Adventures of a Gen Y Solo Practitioner
Niche Slapped: How I Chose a Niche Area of Law to Practice
Rachel Rodgers, Esq.
Unless you live under a rock, you most likely have been Niche Slapped. When an influential individual in the law convincingly points out to you (whether directly, in a magazine article, or on Twitter) that you will never make a dime until you define a narrow-as-possible-niche in which to practice law, you have been Niche Slapped. Don’t feel bad, it happens to the best of us.
Now, if you are anything like me, once you are Niche Slapped you kick and scream and make argument after argument about how you can be successful without having to create a niche practice. This is what “certain professionals” would call the Denial Phase. After the Denial Phase, is a lovely little doozey called the Frantic Phase. During the Frantic Phase you write list after list and read blog after blog (and book after book) and Google law firm after law firm in a frantic attempt to figure out which niche is right for you. For the lucky few, the Frantic Phase is followed by what Oprah refers to as the “Aha! Moment,” where you suddenly discover your niche and all is right in the world. Unfortunately, for many of us, the Aha! Moment does not come soon enough or never comes at all.
I had the pleasure of being Niche Slapped by Chuck Newton. Chuck is an attorney from Texas, which, from a New Yorker’s perspective, means that he doesn’t beat around the bush. So it wasn’t fun to find out that I had no choice but to develop a niche area of law, and quick. And then when I sent Chuck my “brilliant” niche ideas, he shot them all down (okay, not all, just most). Luckily, Chuck is also the Original Niche Brainstormer and has featured many creative, new niches on his blog. He’ll tell you like it is but then he’s also more than willing to help.
Pakistani Convenience Store Operators or How I Figured Out My Niche
So, after coming to terms with the reality of needing a niche, (if you’re still not convinced, read this) and spending ample time reading up on emerging niches, my Aha! Moment came.
When my practice was only two weeks old, I read a blog article by Debra Bruce, a Texas lawyer-coach (Texans get the whole niche thing). In the article, Debra discussed a method of narrowing your niche for practicing attorneys. She recommended looking at one’s current clients and finding the commonalities between them to define a niche. The example Debra gave was of a litigation attorney who had several clients who happened to be Pakistani Convenience Store Operators. So the attorney had the option of narrowing his niche to ‘Pakistani Convenience Store Operator Litigator’ by creating a page on his website specifically for Pakistani Convenience Store Operators, marketing specifically to networking groups that Pakistani Convenience Store Operators frequent, etc.
At the time, I had only acquired three clients but they all had a few things in common: they had all hired me to handle business law issues, they were all entrepreneurs or wannabe entrepreneurs and all of them were under 32. With some additional research, the practice area emerged: I am the Generation Y Entrepreneur Lawyer!
This method worked great for me because I already had a few clients. For the new attorney that has no clients yet, there is another method.
The Double-Narrow Rule or What If You Don’t Have Clients Yet?
The Double-Narrow Rule (which I just made up, but think it will work well) requires that you narrow a practice area at least twice to define a suitable niche. Maybe you had plans to practice Trusts & Estates or Family Law. Well, who isn’t practicing one of those areas these days? Try to narrow the area of law into a smaller piece of the practice area pie. Then once you have narrowed it, do it again. Let’s try it!
So you want to practice Family Law? Great, you’ll only have 20 million other lawyers in your jurisdiction as competition. That’ll make it easy to garner attention of prospective clients; or not! Let’s narrow Family Law into an area within Family Law, say Child Support. Okay, now you’re a Child Support lawyer, way better than Family Law but let’s get even narrower (remember to narrow at least twice!). How about handling child support cases for father’s only? Now you have an awesome little niche catering to dear old Dads that are getting screwed in the child support department. No shortage of those, right? Plus, they’ll love that your firm is catering specifically to their legal problem.
But, dare I say, we can get even narrower then that (this is the Triple-Narrow Rule; only for the brave). How about handling child support cases for fathers in the military?! Try Googling Child Support Lawyer for Military Fathers. I bet there are not nearly as many lawyers focusing on that narrow area of law in your jurisdiction as Family Law. Now you can market your practice in a really tailored way and you have the opportunity to become the expert of a niche: Child Support Law for Military Fathers. That is much easier than trying to become the expert in all of Family Law, right?
How Defining a Niche Has Helped My Practice
My first few weeks of soloing were daunting and I had no idea where my next clients would come from or how to reach them. When I began to market myself as “Innovative Legal Counsel for Generation Y Entrepreneurs” my practice exploded in a way I never would have imagined. I was able to publish articles tailored to my ideal clients on websites like Under30CEO.com and TheCashFlow.com. I also started receiving attention from some of the more well-known young entrepreneurs and have been asked to do presentations and webinars. I am now a trusted resource for young entrepreneurs because my services are made specifically for them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have put a lot of effort into marketing my practice but establishing the niche has made my marketing efforts much more effective.
Other great articles on niche practice: The Big Question: Should You Create a Niche Practice – Part I and Part II.
So what practice areas are you considering? Share them in the comments and I will brainstorm with you to narrow them into a niche.
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®.
32 comments on “Niche Slapped: How I Chose a Niche Area of Law to Practice”
Thanks for the Niche Slap, Rachel! We all need to be Niche slapped every now and then.
Originally, I thought I was going to be an Immigration Attorney (me and everyone else I know), but applying the Double-Narrow Rule I’ll handle Family Immigration Law for non-Immigration Attorneys. Applying the Triple-Narrow Rule (I’m quite brave!), I’m an Immediate Family Visa Freelance Lawyer (I lost count, that might be Quadruple-Narrow).
Anyway, thanks for the informative post (and Niche Slap).
Awesome, Paul! I love it! You’ll have much less competition this way and be able to really establish yourself as an expert with that narrow area of law. My guess is you’ll eventually have people from all over the country contacting you for your expertise on immediate family visa law. And it makes it easier for you to stay current on the law since its a narrower area. Go get ‘em!
I really like the process you lay out here for defining a more specific niche – a niche within a niche. I plan on using this to more narrowly define some of my practice areas. Thanks.
Loyd, its my pleasure! We need a process for narrowing a niche otherwise we just spend days, weeks, months in never ending brainstorming. Glad I could help!!
Okay, let’s work through this process… I’m interested in small estate planning and small business, so I was thinking of being the guy that helps families transfer their family business to the next generation whether while alive or as part of an estate plan. Is that niched enough? There’s still not a natural market there. So I was thinking about things I know. I worked in trucking for about 5 years before law school but I never want to do trucking accident stuff. Maybe market specifically to owner-operator truck drivers? But should I limit myself to that group or just call that one target market of many? Maybe I’ll do the family biz transfer practice area then my website will have an “industry” tab which I’ll add to as I step into each new industry. I can market to owner-op drivers, but I’ll drown if I limit myself to that, right?
What a great post. I’m preparing for solo practice and was hit with the Niche Slap too. I decided I want to do Criminal Defense. I’ve narrowed that down to defending those accused of drug crimes, but your Double-Narrow Rule has me thinking of ways to narrow even more! Any suggestions or thoughts?
P.S., I didn’t mean to call you Nicole. This is what happens when you type to one person while speaking to another. My apologies Rachel!
No worries! We’re all multi-taskers. Lol.
Drug crimes is really broad. Choosing a particular demographic (such as women accused of drug crimes or immigrants accused of drug crimes) or a particular drug (marijuana is popular these days) can help you narrow it one more time.
Also check out these posts on the medical marijuana niche (http://stayviolation.typepad.com/chucknewton/2010/03/medical-marijuana-law-niche.html) and the thug law niche (http://stayviolation.typepad.com/chucknewton/2009/05/the-thug-law-niche.html). Not gonna lie, the thug law niche had me cracking up but it seems to be working for that lawyer.
Thanks for the response!
Marijuana is always what I limit it to in my mind, though now I see that I should probably express that. I was also considering narrowing it to first time offenders, or young people accused of drug crimes, but I’m not sure if that’s the right way to go. Young, first-time offenders accused of drug crimes involving marijuana?
First Time Marijana Offense Lawyer? Sounds like you’ll be very successful.
Mike, let’s start at the beginning. You want to do estate planning. Narrowing once, you have identified estate planning for small business owners. But you need to narrow twice. So let’s narrow one more time: Business succession planning for owner-operator truck drivers. I love it! I think that is perfect! You already have the connections in trucking and one trucker will tell another and before you know it you’ll have enough clients to support your practice.
I would resist the temptation to add more than one niche at the outset. Do not worry about being too narrow! Once you get started you’ll be surprised at the response you’ll get from people in your niche. They will love you simply because your practice is tailored to them.
Now think about all the ways you can market to truckers: maybe a virtual law office for them since they are always on the road, people you know that you can send announcements of your new practice to, trucking conventions you could speak at, etc.
Great post Rachel! My wife and I just had an almost all day conversation yesterday surrounding this exact topic. The narrowing process really makes the whole endeavor of going solo less daunting.
Dave, the niche decision can get SO out of control, right? Glad I could help! Let me know what you come up with!
Your post struck a chord and you found a good way to help a bunch of people grasp how to create a marketing niche for themselves. Well done! Thanks for the hat tip to my article, too.
For some people the idea of niche marketing will still be scary. I like to remind them that that it is a marketing strategy. It does NOT mean they can’t accept any other kind of clients. And once they actually get to serve their niche clients, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to let them know about the additional services they offer.
BTW, Rachel, congrats on building up your practice. And on finding a niche that you can get excited about. It’s fun to see how your thinking evolved.
Debra, isn’t that funny? I was totally against the niche thing but it has totally helped me in my practice. How could I not mention your post? It was that post that helped me discover my niche!! So I have to pay it forward by helping others.
I graduated and passed the Bar last year. First, let me say finding you was a God-send! Knowing it is okay to take my time setting up my practice is a relief. I just crossed over into the “Aha Moment” stage, but felt outside pressure to get things moving. (friends and family, not the husband.)
My niche: rural family law limited scope practice via VLO. ( I live in semi-rural NE GA). The economy has fueled the increase in pro se litigants, and they often make a mess of things. Judges in our district want solutions.
This has been narrowed multiple times. Any suggestions to further narrow?
There are tons of resources out there for this emerging practice model, and I need time to research and ruminate, as you have, before I get out there. Thanks on many, many levels.
Adrianne, so glad I could help!
I think that in rural practice there is an exception to the niche rule. Its still important to have a niche but sometimes because there are not as many lawyers you may find yourself being more of a generalist. However, I think focusing on family law for pro se litigants where you guide them and give them the tools to represent themselves is a great niche for rural practice. Check out http://www.illinoisdivorce.com for a good example of a VLO family law practice.
Rachel, thank you for the honorable mention. I will be happy to shoot down your ideas any time you like.
I know I can’t count on you, Chuck!
That was supposed to say CAN not CAN’T. Oops.
you hit it right on the head and your success proves it. But let me offer another thought: who says you have to have one niche? Are there not potentially dozens of niches in family law? Who says that your office can have only one website? Why not have a mini-website for each niche?
What I am arguing is that most commentators define the niche concept too narrowly. That is not to say that a niche area of practice should not be as narrow as the population you wish to serve. It should be. All communication about that service rings like a bell to a prospective client: “She understands me!” What I am saying is that after you develop a niche, don’t stop go for more! You can have separate communication sets for high-tech entrepreneurs, hip-clothing entrepreneurs, IPhone app entrepreneurs, and on and on.
(FWIW, I wrote about this in my book, “The Aristotelian Method: Practice Development and Marketing for Lawyers on a Shoestring Budget.)
Thanks for your comments and compliments! I agree that attorneys can definitely establish more than one niche, however, we often have trouble coming up with even one niche. Hopefully, this method will help young lawyers discover 1 or more niches that they could practice in. Having different websites or blogs tailored to different niches is definitely a possibility and a strategy that has worked for several lawyers. For example, Sam Glover of Lawyerist has two blogs/websites for his two niche: http://thegloverlawfirm.com.
(Hope you don’t mind if I extend the conversation a bit further)
There is no denying, when fully and properly used, the niche practice concept is an unbeatable way to develop a practice. It provides structure around which a lawyer can engage in a coherent marketing campaign where each message builds and reinforces. This is much better than a “try anything once” approach. A niche practice is a smart, satisfying practice.
But what of a lawyer that has a bit of a practice and does not want to let go of that work? There are still lawyers who like general practice. They like being a community leader who can take care of the needs of their friends and neighbors. I am advocating that lawyers can apply the benefits of thinking in “niche” to any practice. In other words, one can have a general practice, yet have many “niches.” I grant I am using the concept broadly and some might say wrongly, but let’s think creatively.
Let’s say I represent driving while impaired clients. On review of my clientele I see two clusters of clients. There is one group of young men “hell raisers” who like to party after they get their paycheck (after a hard work week who does not want to celebrate in some way?). The second group is of middle aged drivers who often are ticketed after drinking too much at an office party. The first group feels picked on by the cops and wants to fight back. The second group is embarrassed and does not want the word to get back to their job where they could miss a promotion etc. They want the matter to go away quickly and quietly. It is very clear that my marketing message to each group will be very different. I can have pages on my website that cater to each population – a mini website. I can have separate blogs supporting each.
All the best,
U sound like you are the next Oprah already. I loved your article.
I am a foreign trained attorney with an LLM from Georgetown. I am also licensed to practice in NY. However I am looking at moving to Austin to start up a firm with a friend. I cannot practice Texas law just yet. I need to prove that I have practiced Federal Law for 3yrs before I can be allowed to take Texas bar!!!!!( stringent measures only for foreign trained attorneys!). Anyway, long story short, I have shortlisted my federal law interests to Immigration, Social Security Disability/Income; Consumer Bankruptcy and Immigration. Question now, how would I carve a niche in any of these areas.. I cannot begin to imagine the 2 part narrow rule for consumer bankruptcy or SSD/SSI. HELP!!!!!!!!!
Sorry I am so late in responding to your comment. Just wanted to say that with all those areas you can narrow the niche by determining what types of people/businesses you will serve. I am pretty sure Chigozie is a Nigerian name (please correct me if I’m wrong – I spent some time in Lagos), so maybe with immigration you could focus on immigration law for people from Nigeria or even West Africa. However, I still think that is a bit broad. It may be better to focus on immigration for Nigerians emigrating to the US for education purposes. You could possibly create relationships with colleges in the US, who attract international students from West Africa as referral sources. I think that would be very appealing to foreign students trying to navigate the US immigration system. I have several good friends from Nigeria who attended school here and many of them would have loved to have such a resource.
Hope that helps!
I just stumbled across your website. I’ve been contemplating going off on my own on and off for years. I was a employed, laid off, employed again-and throughout this time, I keep considering going off on my own-Your website seems to be a great tool and source of inspiration! For my niche, I would consider doing trademarks/franchise law (that is my area of experience_, how would you narrow it more? This whole process seems so daunting, but much more rewarding!
One way to narrow franchise law is to focus on particular types of franchises. Something that comes to mind is franchises related to children such as after school centers, like Kumon, or art and/or music businesses for children. To narrow it even further, you could focus on Mompreneurs who are interested in purchasing or already own a franchise. Or Mompreneurs who want to franchise their kid-focused business. That is quite narrow and would be very appealing to those covered by the niche. That’s just one example, but I hope that helps you see how you can narrow down your practice areas to be really exciting to the folks in your niche.
Hello Ms. Rodgers!
I enjoyed your article immensely! It is very positive and encouraging. I am a third year law student and I am preparing to take a bar, but I am not sure where. In terms of practicing, did you select your area based on your law school classes ? And what influenced you the most?
Hi Rachel- I am considering opening my own firm in Maryland. I am interested in Traffic law, Civil Rights law, and Family Law. I would like some insight from you on how to go about narrowing my practice areas so that I am able to make myself more marketable. Thanks in advance!
What a great article. What about someone like me who graduated from law school a few years ago, practiced in a nonprofit agency, and now works for the federal government doing quasi legal work dealing w/ contract negotiations, modifying, and drafting legal documents? is there a niche for me? I live in OK and I’ve been trying to get a job in the federal government as an attorney in acquisitions law for years, but to no avail. My background before law school was in special education. Any advice? I really enjoy helping those who can’t help themselves.
I would imagine my interests would be in real estate, family law, or human rights. I know the most about real estate at the moment so using that – I could narrow it down to residential transactions and then narrow it down again for the first time home buyer maybe. Hmmm. Thoughts?
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