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Law Practice Magazine

The Marketing Issue

Growing Your Practice by Focusing Your Message

Sally J Schmidt


  • Niche practices are very effective for business development because they are highly valued by clients.
  • Law-related niches can emerge from any number of sources, including substantive practices, market segments, backgrounds and even outside interests.
  • There are endless ways to promote niches, from new media to old-school techniques.
Growing Your Practice by Focusing Your Message Donson

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The results from research on what “buyers” (i.e., clients) of professional services value most may surprise you. Coming in first, by a wide margin, is specialized skills and expertise” (68 percent), followed by “connections and network” (42 percent). No other factor garnered more than 21 percent from the respondents, including—to the dismay of many lawyers—“quality of the work they produce” (just 10 percent). Perhaps even more surprising, “price” was listed by only 4 percent of respondents.

Clients do value quality, of course, and are concerned about fees. But for many, it’s impossible to judge quality. Even if clients can evaluate quality, it’s an assumption; they’re certainly not going to hire someone to handle something as important as a legal issue without thinking they’ll get good legal representation.

In their selection process, clients are seeking evidence that someone understands their issues, their business or their industry. They also figure that someone very familiar with an area will be more efficient.

When talking with lawyers about promoting a niche, I often face resistance. Some litigators say they can litigate anything; perhaps they can, but clients probably don’t think so. Some corporate lawyers push back because they like the variety in their practice. While that may be true, most clients don’t appreciate a Jack or Jill of all trades.

The good news is that you do not need to narrow your practice to be considered an expert in a niche; you just need to narrow your message and marketing. In fact, the niche you promote may represent a small percentage of your practice but may also be lucrative, growing and fun. Marketing is about creating perceptions and they can be created through strategic and sustained activities. 

What Is Your Niche?

Niches may derive from background (e.g., family in the hotel business); interests (e.g., music); or experience (e.g., recent or cumulative expertise with certain types of matters, clients or industries). Your niche can fall into any one of several categories. For example, substantive areas of law such as class action litigation, ERISA matters or zoning law. Or perhaps industries. These can be large sectors (e.g., transportation or hospitality) or sub-sectors (e.g., shortline railroads or fast food restaurants); the types of clients, such as those whose issues are unique (or at least they think so), like closely held businesses or religious institutions.

You may focus on market segments. Because it’s difficult to position yourself as one of the top lawyers in a broad area of law or industry (think estate planning or manufacturing), many effective niches include both a sector and a type of law, like noncompete litigation for the brokerage industry, estate planning for parents of special needs children or intellectual property law for veterinary medical devices. Finally, trends; niches may be fleeting (e.g., COVID vaccine religious accommodations, artificial intelligence policies) but they can be successful, at least in the short term, if you are opportunistic and move quickly to promote recent experience.

In determining what niche to market, you should evaluate the following factors:

Fit. Some things to consider are the potential for conflicts (real or perceived); your ability to provide the range of services required by the target market; whether you have existing experience/clients in the niche; and the fit with existing firm clients or practices.

Economic viability. Questions to answer include the size of and access to the market/industry (i.e., are there prospects in your location?); whether competitors already “own” the area; price sensitivity; and growth potential.

Attractiveness. Is it a niche you’re willing to commit to? Do you have an authentic interest or passion for the area? Attractiveness considerations may include things like intellectual challenge, delegation opportunities or travel requirements.

Promoting Your Niche Practice

Once you have identified the niche you’d like to grow, here are some ways to create the perception of expertise and build your reputation in the area.

Messaging. In your elevator speech and written descriptions, highlight your niche. For example, “I help companies of all sizes buy and sell businesses, but my sweet spot is family-owned businesses. There are a lot of dynamics involved that I have found I’m particularly well suited to handle.” Or “As a family lawyer, I provide a wide range of services, from prenuptial agreements to adoption assistance, but lately I’ve been working on several divorces involving military families. There are some unique issues at play.”

Profiles. Online profiles, including your firm bio and LinkedIn page, are more important than most lawyers think. Multiple sources report that attorney bios are second only to personal recommendations in influencing the decision to hire and they are the most-visited pages on law firm websites. Devote substantial “real estate” on the page to your niche to show your commitment to the area. For example, give it its own paragraph or lead with it. Provide representative matters that support your experience/expertise in the niche, quantifying whenever possible (e.g., number of matters you have handled in the area, percentage of the industry’s leaders you have represented, etc.). And be sure to tie any experience, outside activities or personal interests to the niche to support your case.

For example:

  • “[Name] grew up in the restaurant industry. Having worked closely with his father in the family business prior to law school, he has a unique understanding of the legal pressures and concerns facing restaurants.”
  • “[Name] assists clients in a range of transactional matters related to art, including advising and structuring deals for the purchase and sale of art; agreements for site-specific artworks; exhibition and loan agreements; and structuring agreements between museums or between museums and other organizations.”
  • “[Name]’s rural farm background instilled in him a passion for agribusiness. He has a particular interest in intellectual property issues related to farm machinery and related technology.”

Seminars and webinars. Clients value practical and business-focused advice. Share your niche expertise through seminars, training programs, webinars and podcasts. Show a commitment to the niche by presenting on the area at least once or twice a year.

Writing. Similarly, your expertise can be demonstrated through writing. Prepare and distribute white papers or e-newsletters. Create or contribute to a blog. Submit pieces to specialized media that target your audience.

Social media. Whether you’re on LinkedIn, X or other social media, your online activity can greatly enhance your reputation and help you get found. Post articles related to your niche (whether you wrote them or not). Follow people who are active in the space and share, like and comment on their posts.

Clients. The easiest way to get work is through existing clients. Others in the firm may have represented accountants, for example, but not for your niche, such as mergers and acquisitions work. Analyze the firm’s clientele and, if you find targets, ask your colleagues for introductions. Or plan a client seminar on buying and selling accounting firms. Be mindful not to run afoul of rules against direct solicitation of clients as applicable, if at all, in your jurisdiction.

Proprietary research. Still an underused marketing tool, what better way to establish yourself in a niche than having information that no one else has, gathered through your own research efforts? Clients love to know what others who are similarly situated are doing. Reach out to your target audience or team up with an organization to conduct a survey on key issues. What keeps them up at night? What are the top five legal issues they are facing? What are their predictions for the future? The research results can serve as the basis for press releases as well as articles or presentations for the industry/target clientele.

Organizations. Narrowing your target audience results in more efficient and more effective marketing and networking efforts—like shooting fish in a barrel, as they say. There’s the International Marine Contractors Association and the Personal Care Products Council. There are groups for veteran-owned businesses and medical practices. Find the right organization; join to network and try to speak at meetings. And, if a targeted organization doesn’t exist, create one.

Networking and referral sources. Remember, the factor “connections and network” was listed as the second most-valued quality for professional service clients in their hiring process. Who are the consultants, experts or other professionals who circulate in your niche area? Reach out to them both to build your network and to grow your reputation. Look for opportunities to engage them in your marketing and networking efforts, by co-authoring articles, presenting joint webinars or starting an organization together.

Obviously, you can’t do everything. Select two or three activities that fit your targets, time, skills and interests and sustain them over time.

A few years ago, my husband and I were looking for a lakeshore property and started shopping for a real estate agent. I remember checking out profiles for two people who were recommended to us. One said she specialized in “residential, commercial, industrial and lakeshore properties and acreage.” The other touted herself as “the lakeshore specialist.” Whom do you think we ultimately hired?

Clients are looking for a compelling reason to select one lawyer over another and, most often, it relates to expertise or connections. By identifying a niche and focusing your messaging and marketing activities on it, the decision-making path will lead to you.