Should You Create A Niche Practice? (Part II)

In Part I we defined what a niche really is and discussed the concept of natural community to help you carve out your niche.

Now let’s talk about the traditional definition of ‘niche’ in the legal community – a given practice area, a specific type of law you want to practice because your motivation is enjoyment or profitability, or a particular motivation which makes you believe you want to limit yourself to that particular practice area.

The conventional wisdom is one MUST limit themselves to one or two areas of law in order to be truly skilled at it or to be able to navigate the  complexities.  The other piece of conventional wisdom is you will be perceived as an expert in that area if it is all you do.  Can we all see how flawed this logic is?  Practicing one area of law doesn’t make you good at it. (neither does many years).  It just means you practice one area of law (and possibly repeating one year of knowledge 10 or 15 years!) and there is a perception you must know what you are doing.  Do you know a lawyer like that?

Either you’re a good lawyer or you’re not.  Limiting yourself to one practice area does not automatically make you brilliant in that practice area.  Is there a higher likelihood you can be more competent if you only practice one area of law?  Probably.  Can you be perceived as competent because you only practice one area of law?  Probably.  But neither one is a foregone conclusion.  And it also doesn’t mean a lawyer who handles multiple practice areas is not qualified to do so or not highly skilled. Perception and reality are two different animals.

However, as a rule most lawyers do like to concentrate in one or two practice areas but there are some pitfalls.  First, as we are seeing with the struggles in the economy, if you are married to one practice area and economic times change, your practice may take a hit or need to be radically transformed in order to adapt and stay profitable… unless you are absolutely on the top of the heap in your practice area or have a captive market which generally results from being ‘highly’ specialized.

Second, sometimes we are so fixated on practicing one area of law we foreclose other opportunities which find us in surprising ways.

True Story: One of my clients was absolutely committed to health care law representing doctors.  His background was in health care law and his family was filled with physicians.  He felt this was his ‘natural community’ combined with his interests. When he opened his solo practice clients were referred to him in areas of law he thought he had no interest.  I encouraged him to take the cases and try them on for size.  One was a divorce, another probate.  He disliked the divorce,  liked the probate.  One man he had known for a long time asked him to handle a few landlord/tenant cases and some debt collection.  He figured, “why not.”  Well, today he has a six figure landlord tenant and debt/collection practice with a healthy dose of probate and his name has become synonymous with these practice areas in his county.  That was just three short years ago.  (And, as an aside, he regularly is approached by headhunters to interview for jobs in healthcare law…he goes, but just to feed his ego and then says, ‘no thanks.’)

The moral of the story is this:

There are many kinds of niches and they are driven by:

  • your natural community; or
  • demographics; or
  • practice area; or
  • a combination of some or all of the above

some by design, some by accident.

But regardless your efforts to absolutely plan, don’t disregard opportunities because of the plan.

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One comment on “Should You Create A Niche Practice? (Part II)

  • Susan,

    Good points all. While I fully agree that staying in an area of law is the best way to get experience and expertise as well as a perception of being knowledgeable (I have a recent example of a client calling me because he wanted a construction lawyer and not just a business lawyer), I can see how “blinders” can develop.

    I see this as a pyramid. At least from my experience, you start with the more general and then find what you like and go with it. Liking what you do (whether the general or the specific) can only increase your job satisfaction and keep you wanting to know more. However, even in a relatively specific area like mine, construction, I have had to learn a bit of bankruptcy, a bit of tax, some general business law and all of the other things that affect my clients.

    If nothing else, I now know people I can ask with questions, whether in other states or just those with more experience in particular areas.

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