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Choosing a Practice Area: The Smaller, The Better

By Joyce Brafford

When choosing a practice area, you should consider who you are, where you want to be in 10 years, and the work life balance that fits your lifestyle. But choosing a practice area is only the first half of the equation. You should also select a niche for maximum marketing potential.

First, evaluate who you are outside of your personal and professional goals. Do you prefer the company of gregarious colleagues or a quiet office? Are you the type of person who likes to spend long hours on a single project, or do you prefer to juggle several tasks simultaneously? Consider the kinds of tasks you’ll be asked to perform, and the type of people with which you’ll work. Your personality and work style will help you narrow down your practice area options.  If you’re outgoing and enjoy meeting and working with new people, consider mergers and acquisitions. If you’re introverted and enjoy nuanced law, you should consider areas like tax or intellectual property.

Another consideration is work life balance. Will an unpredictable schedule or routinely long hours be overly burdensome for you? Do you need a more consistent schedule? If your overall happiness depends on being able to predict your working hours, you should consider practice areas whose hours mirror traditional working hours, like banking and finance or legislative practice.

The final consideration outside of professional goals is geographic in nature. Where do you want to live? What size city would you prefer? What kind of climate suits you best? Certain practice areas are concentrated in specific regions. If you want to represent tax exempt organizations, for example, you’ll have a harder time finding work in rural communities.

Now that you’ve defined who you are, and what practice areas are a good fit, it’s time to develop that preference into a niche. Niches are important for several reasons. First, they are a marketing gemstone. Secondly, they allow you to become an expert in a particular area, ultimately saving you time and energy. Finally, they will lead you to other, complementary practice areas.

To choose a niche, look at your practice areas and find overlap in clients and legal issues. If you’re just starting out, and haven’t begun to practice yet, think of your niche as your ideal case. For example, if you want to help families with long term planning, you may want your niche to be clients whose parents have dementia and who need long term care providers.

Once you identify your practice area and define your niche, you will find that marketing your services becomes much easier. For example, your elevator speech goes from “I practice in a lot of areas,” to “I represent families who are dealing with the unique struggles of supporting and providing for parents with dementia.” Additionally, you will be able to identify potential clients easier, and market to them in a clear, concise way. You’ll find that clients like for the area in which you represent them to be an area in which you seem comfortable. Defining your practice through your niche will make your ideal clients more confident in your representation.

Once you define your niche, begin practicing in it, and attracting clients that are a good fit, you’ll find that you’ll develop resources that you use regularly. You will begin to have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the law in that area. You’ll eventually find that you spend less time doing the legwork (legal research, finding forms) and you’ll have more time to grow and manage your practice.

Lastly, as you become recognized for your work representing a particular kind of client, you’ll see that complementary work naturally comes to you. For instance, if you’re representing homeowners associations who are collecting back dues, you’ll find that community developers will come to you for guidance in crafting HOA bylaws and other organizational documents. 

Selecting a practice area and defining a niche are almost crucial aspects of developing your practice. Without a defined field, you’re competing with every other lawyer for every client. Defining your practice will make you more marketable, and your clients happier.



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