Back in July of 2014 (How could it possibly be that long ago?!), I wrote an article for Attorney at Work that focused on the importance of narrowly focused, niche legal practices, and how to go about building one. It was one of the most popular articles I’ve written, and became the catalyst for my book which came out in 2016.
In it, I challenged lawyers to visualize a continuum. On one end is the general practitioner – the “Jack of All Trades” – and on the other is the specialist – the “Master Craftsman.” The Jack of All Trades is busy, bouncing from project to project, learning a little about a lot. Clients think of the Jack of All Trades when price is a primary consideration. The Master Craftsman is also busy, but focused. She knows a lot about a little and is able to charge a price premium.
My thesis, backed by research and the experience of myself and others, is that if a lawyer is looking to build a practice, it’s better to become a Master Craftsman.
Most lawyers fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. They don’t try to be all things to all clients, but they like to keep their options open. This tendency is largely driven by the fear of missing out on opportunities due to the misguided notion that the more options you provide to the marketplace, the more opportunities will present themselves to you. For example, just think of how many practices and industries most lawyers list on their bio pages, when for most an overwhelming majority of work relates to one or two areas of focus.
INTERSECTION OF INTERESTS, EXPERIENCE AND DEMAND
I went on to explain that, for most lawyers, potential areas of expertise to pursue can be identified at the intersection of interests, experience and market opportunities. If you can determine what you like to do, what you’re good at, and where market opportunities exist, and then find some commonality among them, you’ll be in good shape when it comes to carving out a niche.
The convergence of these three questions is where you’ll find your niche “sweet spot” to build your personal brand around. As Frederick Buechner wrote, your vocation lies in the intersection of the world’s deep need and your deep joy.
As I’ve continued to think more about these issues, I realized that – in the original article and my book – I left an important question unanswered when it comes to building a niche. When considering the intersection of interests, experience and demand: Where to start?
“Follow your passion” has become popular advice in the world of business and entrepreneurism. Chase what you love (your interests) the idea goes, and the money will follow. Alternatively, you could focus on your skill set. Leveraging and focusing on what you’re already good at seems like the fastest route to build business, right?
The truth is, I think market opportunities – demand – is the place to start. Interests and experience are both things that are wholly unique to the individual, and may be completely disconnected to the realities of the marketplace.
Skills without passion is drudgery. Passion without skills is a hobby. But even if you have passion and skills, if there’s no demand it’s a dead end road. You need to have all three, but start with demand. Consider what the market is seeking, and others aren’t providing, and then figure out how to build a practice that meets market demand, and also aligns with your skills and satisfies your intellectual interests and curiosity.
That’s the secret, and methodology, to hit your sweet spot in building a practice and a personal brand.