Every Lawyer Needs a Niche. What’s Yours?
For lawyers trying to expand their practices, their first instinct is to broaden their marketing efforts and client base. It seems like a simple numbers game: offer more services to more people and you’ll always have a steady stream of clients, right?
Not so, according to Nathan Darling, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Beveridge & Diamond. Instead, he says lawyers should dig deeper to find specific areas they can focus on and excel in. As a recent guest on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, Nathan talked about the importance of specialization and why finding a niche can make your marketing and business development efforts soar.
Here are his five tips on how to find your specialty and leverage it:
- Tip 1: Watch industry trends to find your niche
No matter the industry, there are always new companies opening and old companies innovating. Your specialty can develop organically just from helping clients evolve and adapt to the changing marketplace. Where are your clients’ industries headed? What services can you offer that will help them for years to come? Doing a bit of research, even if that just means setting a few Google alerts, can help you better understand your clients’ industries and refine your specialty.
Another way to find your niche is to draw on the core strengths you already have. Look to the left or right of your current practice and consider the related industries as well as companies and clients that have an unfilled need and consider how your strengths might benefit them. This allows you to explore new niches from the relative safety of your existing practice.
- Tip 2: Specialize to jump-start your career
Narrowing your practice, rather than trying to be all things for all clients, works for lawyers in all stages of their careers, but it can be especially helpful for young lawyers establishing their practice. Developing a niche creates more opportunity and helps you stand out from the pack, even if you don’t have a ton of experience yet.
For example, an up-and-coming employment lawyer might be particularly well-placed to help small, family-run companies. Narrowing down his ideal client gives him a foothold in a crowded field and it gives him a brand distinct from his peers. When he’s asked what he does for a living, instead of saying, “I’m an employment lawyer,” he can say “I help growing family businesses with compliance matters.” It’s much more interesting and it gives people a better sense of what he’s all about.
- Tip 3: Follow your passion
The happiest and most successful lawyers are the ones who have chosen to practice in an area that aligns with their personal interests. If you do work you can get excited about, you won’t just be a better lawyer, but a better marketer, business developer and client manager. Clients can tell when you genuinely care about the work you’re doing for them. These passions can point you toward a specialty you can thrive in.
Your interests can also be a personal or humanitarian cause. If you’re passionate about women succeeding in business, you might orient part of your practice toward representing women, or you could offer free or discounted services to female entrepreneurs. Even if your passions aren’t enough to base an entire specialty on, they can be an important part of your pro bono work, networking activities and philanthropy, which all connect back to your overall marketing and business development strategy.
- Tip 4: Use your specialty to network and cultivate referrals
Having a specialty helps you stand out and get those all-important referrals. When asked for a reference it’s easier for your colleagues to say, “I know a lawyer who does exactly the type of law you need,” rather than point someone toward a garden-variety lawyer. Your specialty differentiates you and keeps you top of mind among clients and peers.
A niche is also a great networking tool. Almost every large professional organization, especially for diverse and minority lawyers, has subcommittees and practice affinity groups. Joining groups that align with or complement your specialty can help you find referral sources you’ve never tapped into before. The key here is to participate in professional organizations with an attitude of giving. How can you help someone? What needs can you fill for other people’s clients? It might sound self-serving, but in truth you’re helping your peers and building a strong referral network.
If an organization or practice affinity group doesn’t already exist for your specialty, you have an opportunity to create one. It doesn’t need to be in person, either; there are lots of virtual ways to share your expertise and connect with people across geographical boundaries, from LinkedIn groups to blogging.
- Tip 5: Specialize the client experience, too
In the coming years, Nathan predicts we’ll see a return to the time when lawyers were trusted advisers and the client experience was king. Rather than differentiate based on legal services, attorneys will differentiate themselves based on the client experience they provide. The most successful lawyers will develop practices that are highly tailored, molding themselves to accommodate every client’s individual needs.
Technology will make it easier for lawyers to provide the specialized service that will be so important in the future. Consumers today are used to controlling their every experience, from customizing their coffee through an app to choosing their specific seat in the movie theater. Savvy law firms will take note of this and use technology to provide customized services to their clients.