It may seem counter-intuitive, but choosing a legal specialization is essential to the success of any solo attorney or small law firm.
Before I get too deep into this article, let me clarify. When I talk about “legal specialization” in this article, I’m talking about picking one practice area where you plan to do the majority of your business. I know some Bar Associations require certification to actually call yourself a “specialist.” That’s not what I’m discussing. I’m talking about a higher level marketing strategy where you narrow down and focus on a subset of services you will offer.
That said, while a lot of lawyers get the idea of narrowing their focus on a conceptual level, they feel it’s risky. They don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, they say. Yet they are currently struggling to bring in new business.
Legal Specialization Doesn’t Pigeonhole You
You probably didn’t become a lawyer so you could do the same boring task repeatedly. The good news is, that’s not what choosing a legal specialization is about!
Specialization is about doing work you love doing for clients you love working with. It’s about being able to choose which legal projects you accept, rather than taking any client who comes your way because you need the business.
The biggest myth about legal specialization is that you must focus on one particular type of client and only take on legal work specific to your practice area. The truth is that you can actually have several practice areas – but how you market each will be different.
The Psychology of Marketing
Marketing is primarily about psychology. It’s about understanding your clients’ biggest concerns, frustrations and problems, and then tailoring your marketing message to address those concerns. If you practice law in several unrelated areas, you position yourself as a jack-of-all-trades in your prospects’ minds.
For instance, let’s say you enjoy practicing family law and intellectual property law. When your prospects look at your list of practice areas, they seem unrelated. Now, you may be a great lawyer in each area – but if someone is about to divorce, they won’t be impressed that you practice intellectual property law.
Rather, they will be focused on what you can do for them as their divorce proceedings move forward. Can you negotiate a good settlement for them? Can you make the procedure go as smoothly as possible? Can you empathize with the pain they are going through? Can you make sense of what their crazy spouse is asking? Can you help them gain custody of the kids?
If you want to attract divorce clients, you will have to address their specific concerns in your marketing. If you want to attract intellectual property clients, you must address their concerns, which will be completely different from divorce clients, in your marketing. For each practice area you specialize in, you will need an entirely separate marketing campaign with different ads, a different website, and different marketing materials for it to be most effective. As you can see, this can get expensive, which is why it is best to focus on no more than two or three practice areas.
How to Choose a Legal Specialization
When choosing a specialization, look at the practice areas that you enjoy and wish you had more work in. Here are seven questions to consider.
- Which areas of law do you enjoy most? To specialize, you must enjoy practicing in a particular area of law. Which areas do you keep up-to-date with? Which would you love to have more work in?
- What strengths and expertise do you have? What knowledge and skills do you have? Is there a particular area of law that you know better than the rest? Do you have a background in a particular area?
- Who are your competitors? How many other lawyers are competing for business? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are there one or two lawyers or law firms who dominate the market? It is extremely difficult to compete with more-established attorneys who have a larger marketing budget and have built their reputation as a specialist in a particular area – though that doesn’t mean you can’t form a strategic alliance with them or find a way to differentiate your legal services.
- What are your prospects’ demographics? Demographics include characteristics like age, income, marital status, gender, level of education and job position. Do any major events trigger their decision to hire you? Demographics give you an idea of where your prospects are in life and what major life events might influence their decision to hire you.
- What are their psychographics? Psychographics involve how your prospects view the world and what motivates them. Psychographics take into consideration your prospects’ interests, attitudes, opinions, values and lifestyles. For instance, your prospects may be optimistic or pessimistic. They may be the “take control of your destiny” type or they might be more inclined to play the victim of their circumstances and environment.
- How will you reach prospects? Can you reach your audience easily through websites, online marketing, newspapers, trade associations, mailing lists, publications, or other media that targets this group?
- What characteristics do your ideal clients have? Not every prospect makes a good client. You probably didn’t become a lawyer to work with people who don’t value your services, nitpick you fees, are indecisive, or don’t take your advice. Which types of clients do you wish you could work with all the time? What personality traits do they have?
Specializing in a practice area offers three key benefits. You can understand and address your prospects’ key motivations, concerns, fears and problems in your marketing materials, thus making your marketing far more effective at generating qualified leads.
You can reach a select group of people affordably because you know which media they are likely to view.
And because you are perceived as a specialist in your practice area, you can be choosier with the clients you work with – and even turn away or refer out prospects who might not be ideal for you.