that’s not in your area and refer it to another lawyer, that same lawyer will be far more likely to refer work back to you in your area. In short, the more you give, the more you should receive.
I Only Do “X,” and I Do It Well
As a new solo practitioner, avoid the temptation to be all things to everyone. Yes, it is certainly possible that, in the short-run, you may be walking away from a matter or two. However, in the long run—which may not even be that long—your practice should grow faster.
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®.