January 20, 2009 Articles

Finding a Niche: One Key to Solo Success and Happiness

By Roland W. Baggott III

I am a sole practitioner. My firm is located in Nashville, Tennessee and my practice focuses on franchising. Predominantly, I represent franchisors in commercial litigation, including termination litigation and business tort litigation; trademark registration, prosecution and defense, including infringement litigation and litigation in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board; regulatory compliance, including the annual updating and registration of their Uniform Franchise Offering Circular (UFOC); and in business transactions. Occasionally, I will represent a franchisee. However, my representation of franchisees is usually limited to pre-purchase review of the franchisor's UFOC or rescission litigation based upon the franchisor's fraud.

I became a franchise lawyer when I was hired as the General Counsel of Smoothie King Franchises, Inc. During my tenure, I learned the business of franchising and gained experience with the day-to-day issues that face franchisors. When I returned to private practice, my niche was clear: franchising. I have experience and perspective that few other franchise lawyers in private practice have. In many ways, I work with my clients as an outside general counsel.

The overwhelming majority of my business comes from referrals by other lawyers. In Tennessee, approximately four other attorneys in private practice have significant experience and knowledge of franchise law. All of them work at large law firms, the smallest of which has more than two hundred attorneys. The work that I do traditionally is performed by lawyers at large law firms. I know each of them personally, have positive professional relationships with them, and have earned their respect as a practitioner. When those attorneys have conflicts, frequently they will refer the conflict business to me. When I am finished representing their client, however, I thank them and send their client back to them. This last step—sending the client back—shows that I respect the level of trust placed in me and their professional relationships. It has proven to be a valuable source of business. Further, my reputation within the larger legal community has benefited from their confidence.

I have never directly advertised my practice. However, I am active in the local and state bar associations. In the member directories, I list my practice area as franchise law. Through this bar association activity, I am able to establish relationships with attorneys who may refer business to me. My niche is an area of law in which most attorneys will not dabble. Thus, by letting other attorneys know what I do, I am able to generate business that otherwise might not have been referred to me.

A smaller portion of my practice is dedicated to representing physicians in health care matters. I represent physicians exclusively. I do not represent health care companies, hospitals, or insurers. The matters I handle involve regulatory compliance, privilege litigation, fraud and abuse litigation, sales and contract negotiation, corporate compliance, and practice purchases. I do not defend malpractice suits. Few health care attorneys represent physicians exclusively, so physicians have difficulty finding competent health care counsel who do not have a conflict of interest. As with franchise law, other attorneys are a primary source of referrals of this business. The physicians themselves are also a good source of referrals.

I have found stability and happiness as a sole practitioner by significantly limiting my practice and the types of clients that I accept. I have the luxury of stating that, by choice, I do not practice many areas of law. If you are a sole practitioner seeking more stability and satisfaction from your practice, developing a niche may work for you.

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