If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the way that most lawyers go about personal branding and business development, it would be changing the way they think about narrowing the focus of their practices. Too many lawyers equate pursuing a niche legal practice with putting a cap on their potential. They fail to appreciate that getting narrow is, in fact, the path to building a big book of business.
I get it. The idea that pursuing a more narrow market leads to bigger opportunities seems contradictory. It’s far easier to wrap your mind around the idea that casting a wider net is the way to generate more business. The problem is that the more widely you cast your net, the more generic your message must become. You become generally relevant to many, but intensely relevant to almost no one. You can’t try to be all things to all people and expect to make an impact.
Having a niche, on the other hand, allows you to communicate your value proposition to a distinct and highly targeted market. Your message can be more relevant and contextualized to your audience, and penetrate the conversation going on in the industry you’re focused on. You can become an insider who’s trusted, not an outsider who’s viewed with a skeptical eye. Of the two alternatives, what approach do you think is more conducive to business development?
Still skeptical? Just think about your own consumer behavior. When you’re searching for a product or service provider, are you looking for something or someone that can do many things fairly well, or something or someone that does one thing – the very thing you’re seeking – extraordinarily well?
THE POWER OF GETTING NARROW
The first time that I experienced the power of pursuing a niche legal practice was when I when started my own law firm in Detroit nearly a decade ago at the height of the financial crisis, on the cusp of the automotive crisis, and just a couple of years before the City of Detroit’s own bankruptcy filing. Given the impending bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler, I knew that there would be lots of automotive restructuring work available in my practice area niche, and even more if I could define a more narrow industry focus within a smaller and under-served vertical within the automotive supply chain: auto dealerships. There were so many $100 million-and-up businesses that needed help that little attention was being paid to Detroit’s $10-$50 million auto dealers.
I didn’t make this decision haphazardly. Before diving in with auto dealers, I conducted an assessment of my own strengths and the strength of my network. During the years preceding my decision to start my own firm I had developed relationships with auto dealer attorneys at a firm that I had done work for as a marketing consultant. They had a large roster of auto dealer clients, and I had experience in corporate bankruptcy proceedings that they did not, so it seemed like a good fit. I supplemented my networking with writing and speaking for the local auto dealers association about the potential impact of Big Three automotive bankruptcy filings. This allowed me to expand my network beyond attorneys to the actual operators in the space. Ultimately, this led to years’ worth of significant work in the automotive bankruptcies and the federal arbitration proceedings that came next for dealers whose franchise agreements were terminated during the bankruptcies.
This didn’t happen by accident. It resulted from a deliberate decision to focus on a niche.
There are many reasons to pursue a niche legal practice. Principle among them is the fact that lawyers who operate within a narrow niche tend to make more money, have more powerful personal brands, and develop stronger networks, since they’re not dispersing their focus and energy across a number of different domains. They’re able to dive deeper on the issues and develop deeper relationships within their niche because they’re in front of members of their target market more frequently.
A funny thing happens when you make the decision to get narrow: You get big opportunities as a result. Joe Flom built his brand as the go-to lawyer for hostile takeover work during the 1960s – work that was considered undesirable at the time – and by the 1980s Flom was widely considered the top corporate lawyer in the country and led Skadden to the heights of the industry. Larry Sonsini and his colleagues started a boutique law firm in a small town in California with the intention of exclusively serving budding technology companies. In the decades to follow firms from across the country raced to set up shot in Silicon Valley to compete with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Goodrich & Rosati.
NARROW YOUR FOCUS AND TRANSFORM YOUR PRACTICE
Are you struggling to gain traction with your marketing and business development efforts? Do you find yourself bouncing from opportunity to opportunity with no clear direction? Are you frustrated by the fact that you’re constantly reinventing yourself? If this resonates, then it probably means that you’re spreading yourself too thin and casting too wide a net.
What if, instead, you could approach each day with clear goals and direction? Rather than hunting for new clients, what if clients started hunting you because of your reputation as a recognized expert in a particular industry? What would it mean to your practice and your life if, instead of constantly spending time getting up to speed, you could answer questions and determine a course of action immediately and instinctually because you’re so dialed in on the issues?
Transformation is in your reach
It just requires the courage to make some tough choices. To transform, you’ll have to say no more often, which is hard. But remember, every time you say yes, you’re saying no to something else anyway. It’s a new year. Nothing’s stopping you other than the limiting belief that building a big book of business requires you to position yourself broadly. If you want more business, build a niche legal practice.
Could you use a bit of help in defining your target market, and positioning yourself as an expert with clients, potential clients and referral sources within a niche? I am currently accepting applications to my Elite Lawyer Coaching program, which involves one-on-one strategic consulting and problem-solving counseling to help lawyers set and reach their business goals in 2018. If you’re interested in dramatically growing your practice this year, contact me at 313-432-0287 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to define clear goals, create a specific plan of action, and ensure accountability as you work toward achieving your objectives. Let’s chat soon, as I only have a few slots remaining for new applicants. Also, please check out my new book, The Essential Associate, which is now available for purchase.