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February 07, 2014 Articles

Ask the Section: How Do I Develop a Client Base and Proficiency in a Practice Area that Is Not Represented in My Firm?

Two Section leaders weigh in on how a young associate can grow his or her practice area from scratch.

By William H. Knight

A first-year associate at a midsize law firm asks:

Dear Section of Litigation,

I am a young attorney in a midsize law firm looking to develop a particular practice, but none of my partners practice in that field. Do you have any advice on how to develop a client base and proficiency in a new field?


The World Is Your Classroom
Before entering any new practice field, it is important to understand the market and trends. Get out of your office and into CLEs and other courses that inform you about the practice and where it is headed. Connect with other lawyers engaged in the same practice and go to lunch or coffee to discuss it. Get online and look for events at which your prospective clients may attend, go to a few of those events and meet people. Connect with other ABA leaders or members and ask for advice. Another way to get excellent experience in the specific area of practice you want to enter is to take a pro bono case to get practical experience as well as mentoring from the organizations that facilitate the pro bono representation.  Study, study, study the law related to the practice and make yourself an expert.

Cindy Albracht-Crogan is a partner at Cohen Kennedy Dowd & Quigley in Phoenix, Arizona practicing in commercial litigation. She is also cochair of the ABA Section of Litigation's Solo & Small Firm Committee.

Form a Plan—and Stick To It
You are to be commended for seeking to expand your area of practice. As a "young attorney" you know how challenging it can be just to keep up with the work already assigned to you as you grow professionally.  Your desire to grow the practice should impress your partners with your initiative, but only if you formulate a strategy, and then stick to it.

One of the best ways to break into a new field is to write an article on a topic in that area of practice, attend a conference, or even speak on a panel relating to that field. Bar organizations, at the local, state or national level are always looking for help and this is a great way to start making acquaintances in the field, and form your brand.

If you tell your partners you are going to do it, then make sure you follow through. You do not ever want to accused of being "all talk." And be sure not to let your daily work suffer as a result of your new business development activities.

If you have a passion about this new area of law, then you having nothing to lose and everything to gain. Good luck.

Joseph M. Hanna is a partner working out of Goldberg Segalla's Buffalo and New York City offices. He specializes in commercial litigation with a focus on sports and entertainment law. He is also a cochair of the ABA Section of Litigation's Minority Trial Lawyer Committee.

There you have it!  The big "takeaways" appear to be: (1) developing a knowledge base; (2) marketing yourself by writing and/or meeting practitioners at conferences and CLE's; and (3) get your hands dirty by taking pro bono clients or volunteering to speak on the subject with a local bar association.

"Ask the Section" is a recurring column where JIOP alumni can submit anonymous career development questions and have them answered by specially selected Section of Litigation members who are the most qualified in that area. The JIOP Alumni committee developed this column to serve as a tool both for individual mentoring and to learn collectively from each other's professional growth. To submit an anonymous question, please e-mail the editor.