There is a particularly lively debate going on over at Solo Practice University in a community started by the inimitable Chuck Newton called ‘The Third Wave Law Practice”. He is a huge proponent of niche practices and is extraordinarily creative at finding areas of uniqueness to make one competitive in the marketplace.
I’ve chosen to remain on the sidelines because I tend to fall outside this debate because when starting out as a new solo I think the niche right out of the chute, unless you have extensive experience prior to opening a practice, can be a trap and derail you before you ever get your engines going.
I’m going to offer a different perspective on the whole concept of ‘niche’ in this post and my next.
There is much discussion these days that in order to succeed as a solo practitioner you must ‘find your niche.’ However, in the legal profession, when the term ‘niche’ is used, it is more often then not used inaccurately or incompletely. It has generally come to be associated with offering legal services in a given legal practice area such as bankruptcy or real estate. And by extension you are defined in this very limiting way. I propose, this is totally backwards and ruins many a solo practitioner’s best efforts to create a thriving practice and fulfilling life.
According to Wiktionary, a niche is:
(in biology) “A function within an ecological system to which an organism is especially suited.”
(by extension) : “Any position or opportunity for which one is well-suited, such as a particular market in business.”
Therefore, a niche in the legal profession is a particular market for which you are best suited to offer your legal services.
This, by the way, is not semantics. This is an important concept when you are deciding how you can position yourself to a specific target audience and it is based upon the following:
1. Your ‘natural community’ which can be defined as:
- sexual orientation
- major life experiences
- professional experience, and more..
2. The specific needs of a defined market such as:
- Lesbian couples looking to adopt;
- Special Needs Trusts for those with a particular degenerative disease
- Animal Law, specifically challenging states and municipalities and their regulations
Let’s give a more obvious example:
You are double minority, bilingual Hispanic female establishing your life in Virginia. You grew up travelling the world as the child of career military parents who are divorced.
In this example there are many ‘natural communities’ which you can relate to and target.
First, you are a bilingual Hispanic, understand both the military and Hispanic communities and have experienced the divorce process as a child. You reside near military bases.
Providing you have an interest in cultivating your ‘natural community’, you would be a very attractive lawyer for Hispanics in the military because your ‘natural community” already is pre-disposed to relating to you IF you position yourself correctly.
Do you need to limit yourself to a practice area if you’ve defined your niche as “Hispanic military?” Not necessarily.
Remember, a niche is:
“Any position or opportunity for which one is well-suited, such as a particular market in business.”
That being said, you are not limited in your actual practice areas unless you choose to be. (And this is where I and others part company. Many lawyers believe you have to pick one or two practice areas as the law is too complex to do many practice areas effectively. I don’t necessarily buy into this broad-brushed statement or the basis for the statement, but this is Part 2 of ‘Should You Create a Niche Practice’ .) It depends upon you and who you are targeting and their needs.
However, given your life experiences and personal desires you could now offer unique insight into military divorces. But you may decide to work on other matters unique to the military or Hispanics in the military or be a generalist within this ‘niche community’ offering all manner of legal services that specifically serve this defined audience.
I’ll continue Part II in my next blog post.
Any thoughts on how you create a niche?