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Milton W. Zwicker responds:
If you want to catch a mouse, make a noise like a cheese. Meaning that before you can know how you might make a "noise" in a new area, you first have to know what that area will be. Personally, I sometimes tire of a practice area and love the challenge of trying to catch a new mouse. Generally, you could start by investigating new opportunities under these categories:
Consider what's currently happening in your particular marketplace that might allow you to play to some existing strengths. To illustrate how things can develop, here's what happened when, five years ago, I decided to investigate a new niche in condominium law, representing the boards of directors.
I had done some work in condo law before, but I never had enough clients to sustain it as a profitable practice area. So I chose to get involved in seminars and other group marketing activities-and I also knew I had to get up to speed with the law. About the time I chose this niche, the Province of Ontario had passed new legislation that involved a flood of education opportunities. That was one stroke of good fortune-then two others soon arose. One was that I met Gerrit Roosenbum, a national figure in the condominium field, who had moved into my town. The other was that my firm has a strategic alliance with Miller Thomson, a large Toronto firm, and a condo practice group from a dissolved Toronto firm was then joining Miller Thomson. (Audrey Loeb, head of the Miller Thomson condo group, has written the definitive Canadian text on the subject of condo law.) Talk about luck on my part.
Of course, you can't just leave things in the hands of luck, so I started to build my database and developed Condo Watch, a firm newsletter. In addition, Roosenbum was determined to form a chapter of the Canadian Condo Institute in my town and he invited me to be on the first board. I'm now the president. The board decided to do its own newsletter, Condo Forum, and I took on the job of assistant editor, further building my name in the field. My client base quickly grew.
To my delight and surprise, the sprouting niche also had an unanticipated consequence: Condo law breeds the need for mediation, arbitration and litigation. My associate Sonja took on this task and both of our practices have grown as a result. If you choose the right mouse, all kinds of good surprises can happen.