March 2011 | Careers for Law Students and Young Lawyers
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Niche Specialization for Lawyers
By Steven M. Gursten

We’ve all heard there are many advantages to niche specialization, yet many law firms continue to maintain a general practice or offer a wide array of legal services to ensure no opportunity is missed. In a dynamic legal industry where today’s demand for efficiency and the need to stand out competitively are higher than ever, firms must find alternatives to capture new business. Refining your firm’s focus and narrowing in on a specialized area of practice can help you gain a competitive edge along with greater efficiencies and credibility.

What’s in a Name?

Almost all law firm names are a series of last names of founding partners. But unless you are one of the very few law firms in America spending a fortune on television, and perhaps to a much lesser extent, radio, and yellow pages, these names mean absolutely nothing to the average person on the street. It reflects a by-gone era when most lawyer referrals were word of mouth. But your surname, or three to five surnames, tells the public nothing about yourself or what areas of law you practice within.

These names are basically very hard to remember, hard to pronounce, and susceptible to all sorts of interesting spelling permutations. It also does nothing to distinguish or separate yourself from any other lawyer or law firm with a bunch of strange sounding names.

Being a generalist, people won't remember you for any particular area of true expertise.

Many lawyers are faced with the challenge of competing for clients in an already crowded and hyper-competitive field. One has only to open up the local phone book for proof.

Choosing a “dba” that clearly states the type of law your practice is involved in can differentiate and distinguish you from other law firms, even other law firms who practice within the same area as yours. Someone who glances at your letterhead or street sign or business card would know immediately what type of law you practice. And in that glance it immediately differentiates your lawyers from competitors. Perhaps most important, it conveys that your law firm has deep subject matter knowledge and expertise. Some examples of this could include “Denver Divorce Law” or “New York Personal Injury Experts”. With these types of law firm names, potential clients searching for a lawyer immediately know what type of service you provide and distinguishes you as a local expert in that field of law.

Some partners may at first be very reluctant to make the leap to a dba or firm name change. They may be concerned that by embracing niche specialization and focusing solely on one area of practice, they would lose the miscellaneous case or two that came from a past friend or client’s referral. But by focusing on one practice area you may find that these losses, to the extent that they have occurred, have been more than offset by signing far more cases of people who have a specific need for your area of law.

By choosing to practice in one very narrow and niche-specialized area of law, everyone - your potential clients, potential referral sources and the general public will know immediately and exactly what you do.  Your image is clear and precise.

Marketing in the 21 st Century and the Google Age

In the business of law, marketing yourself as a generalist does not persuade, distinguish, or differentiate yourself in a sea of lawyer advertising. You are just one more name, either competing with well-branded TV advertisers who would spend millions in advertising every year, or in a phone book packed with similar ads from other lawyers with unfamiliar names as well.

Advertising legal services as a generalist isn’t only confusing to human beings, it’s confusing for the search engines as well. In the internet age, niche specialization makes it easier for web crawlers and search engines that continuously monitor the web for content to understand exactly what area of law you practice, just like it does for people.

A clearly stated area of practice, well-supported by content that is thematically relevant and consistent to this area of practice makes it easy for the search engines to understand and index your website. The job of the search engines is to deliver the most relevant results to the user. A website focused on niche specialization makes this task easier for the search engines to deliver useful content. Unfortunately for most lawyer websites today, every area of law that is listed complicates this task, and puts you at risk for lower rankings, buried deep in search results never to be found. What is true for people is also true for search engines - and niche specialization makes it easy for both people and internet search engines to understand who you are and what kind of law you specialize in.

The mistake that too many lawyers make in offering a long list of legal services is that they don’t want to miss out on that one “big case.” Yet the more areas of law you offer legal services in, the less authoritative you become - for people and for search engines.

The more narrow your niche, the easier it is to establish yourself as the authority in that specialized area of law and for people and web crawlers to regard you as a more relevant choice in that area of law.  Also, the easier it is for your clients, potential clients, and referral sources, including other lawyers, to know and more easily remember exactly what it is you do.

Niche specialization works in the internet age.

Other Advantages of Niche Specialization

Additional benefits to niche specialization in addition to search engine optimization, include:

Persuasiveness and Credibility -The more narrow your niche, the easier it is to establish yourself as the authority in that specialized area of law and for people to perceive you immediately as an expert in that area of law. 

Recognition – Lawyers are more likely to refer cases to you if you specialize, and a higher web ranking on the internet more likely to drive clients to your firm. Your chance of being contacted by media as a source for comments will significantly increase. You will more likely be asked to speak at legal seminars on your area of expertise.

Increased Efficiency. By focusing on only one type of case your firm will be able to build an extensive document library and work product database that covers both specific cases that are routine and not routine. The more you specialize, the more you will develop in-depth knowledge about your area of the law.

Reduction of Costs - Being all things to all people creates lots of stress. Every new case and new motion requires huge additional effort. Today, with only a few words typed in your document management system, attorneys can quickly find work product on almost every conceivable issue related to your niche area of law - from motions in limine filed in past trials to unusual lien situations.

Better Use of Forms – Niche specialization allows attorneys and staff to create interrogatories, motions and form documents in a blink.

Better Division of Labor – Specializing allows lawyers to create systems and “go-to” people to add increased efficiencies. With proper division of labor, complex tasks become easy to break down into simple tasks, which in turn become easy for staff to accomplish. By dividing the tasks in the office, and creating in house specialists, you can cater to the strengths of your employees.

Better Division of Resources – When you specialize you no longer have to have every volume of all the books in your law library. You can allocate scarce resources in a more efficient manner. Focusing on an area of niche specialization, you can have the top library in your area of expertise, one that is up to date and the one other lawyers want to use when they have a case in your area.

As you consider your future, consider narrowing the range of services you offer.  Target one or two areas in which you want to practice law.  Obviously, this advice better serves lawyers in more dense (and more competitive) geographical areas. Choose carefully and make sure the geographical area you practice in can support a niche practice, or be prepared to travel. The more narrow your niche -- the more effective your marketing and internet advertising will become.

About the Author

Steven M. Gursten is a partner at Michigan Auto Law, an auto accident law firm helping victims injured in Michigan car, truck and motorcycle accidents. Steve also has a blog: Michigan Auto Lawyers Blog.


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