Trailblazing: How to Start a Niche Practice
Developing a niche practice — one that focuses on a specific type of law — is a great way to gain clients, reduce competition, and build your reputation as the “go-to” lawyer for a particular practice area. Here are some tips on getting your niche practice off and running.
Find your passion
When it comes to developing a niche practice, the old adage, “Do something you love and the money will follow,” holds true. Adam Karp, a Bellingham lawyer whose practice focuses on animal law throughout the Pacific Northwest, suggests that anyone interested in developing a niche practice start by writing down what they are passionate about. Then take stock of what you do best. “The ideal practice area,” Karp explains, “weds your passions and abilities.”
Consider also the saturation level for your niche. If the supply-side (i.e., lawyers) market for your niche area is full, consider focusing on a more narrow subset of that practice area. “Animal law isn’t just one type of law,” explains Karp. “It arises in such cases as equine liability, animal cruelty prosecution, veterinary malpractice, dog bites and dog frights, federal civil rights violations arising from police shooting animals, and many others.
“The more specialized you become,” notes Karp, “the thinner the herd of competitors.” Drilling down into a more narrow practice area can reduce competition and make it more likely that you will corner the market.
But a niche practice involves a trade-off. The more narrowly focused you become, the less likely it is that your services will be required (more people are likely to have some sort of animal law case than a “pet lien” case). That’s why Karp recommends that attorneys develop expertise in several narrow subsets of a practice area. (Ethics Red Flag: RPC 7.4 generally prohibits lawyers from stating that they “specialize in” or are “experts of” a particular area of the law. In describing your services to the community, use other terms such as “focus on” or “limits practice to.”)
Other times, the market for a particular type of legal service is not only unsaturated, but, at first glance, seems arcane and even irrelevant. The absence of a current legal market, while certainly something to research and consider, should not automatically deter you from pursuing that particular subset of the law. “When I started out,” Karp recalls, “virtually nobody was practicing animal law…. I had the rare and much appreciated opportunity to blaze a trail.” Over the years, Karp managed to develop a thriving animal law practice where virtually none existed before.
Do your homework
After selecting your niche areas, accumulate as much information as possible. “Read as much as you can,” suggests Bellingham attorney Steve Chance, who focuses on insurance and bad faith litigation. Books, law journals, law review articles, legislation, case law, and practice guides are great resources to develop a base of knowledge.
If you can, find a mentor who practices in your focus area. A good mentor can enhance your learning process. “Another way to get your skills up,” says Chance, “is to take cases pro bono. There’s no better way to learn than by doing.”
Get your name out there
The last step in developing a niche practice is to let your community know the types of services you provide. One way to do this is by formal advertising. But there are many other ways to let your community know about your services. “I hardly do any paid advertising,” says Karp. Instead, Karp recommends that lawyers take advantage of the myriad ways of gaining name recognition, including using social media, attending local networking events, and taking cases pro bono.
Another way to gain recognition as the go-to person for a particular type of case is to offer to speak and write about your practice area. Volunteer to speak, start blogging, or write for your local bar. “After a while,” Chance explains, “people start referring to you because your name becomes associated with a certain practice area.”