4 Reasons Why You Should Consider Becoming a Specialist
In 2017, I wrote about being a specialist versus a generalist and the pros and cons of marketing yourself as either.
Recently, Corporate Counsel reporters Scott Flaherty and Phillip Bantz declared that we’re entering the age of the specialist. Obviously, specialists have always existed, but now we’re seeing “superspecialists” who are experts in increasingly niche areas. Clients, especially those in tech or other burgeoning industries, want to know that their lawyer has not only handled similar cases, but also cases with the exact same issues. Rather than settling for the lawyer whose skill set is “close enough,” clients are hunting down lawyers with their exact specifications, and they’re going to never-before-seen lengths to find them.
Of course, not everyone can be a specialist. Firms will always need that one person who can wear many different hats. And all specialists live with the risk of their specialty becoming obsolete. However, if you want to take advantage of the shift toward specialization, now is a great time to do it. Consider specializing if the following apply to you:
You’re a solo or small firm.
Big firms often position themselves as one-stop-shops that can solve any legal problem a client has. While that works for Big Law, solos and boutiques shouldn’t sell the same thing because they don’t have the same capacity. That’s why specialization is key for these firms.
Small firms can have difficulty determining their marketing strategy and establishing their place in the competitive landscape. Focusing on a specialty can help clarify a small firm’s position and keep it competitive with the “big guys” trying to move into their local markets. For example, Flaherty and Bantz spoke to a former car engine builder who now exclusively represents racing industry clients in upstate New York. How many big firm attorneys can say they have that expertise?
You want to command higher fees.
Experts at the top of their game may be in the company of very few people, or they could be the only person with their skill set. (The Corporate Counsel article mentions a lawyer who specializes in emojis. While the article doesn’t say whether he’s the world’s only emoji lawyer, we can’t imagine there are many others like him).
When a client has a specific problem and you’re the only person with the knowledge to solve it, they will pay top dollar for your services. Specialists simply have more negotiating power, and with good reason: they have a unique expertise and years of experience. It seems counterintuitive, but if you want more high-paying business prospects, go deeper instead of wider (even if you don’t go as far as becoming an emoji lawyer).
You want an edge when it comes to working with in-house counsel.
In-house counsel have to be generalists, so when they decide it’s time to seek outside assistance, it makes sense they’d want someone with exactly the expertise they need. Why would they work with an outside attorney whose insight matches their own, doesn’t bring anything new to the table and only sort of fits the bill?
The Corporate Counsel article also notes that in-house counsel have budget constraints and approval processes that affect who they can hire. Convincing decision-makers to approve these expenditures is much easier when the outside firm specializes in what the company needs. In the eyes of potential corporate clients, a lawyer who regularly works for similar companies on similar matters is more appealing than a lawyer whose interests are divided among several practice areas.
You’ve settled on your career interests.
As we wrote in last year’s blog, younger professionals are usually generalists because they don’t have enough experience to specialize in one area. This is a good thing—everyone needs time to explore their career interests and improve their skills. But if you’re past this stage and you’ve discovered the clients and cases you like to work on, it might be time to double down on your professional interests.
So, how do you determine your specialty? There’s really no limit to what you can specialize in, although it should be broad enough that you’ll have a steady flow of business. Of course, you should be good at it, but you should also enjoy working in your niche—after all, you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it.