How to Pick a Niche Practice Area

Law Firm Niche MarketingArmed with the overview of content-based law firm marketing, let’s get started implementing it by selecting your first niche practice area.

This is the fun part. So many attorneys stumble into their practice area with with no real thought as to whether it is something that interests them or that they enjoy. Often an attorney is stuck for life in a practice area that was assigned by the first firm where they were employed. If they ever decide to leave to go to a new firm, that is the area of law where they have experience, so they naturally look for firms that will be interested in that experience. And so it goes.

Now is when you can break that cycle. Using content marketing, you are going to promote yourself for a niche practice, and that practice can finally be anything you want it to be, so long as you have the ability to get up to speed in that area.

Allow me a moment to tell my own story, because it beautifully illustrates how content-based, niche marketing can transform a practice far beyond just making it more profitable. For my own part, I got into the law wanting to be a trial attorney, and that’s what I did, but it wasn’t anymore specific than that. I handled just about any form of litigation — breach of contract, employment law, commercial lease disputes, and even a smattering of personal injury cases early on (I hated PI cases and got out of that almost immediately). I happened into a couple of defamation cases against newspapers and really enjoyed that, and gained some appeal experience when defendants would occasionally appeal from the judgments I had obtained. I really enjoyed handling appeals, because they harken back to my law review days. I get to take the time to pursue an intellectual exercise; crafting a well reasoned and well written appeal brief. I was getting very few of these two types of cases, so when I started using Internet marketing to promote my firm, I decided to emphasize defamation and appeals as my two primary practice areas.

Those efforts worked incredibly well, and defamation and appeals are now my primary practice areas, as well as a couple of others that naturally sprang forth. Out of the defamation practice I had to prosecute and defend against anti-SLAPP motions, so that became a niche within a niche. I emphasized that niche practice by starting a blog and a podcast devoted solely to anti-SLAPP motions. Because of the time I spend researching and writing articles for this very narrow area of the law, and because of all the cases I have handled, if I can toot my own horn, there is simply no one who knows more about anti-SLAPP matters. I am retained regularly by other firms to deal with their anti-SLAPP motions.

Then yet another niche sprang from the anti-SLAPP matters. A defendant who brings a successful anti-SLAPP motion is entitled to recover the attorney fees incurred in bringing that motion. Sadly, there are a number of unscrupulous attorneys who view a successful anti-SLAPP motion as a winning lottery ticket, and submit $100,000 fee applications for a single motion. Some judges were rubber-stamping these applications, and that created a need for counsel with special expertise in defending against these inflated applications. I began blogging on that subject, and soon I was being retained as a expert to audit fee applications and opine on their reasonableness. Again, the perceived expertise is very real, because of the time spent creating the content. Content-based marketing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By putting so much content out on the Internet, you are perceived as an expert, and in fact you are an expert because you had to become one to create so much content. In the case of the fee applications, I have successfully argued for reduction of the fees in every case I have been retained. Some reductions are more than others, but always more than enough to justify the expense of hiring me. In the latest instance, I persuaded the judge to reduce a fee application more than $40,000.

Time to get out your wish list.

As you can see, you are not held to your past experience. You can select whatever practice areas interest you and go after them (so long as you can competently represent your clients, of course).

But it doesn’t have to be a clean break. If you are a family law attorney, but want to go after the contingency fees that a personal injury practice can bring, you don’t have to give up one for the other. You can certainly keep the family law practice while you start marketing for personal injury cases.

Break it down, then break it down some more.

Write down what it is you want to do, then look for ways you can break those practice areas down into narrower practice areas. Many attorneys find this process counter-intuitive and are resistant. They are starting or expanding a practice, and want to get in as many good clients as possible, and yet here I am telling them to narrow their practice areas.

Well, yes and no. Breaking down your practice area into smaller parts does not necessarily mean you are going to leave anything on the table.

Let’s use personal injury as a example. If you decide to do personal injury, and promote yourself only as a “personal injury attorney”, you are going to have a really tough time distinguishing yourself or getting onto page one of any Google search. There are just too many personal injury attorneys fighting over that first page real estate.

Motorcycle Accident Lane Splitting
So let’s break it down a little. You had that one case a couple of years back where you represented a biker. He was “lane-splitting” on the freeway (driving between the cars which is perfectly legal in many states) when a car changed lanes and cut him off. He suffered some pretty serious injuries, and the resulting contingency fee for you was impressive. Let’s get you some more of those cases. Instead of being a garden-variety personal injury attorney, you are going to represent bikers.

But there are a lot of personal injury attorneys who represent bikers. Can you break it down some more to distinguish yourself from all the other attorneys who represent bikers? Well, looking at their websites, there doesn’t seem to be any special information about freeway accidents, and certainly nothing specific to accidents that occur during lane-splitting. When you handled that one case, you found during voir dire that some of the jurors were very resistant to the nature of the action, because like so many, they had always thought bikers were doing something illegal when they drove between the cars on the freeway. You found a way to overcome that resistance, so you already have some special expertise that many personal injury attorneys will not have.

Law Firm SuccessYou just found your niche. You are going to start a blog called “White Line Fever” that discusses the joys of lane-splitting, as well as how you handle personal injury cases when a vehicle cuts off a biker. You will load that blog with information covering every possible angle of such cases. Write about how you succeeded on your case, and how you overcame the resistance of the jurors to what they thought was an illegal activity. You’ll research and write an article that discusses the various types of helmets and how they can impact a personal injury action. Can defense counsel make hay of the fact that a biker wears one of those small “brain buckets” — just enough to be legal under the helmet law — instead of a full helmet? You’ll research and write an article on how a plaintiff can get punitive damages in a motorcycle accident case by adding a battery claim when the defendant was seen inching over in an attempt to block the biker, like so many do because they think they are preventing illegal conduct (or are just jealous that bikers get to keep going when everyone else is stopped). When your new found White Line Fever practice takes off, you’ll invest in the biggest, baddest showroom motorcycle you can find (which will be a complete tax write-off) and tour the various motorcycle events to promote your practice.

[UPDATE: I just dreamed up this example of a niche motorcycle accident practice (although I was certainly aware that some attorneys market themselves as motorcycle accident attorneys). But then I happened across the the website of a Florida attorney who has beautifully implemented the sort of niche practice blog I discussed above, right down to an article on lane-splitting. Here is his motorcycle accident blog. Note that while he ends each article with a call to action, the articles are very informative and are not just of the “call me, I’m the greatest attorney ever” variety.]

“I like the idea of getting those motorcycle cases, but isn’t that rather limiting?”, you ask.

A valid question. First, keep saying to yourself that “niches make riches”. If you become the recognized expert on lane-splitting cases, even though that universe of cases is far smaller than the total universe of motorcycle accident cases, you’ll get the bulk of those cases because you are the expert. Bikers will find you because you will rank so well on Google, and other attorneys will refer you these cases for a referral fee, because you are the best attorney for the job and will maximize the damage award. You might be able to keep yourself busy just with that type of case.

pieChart_jpg

In any event, you haven’t limited anything. You can go after the entire pie of motorcycle accidents, one slice at a time. The two primary types of street motorcycles are cruisers and “crotch-rockets” (sport bikes). It may be that prosecuting a case involving a sport bike requires some special techniques due to the fact that the public thinks bikers only buy those in order to drive crazy fast. You could become the “Crotch-Rocket Counsel” and handle all those cases.

If this is sounding daunting because of the level of involvement I suggested for the first niche, understand that there can be varying levels of promotion for the various niches. You might decide that White Line Fever is going to be your primary niche and devote a lot of time to that, whereas your promotion of Crotch-Rocket Counsel will consist of a single static website that you create and forget.

For my litigation practice, I break the aspects of that practice all the way down to individual motions. I have a website devoted to one particular motion that only brings in a couple of cases per month, but those couple of cases per month add six figures to the bottom line.

I hate to use the cliche, but when picking your niche, you really need to think outside the box. Examine the practice area from angles that have never occurred to others. For example, in some instances, a practice area can be created with the addition of an adjective.

In my book How to Create a Big, Fat Pipeline of New Clients for Your Law Firm in Just 10 Days, I tell the story of how the word “aggressive” started a new niche practice area for me. I am frequently hired by clients to take over cases from other attorneys, and the common complaint is that the prior counsel was “not being aggressive enough”. It occurred to me that if potential clients were looking for aggressive trial attorneys, they might use that as an Internet search term when looking for a new attorney. I ran it past the Bar’s Ethics Hotline to make certain I wasn’t breaking any rules by calling myself aggressive, and with the Bar’s blessing I created a website for that niche. Ironically, the website actually speaks to the folly of being pointlessly aggressive, but in any event it shot straight to the top of Google, and I now get a steady stream of clients looking for an aggressive attorney. In a case of “do what I say not what I do”, I’m really bad at tracking which of my websites are generating calls, but the ones coming from my “aggressive trial attorney” site are very apparent, because the potential clients start the conversation with, “I see you are an aggressive trial attorney and that’s just what I need.”

Your Homework Assignment

So, you now have your homework assignment. Pick your niche. Force yourself to think like a client, not an attorney. Eliminate the legal terms from your mind, and think about what a client would search for if they needed your services. Don’t worry about going too narrow. In the next article, I’m going to show you how to create websites basically for free. The only expense you will incur is for the domain name, and that’s less than 70 cents per month. (Hosting services are about $5 per month, but you can create an unlimited number of websites, so eventually the price per site approaches zero.) If you pick a niche so narrow that it only generates one case per year, it will still be well worth creating it. Preferably, though, you should pick a niche that is broad enough that it will immediately begin generating phone calls so you will know the system is working.

Finally, don’t forget to pick a niche that you have some passion about. You are going to be investing some time researching and writing about this niche, and that is a much easier task if you find it interesting.

Next Step to World DominationOnce you have selected your niche, it’s time to move onto the next section, creating your website.

Summary
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How to Pick a Niche Practice Area
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Now is when you can find a practice area you are passionate about. Using content marketing, you are going to promote yourself for a niche practice, and that practice can finally be anything you want it to be, so long as you have the ability to get up to speed in that area.
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