In my new book, One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice, I discuss the importance of carving out a practice/industry area niche in order to build a book of business. Indeed, when it comes to business development, quality work and technical proficiency are table stakes. Acquiring the skills necessary to develop and sustain a solid client base is required, and that’s a much different skill set.
In today’s market, in which clients are looking for specialists, not generalists, developing business requires niche expertise. While the ethical rules may prevent you from identifying yourself as an “expert” in your particular field(s) of practice, you should be doing everything possible — professionally and authentically — to create this impression in the minds of others.
Time to Take Stock
So how do you know if you’re building a practice, rather than simply being a lawyer? Some introspection is required.
- Do you have a long-term plan in place to establish and project expertise in a narrow industry, or are you simply reacting to opportunities as they arise?
- Are you “in the middle” of your target industry, writing and speaking frequently, or are you dabbling in a range of industries?
- Are you genuinely interested and excited about your target industry, or does it simply present an opportunity?
- Are new clients seeking you out, or are you seeking out new clients?
- Are you “too busy” to express thought leadership by speaking and writing, or do you prioritize time for these essential activities?
- Are your clients geographically diverse, or are they concentrated in geographic proximity to you?
- Do you solve vexing problems for clients, or do you simply complete assignments for them?
- Is your day structured with activities and initiatives that advance your expert standing, or is it driven by the day’s email traffic?
- Do you carefully consider, vet and often turn away opportunities that aren’t the right fit, or do you jump on any new opportunity that presents itself?
- Are your billings and collections steadily climbing, or are they erratic — up one year, down the next?
- Can you perform routine tasks within your niche with little thought and effort, or do matters routinely require you to brush up on the relevant law and industry at issue?
- Do you feel in control of your life, or does your life feel controlled by others?
It doesn’t require an expert in business development to tell you which of these are characteristics and behaviors of expert lawyers. But in business, as in life, there’s often a big gap between the knowledge we obtain and the actions we take.
We generally know what we should be doing. What’s missing is the discipline and courage to do what we should be doing. The longer one waits to do, the easier it is to do nothing. So it’s important to begin early in one’s career. And it won’t happen by accident. Many years of dogged, disciplined effort are necessary.
The first step in building a practice and becoming a one-of-a-kind lawyer, therefore, is establishing expertise in a narrow practice or industry specialization.