The Pros and Cons of Niche Practice Marketing

In a world where every law firm is (or says) they are “full-service,” comes this issue of Law Practice Today dedicated to niche practice marketing. Depending on your firm, practice and related industries, a niche can be many things to many people—with no real right or wrong answers.

What are some examples of a niche practice?

  • A sole practitioner who only writes appellate briefs.
  • An intellectual property boutique law firm that only works in tech.
  • A hospitality industry practice within a BigLaw firm.
  • A law firm that only represents religious institutions.

The list of possibilities is endless. In this issue, we have attorneys describing a variety of niche practices, including marijuana (a red-hot niche area in which I personally do not partake) and red light camera/photo radar tickets (in which you might say I’ve needed counsel).

In recent weeks, I’ve worked with firms establishing niche practices in the craft brew industry; another where the niche is diversity, as a member of NAMWOLF (the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms);  and yet another focused on geographic location. The niche can be about an attorney’s unique skill-set, where you live, what you primarily work on, and, in most cases where we are being very strategic in marketing a niche—seeing opportunity.

What are the pros of establishing and/or marketing a niche practice?

In this Internet age, potential clients are looking for someone who does specifically what they need. Instead of googling “lawyer,” they’re googling “fired from my government job without cause,” “lawyers who know farming,” “lawyer who can help me with my DUI,” or “m&a law firms in software industry.” These searches might be by Johnny Consumer or Jane Mega-Corporation. Clients are looking for someone with experience in a specific need niche. This is the beauty of a well-crafted, niche-specific blog or blog post that might pop up.

A niche practice is not going to help you if I’m an in-house counsel with a bet-the-farm litigation that is going to hire a BigLaw partner who buries the other side (and covers my own rear). However, for every one of those, there are hundreds of other matters where showing niche expertise can help win the day.

It is a powerful pro to say that you have this specific experience, or you do it all the time, or it is the only thing you do. In some cases, great niche marketing can trump actual niche experience. If you paint the right picture, you may very well send a stronger message. Solid niche marketing means saying so in-depth on your website and/or blog; being a member of a related industry organization or association; or speaking or writing or exhibiting at a trade show or meeting of such related industry. In many cases, these are longer-term, grass-roots type marketing efforts. Unless you have a wheelbarrow full of money (and you might), the ramp-up time to establishing yourself as a player in a niche could be a few years.

Another pro is seeking to establish a new practice to perhaps replace one that is waning, or add one for growth. As noted, this might be focusing on an underserved geographic area. Or perhaps a new law or a change in political climate (ahem) makes for new litigation or regulatory specialities. In many cases, the best niche marketing is based on the most simple of premises—you have a personal interest. You enjoy it. It is fun. If you can marry fun with new business, what is better than that?

I’ve worked with firms that spent months brainstorming a niche to focus on. In many cases, they organically appear. Many sports law-focused firms were employment lawyers who happened to get a labor matter from a sports team. Next thing you know, you are working on sponsorships or broadcast rights. Personally, when I discuss my own substantive law practice, “ethics issues as they relate to marketing and advertising in relation to the Rules of Professional Conduct and related bar inquiries,” I explain just how super-niche it is. But it did not sprout from some great strategic plan. It happened because I learned about the area of law, wrote about it, spoke about it, and started getting calls about it. But once I realized it was a lucrative niche, growing in need, and something a tiny handful of attorneys was qualified to address—I invested in marketing the niche.

And the cons of establishing and/or marketing a niche practice?

There is little harm in making an investment in a niche practice that does not pay off. Maybe you lost some time and cash, but at least you tried. Show me an entrepreneur who does not strike out from time to time and I’ll show you a liar. But there is not always business where you thought it was going to be. In some cases, maybe a new player entered the space and beat you to the punch. Success is not guaranteed.

Some law firms make the mistake of being too good at marketing a very narrow niche. I’ve seen websites that introduce law firms as being bug lawyers, lettuce lawyers, water lawyers, golf lawyers, church lawyers… you name it, they are out there. The problem is this—while it is often a niche we’d like to profit from, it usually is not all we do. So if you are an attorney in a larger, multi-practice firm that does a lot of things, you might get typecast—and be out of the running for matters you are perfectly situated to handle.

Along the same lines, you may be selling “specialist,” while the attorney across the hall is pitching “generalist.” Making sure that your niche is not in conflict with the firm, other lawyers or in some cases, conflicts with some current clients (I’ve dealt with this one too), is important.

If you are not going to dedicate adequate time, money, resources and patience, your effort will likely fail. This is not something in which you likely succeed overnight. So if you are one of those impatient ones, perhaps you should stick to what you are already doing.

Make sure the niche is not overly broad. Your niche is not “real estate” or “personal injury.” We can debate when a boutique becomes a small law firm rather than a niche practice, but there is a slight difference between niche and handling one wide-ranging practice area.

Finally, great niche marketing can often beat lawyers who are great at the actual niche. You may lose work to an attorney that could not hold your hat when it comes to actually doing the work, but damn, he is great at making himself look like a top lawyer in the niche. The best attorneys in the space do not always win the business.

But for people (like me) who enjoy marketing a niche practice, it allows for greater creativity, and presents chances to bring in business in areas and from people who might not have considered you otherwise. In most cases, knowing a lawyer or law firm is focused on the niche that I’m looking for is the winning play. Some are by accident, and others created with purpose—but in a time where every law firm is looking to preach “differentiation,” this is one of the best ways to do it.

About the Author

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on marketing and business development, and is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. Micah is a past editor-in-chief of Law Practice Today and a current member of the Board of Editors. He can be reached at micah@htmlawyers.com or by phone at 856-234-4334, and on Twitter at @mbuchdahl.

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