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 than 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:
- 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 existing regulations
Let’s give a more obvious example:
You are double minority, bilingual Hispanic female establishing your life in Virginia. You grew up traveling the world as the child of career military parents who are now 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 very broad statement or the basis for the statement, but this is Part II 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.
So, ask yourself the following:
1. What is your ‘natural community?’ What do you believe is unique to you, your ethnicity, religion, background, hobbies, geographic location(s), prior work history, the nature of your social network(s), etc.
2. Define who you are in 360 degrees. You are much more than your legal degree. When you start to understand the unique package you represent you will start to understand the type of client who will be most attracted to you and help you to define those you would prefer as clients.
This exercise is just one example of the basis upon which to build your practice. It is certainly not the only one.
Update: Here is Part II
7 comments on “Should You Create A Niche Practice? (Part 1)”
Great post as always Susan. I’m a big fan of a niche practice. I have always enjoyed representing contractors and it was not until I really started pushing construction “risk management” that my practice took off.
Thanks, Chris. As with anything, I believe people need to grow into their ‘niche’ whatever or however defined. In the beginning it is very hard to build a practice (from a financial standpoint) just doing the one thing you believe you want to do. This forecloses opportunities you may have never considered and pigeonholes you into marketing towards what you ‘think’ you may like. Many have thought they would like to practice in a certain area and were surprised how they didn’t but closed the door to other opportunities and experiences prematurely and then felt trapped.
great post, just a nit pick and pet peeve of mine: It is “more often than” not “more often then”.
Good catch. Now for a real laugh, look what my horoscope said today:
“Watch your spelling and punctuation today! Written communication involves more than content. Your grammar, style and attention to detail convey important messages faster than what you are saying does. Double check punctuation and make sure you do a spell check on every single missive — even if it’s just a quick email to a friend about some gossip you just overheard. Get in the habit of practicing flawless communications. Expect more of yourself.”
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