A niche can be a pathway to creating a lucrative legal practice.
Lawyers and firms choosing practice niches value developing expertise for clients with specific needs. They also believe focusing on a distinct demographic enables precise marketing that can increase revenue.
Since searching for a lawyer can be an overwhelming experience, when a potential client sees that a firm’s expertise aligns with their exact needs, hiring that firm is an easier decision.
In this roundtable discussion, five experts discuss legal practice niches and why they are so popular with lawyers and clients.
Nick Gaffney is founder of Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco and a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @nickgaffney.
|Radiance W. Harris Esq. (RH), founder and managing attorney of Radiance IP Law, is a bestselling author, speaker, and award-winning trademark attorney. She helps emerging businesses protect, monetize, and grow profitable brands with trademarks.|
|Lee Peretz (LP), director of marketing and business development at Farrell Fritz, P.C., has focused on developing efficient and effective organizational strategy and high-performing teams.|
|John Joy (JJ), founding partner and managing attorney at FTI Law, has worked for almost a decade on corporate crime and corruption cases around the globe, leading investigations and representing Fortune 500 companies in government investigations.|
|Schuyler “Rocky” Reidel (SR), founder and managing attorney of Reidel Law Firm, focuses on helping business owners in matters of international trade, franchise, and business law matters.|
|Bryan Florito (BF), director of marketing and business development for The Hayes Law Firm, oversees the creation, development, and implementation of the firm’s marketing campaigns and education programs.|
How would you define a niche legal practice?
Lee Peretz (LP): When we think about a niche practice, we are taking a focused and targeted approach at solving a specific set of needs. This can be something as specific as cannabis law, or a focused approach for a larger practice area, like estate planning for company founders or digital assets. By focusing efforts and “slicing” a piece of the practice, firms are able to create effective thought leaders, meaningfully focused strategy, and innovative solutions.
John Joy (JJ): ‘Niche’ is a subjective term that can mean different things to different people, but we tend to use the term when referring to a practice that operates in a highly specialized area of law that the average person or business is unlikely to encounter in their daily lives. Our practice specializes in representing whistleblowers who report violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA ), and we consider our firm to be niche, given that this is a topic very few people encounter in their careers, let alone their daily lives.
Radiance Hall (RH): A niche legal practice focuses on a specific practice area or industry.
Schuyler “Rocky” Reidel (SR): A niche legal practice is a practice with a specialized skill set and knowledge base that focuses solely on serving those clients with a need for those specialized skills and knowledge. The most simple analogy is to the medical field, where doctors are MDs, but also specialize in certain fields like pediatrics, gastroenterology, neurology, etc.
Bryan Florito (BF) A niche legal practice is one that focuses on a very specific type of client or practice area. Niche legal practices typically focus on specialized segments of the market.
How popular are niche legal practices with clients and lawyers?
RH: In recent years, niche legal practices have become increasingly popular. Lawyers and law firms are starting to narrow down their practice areas or focus on certain industries. We especially see this with cannabis law, and more recently, metaverse/NFTs/web3 law. Clients are more interested in hiring experts rather than general practitioners. I don’t think the jack-of-all-trades lawyer or law firm is as appealing as it once was.
SR: This likely varies in different regions and sectors (rural vs. urban, personal injury vs. federal administrative, etc.). In general, clients are seeking bona fide experts – not just a warm body – to handle legalese for their specific situation. This is certainly easier in certain sectors where those specialized skillsets are readily apparent (such as FDA administrative law, Department of Defense contracting law, or oil and gas leasing partnerships). However, the value to clients can still exist in more traditional law practices.
For example, advertisements for personal injury lawyers have become more specialized to niche areas like motorcycles, 18-wheelers, the oil industry, and even accidents on the high seas (such as cruise ships).Even if they don’t realize it or set out to become a niche practice attorney, those PI firms are naturally evolving to offer clients a special skill set and knowledge.
Ultimately, if clients did not place value in niche attorneys with specialized skill sets, then niche practices would not be successful. People seek niche attorneys for the same reason people will seek a specialized doctor to cure their ailment.
BF: “Jack of all trades, master of none” is one of those sayings that doesn’t quite correlate in the legal world. If you are a client who is in a position to need legal advice or assistance, you likely want to pick someone who is a “master” of their trade. At our firm, we are masters of estate planning. When it comes time for a client to choose their attorney, they want to pick someone who has dedicated their career to the area of law they need assistance with.
JJ: Niche legal practices are becoming very popular with clients because they allow people to obtain highly specialized advice from professionals who have a great expertise in a particular area of the law. Previously, most people seeking legal advice relied on a local general practitioner who may have been a jack-of-all-trades. With the increased use of technology and online consultations, clients can now access niche legal practices that can offer them more specialized advice and service rather than going to general practitioners.
LP: Clients want their attorneys to be specialized and have experience dealing with their pain points. They tend to gravitate to working with lawyers who understand their issue or opportunity, and have experience guiding clients through that process. It is a true differentiator in many areas.
Attorneys appreciate being focused and strategic, and they often have a desire to hone in on a niche. It allows them to separate from the competition, but also develop a better pitch and a better value proposition. From a thought leadership perspective (and of course, content is king), it allows marketing and business development teams to tee up value-driving opportunities for them to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
How narrow can a niche practice be?
JJ: A niche practice can be as narrow as dealing with a single type of claim or case. There’s really no limit to how narrow a practice can be. The only functional limit is the practitioner’s ability to attract enough clients to allow the practice to continue operating. But even this sets a low bar. For example, an attorney who specializes in SEC whistleblower claims may have very few clients and still have a profitable practice. For example, the average whistleblower payout from the SEC is $5 million, and assuming the attorney charges a one-third contingency fee, the attorney could make over $1.5 million on a single client. This means that serving just one successful SEC whistleblower each year could provide an attorney with a lucrative practice.
BF: A niche can be a practice area like estate planning or client-specific like elder law, which typically focuses on assisting older adults with many of the common legal issues they face.
LP: Niche practices can certainly be very wide (think construction law), but can also be extremely narrow (QSBS planning for wealthy founders). Ultimately, the more you drill down into a niche area, the more specialized you can become. However, it is a delicate balance to be able to keep enough of a base of prospects within a specific niche practice and be focused as a thought leader—not eliminating opportunities because of too much of a specific focus.
RH: A niche practice can be quite focused and narrow. In my opinion, the narrower the niche practice, the better, as long as it is clear what you offer and how you can help solve your clients’ legal problem.
SR: In practical terms, as narrow as can be and still have a sustainable client base. The more narrow the practice, the deeper the special skills and knowledge in general and the greater likelihood of becoming a leading attorney or firm in that niche space. I have seen some marketing gurus recommend the double niche, which is essentially a niche within a niche. For example, as opposed to being a family law attorney who represents fathers, be the family law attorney who represents fathers with divorce cases across state borders.
Double specializing as a niche firm can be a successful way to become a recognized expert in your field, and to begin offering deep specialized knowledge in your industry. Determining your area of focus is part art and part science, so it will take some finesse to understand your specific practice and where the opportunities to find your niche may lie.
How is marketing a niche legal specialization different than marketing a more general practice or a law firm?
BF: There’s a saying: “The riches are in the niches.” In today’s landscape, education, credibility/reputation, and expertise are what get you hired. Marketing efforts with a niche legal practice are typically more focused on positioning the attorneys as experts in their field and will hyper-focus on the markets they can benefit most. Creating content that positions the firm/attorney as an expert is more of a focus with niche legal practices.
RH: The methods of marketing a niche legal specialization are the same, but the messaging is different. In your messaging, you’re positioning yourself and/or your law firm as the go-to lawyer or law firm for a specific practice area or industry. Therefore, you’re marketing to clients who have the specific problem that you’re an expert at fixing or solving. In your marketing, you’re using language and wording that speaks directly to that client and their current situation or needs.
SR: I have found it is typically much easier to market as a specialized practice than trying to be everything to everyone. Out of the box, there is already a self-qualification for potential clients, reducing the time and effort to screen potential clients and gauge the merits of the matter. The potential clients of a niche practice also are much more likely to share certain demographics or characteristics which lend to better advertising and marketing. For example, if your niche was in the regulation of natural or alternative medicine, you have a plethora of industry and related events all over the country to connect with businesses and individuals already active in that sector, eventually needing legal help at some point. Not to mention the many virtual marketing opportunities as well. The opportunities to have deeper connections with your clients and potential clients in your specific niche offer a tremendous marketing opportunity and also rewarding professionally and personally.
LP: There are tremendous differences in marketing a niche legal specialization, from focusing marketing and public relations efforts on very niche-specific/segmented publications, to networking and attending conferences within a specific area. A general law practice/firm might be really happy with mainstream advertising, marketing, and PR efforts, but a firm focused on private client services for high-net-worth families might want to focus on Private Jet Traveler magazine or a conference focused on uber-wealthy clients.
JJ: Marketing a niche legal practice is much more difficult compared to marketing a more general practice because advertising methods that reach the general public are generally unsuitable or not economical for reaching niche audiences. The key challenge for a niche legal practice is identifying their ideal client and strategizing targeted marketing campaigns. This is usually best done with an experienced marketing firm that can help build a demographic of the customer and provide insights into the relevant marketing channels that work best for that customer. However, because niche advertising is more targeted, it tends to be more expensive than mass media advertising.
Can you share a marketing success story that shows the value of a legal niche to buyers of legal services?
SR: Just from my own experience, visiting (or even better exhibiting at) your niche industry trade show or related conferences as an attorney can do wonders for your brand and acquiring leads for your practice. It is not uncommon that I am the only attorney exhibiting and sometimes visiting the show at all. While exhibiting and visiting folks, I have a wonderful time meeting potential clients and helping connect solutions to their problems.
LP: We always want to help our attorneys raise their profile and be very focused in their approach. One of our partners had the forethought (over a decade ago) to start a business divorce practice, focusing on business break-ups and the litigation issues involved. The development of a business divorce blog for that practice has led to countless opportunities and client wins.
The partner who launched the blog put a focus on specific pain points within current cases and uses those storylines to differentiate themselves as a true resource to clients. It has helped to create a uniquely positioned group of attorneys who have deep experience helping privately-held companies navigate complicated issues.
JJ: In one instance, we received an inquiry from an individual who had contacted several other general legal practices about a potential FCPA violation they had witnessed. None of the practices understood or recognized the significance of what the individual had witnessed and refused to take their case.
Despite being in another jurisdiction, when the individual reached out and spoke to us, we had specific expertise with the FCPA violation they had witnessed and immediately recognized issues that may have been of interest to the SEC and the DOJ. We signed the client shortly thereafter and have been working productively with them on their FCPA whistleblower submission since.
RH: When I launched Radiance IP Law in 2016, we marketed our services as trademark, copyright, and business contracts. In late 2019/early 2020, we started marketing ourselves as a trademark law firm. Our revenue doubled that year and has continued to increase significantly. As they say, the riches are in the niches.