Most lawyers have a well-defined niche they are happy with, and can skip this week’s post. But if your niche is not well-defined, or you are worried about its financial future, or you just changed jobs and need to re-focus, or you don’t like the work you do, or you are an associate just starting your career, this is the most important marketing decision you must make.
When associates start their legal careers, the world is a blank page, and it will take years to experiment with and define the best niche. For most mid-career attorneys, the challenge is different: defining a niche that builds on your history and practice, and refining it to get more value from your time. Business development is most efficient when you focus on activities which allow you to get more from the relationships you already have.
The central questions lawyers face in defining a niche are similar to those every entrepreneur faces in starting a new business, including:
• What type of legal work do I like to do?
• How much of a market is there for that kind of work?
• Is the market for those services stable, growing, or shrinking?
• What type of client do I want to work with?
• What experience do I have?
• Who do I know?
• How important are lifestyle issues vs. revenue?
• What types of risks and sacrifices are acceptable, and what types are not?
There’s nothing easy about any of these questions, and it may take some time to come up with the niche that best balances your desires against financial realities.
In large firms, the niche is ideally defined for a practice group, because there is strength in numbers. A practice group niche should be broad enough to provide a steady stream of work for several lawyers, but narrow enough to be realistic given the marketing time most lawyers can spare, such as:
• White collar defense attorneys for East Coast financial services companies.
• Tax and estate planning attorneys for physicians in and around Chicago
• National experts in mid-sized Department of Defense contracts for the aviation industry.
Note that the first two examples include the geographical area that lawyers are focusing on, because the closer you can stay to home, the easier it will be to build the personal relationships that lead to new business. The last example is a national niche, which is most appropriate for highly specialized areas of the law.
As you plan for the future, your marketing department can provide an enormous amount of information and advice on national and regional trends.
But while you are working on all this, it is important to remember to develop new business in the niche you already have. Many lawyers would rather analyze their options than get out of the office to meet potential clients. But meeting with clients will not only help you to make a living in the short term, it will also help you to understand the market opportunities that exist today. So while you’re working out that ideal answer, write down the niche you serve right now. Then ask yourself: What should I do today to increase new business?
This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference. For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.