I go to a lot of legal conferences and inevitably when speaking with attorneys the question comes up “what’s the focus of your practice?” The response is typically something along the lines of “my niche is estate planning” or “I do family law.” For decades a niche was really just a practice focus instead of say a smaller town general practitioner. Well, for decades that was perfectly fine. Not any more. Instead, the niches of the modern lawyer will serve communities and not practice areas. Here are the reasons why.
The modern consumer of legal services has a tremendous number of choices when they need help with a legal issue. In fact, there is about 1 lawyer for every 330 Americans in the United States. Additionally, there are large legal tech companies (think LegalZoom, RocketLawyer and Upcounsel) that also provide simple legal solutions online. This abundance of lawyers and convenient online solutions have really ramped up competition in a significant way.
If you use Google Adwords advertising as a measure of competition, “Attorney” and “Lawyer” both make the list of top 20 most expensive keywords coming in at position #4 and #6, respectively. In order for the modern law firm to compete effectively, they need to find ways to better meet the needs of their clients, or they risk losing them to someone else who will. Even worse yet, they may risk losing business to a do it yourself provider that cannot provide sound legal advice.
On the other side of the problem, the modern small business owner gets pulled in many directions and manages more than they may have had to in the past. Because of this limited time when it comes to dealing with legal issues, they don’t want to have to continually shop for the right person to hire for a given problem. Instead, they want a single solution producer, for the various legal matters they may have to deal with.
Imagine the small business owner that has to deal with a landlord tenant matter one day, a trademark issue the next and contractor issue the following week. For most attorneys that focus on one or two areas, they may have to refer this person out, or risk losing the client to a full service firm. Instead, what law firms should be considering is who specifically is the audience that they wish to serve and creating a niche around them specifically. That’s right, the modern law firm should serve a community and not simply focus on a practice area. I’ll use Counsel for Creators as an example for what I mean.
Counsel for Creators, as the name implies, services creative businesses. That means, that their clients are photographers, developers, creative agencies, musicians and the like. It’s no big surprise that both of the founding partners of Counsel for Creators are also creative types themselves (Jon Tobin – a programmer, DJ and designer; Chuong Bui – a DJ and radio host). Because of their own experience as creators they are able to connect with their audience in a way that other attorneys may not. They can also anticipate the needs of their community in ways that another attorney may not (e.g., they created a ‘work for fame’ contract that requires payment if the fame does not come).
As you can imagine, their community has a range of legal issues ranging from soft IP to business matters, traffic tickets, landlord tenant issues and more. The firm is able to service their needs in just about every category. The client also develops an emotional connection to the relationship and views them not only as trusted advisor but also as someone who gets them in a way another professional might not (empathetic connection).
Serve a community of like minded individuals (e.g., creators, equestrian owners, realtors, software developers, cannabis distributors, etc.)
Being a single solution provider adds convenience and saves time for your client. Time is a valuable asset that your client wants more of.
Developing your own niche does not have to be difficult:
The modern law firm niche is not a practice area, but a decision to serve a particular community of people. The modern lawyer is likely to be a part of that community and serve the role as trusted advisor. In their role as trusted advisor, the expectation is that the advisor will be the lead triage person when a legal issue comes up and help the community member resolve it directly or find an appropriate resource for them. The community you create and serve can still be a fairly focused area (e.g., I help debtors mitigate their payments to creditors) or it can be somewhat more broad as in the example of Counsel for Creators. Finally, this dedication to that community will increase your client acquisition, decrease your advertising costs and increase your expertise. For more examples of firms and organizations that have focused on serving a specific community see the following two examples: