Scott Limmer

Episode #15 – Establishing a Niche Practice

21 minutes

One thing lawyers in small or solo practices can do to help revitalize their current practices is look to developing a practice in a niche area of law. Scott and Oscar discuss specific lawyers who have developed such practices in a variety of legal fields – steroid law; bicycle accidents and representing pet owners. They also discuss how adding niche areas to their own practices helped increase their cash flow and provide a steadier revenue stream. The hosts provide pointers on how to develop such a practice and how adding a niche area of law cannot only enrich your business but also provide an area of law that interest you and keeps you focused on practice development.


Episode transcript

INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice, two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

OSCAR:                      Hello everybody. This is Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      Hi everyone. This is Scott Limmer. Welcome back to Reboot Your Law Practice. Thanks for joining us today. We’d like to thank everybody for continuing to listen and we’d ask if you’re enjoying the podcast to please leave us a review or a star rating on iTunes. It would really help us out a lot. So what are we talking about today, Oscar?

OSCAR:                      Well, it’s something that is a little bit of an offshoot of things we’ve been talking about over the last few podcasts, which is how to differentiate yourself and start up a new practice area. The topic came up recently when I saw an article in News Day about four or five lawyers who had attracted attention by developing a niche practice in a specific area. You know, Scott, you and I have talked about that a key way to possibly reboot is to try to find an area that you have an interest in and can gain business in that maybe aren’t people aren’t doing.

SCOTT:                      Sure, exactly. If you’re able to find an area that you can focus on, it will help you immeasurably in different ways just on your focus, on your ability to brand yourself, and your ability to put yourself out there and let people know what you do. There are so many different ways it can help you.

OSCAR:                      Part of the problem is that I think a lot of lawyers who are struggling for business and maybe having a hard time making ends meet are going to say, “I’ve got to take whatever comes through the door. I want to be all lawyers for all people. I’m going to just do whatever I can do to earn the quick dollar, even if I don’t know that much about the area, I’ll at least get some money in, get some cash flow going, and hope for the best.

SCOTT:                      On one hand, that’s totally understandable. Everyone has to make money. We all have to have a career and support ourselves, but it’s obviously very shortsighted.

OSCAR:                      Right because what we’re trying to do is build a long-term practice that you can rely on and that you can have a cash flow that sustains you evenly throughout the year and throughout the years. What’s interesting is if you look at these lawyers, they highlighted five of them in the article. I’m not going to name names but I can just go generally over what their niches are and how they got there. It’s actually interesting because all of them kind of fell into the niche based upon things that were of interest to them or where the kind of work just started to come. For example, one who is out here in Long Island was very big into body building. He worked out, even had some movie roles based upon his build, his look, his physique and that led to a practice helping people involved with steroid litigation, importing steroids with Customs Federal Trade Practices representing gyms, representing people charged illegally in the steroid business. Now, 100% of his practice, 100% of his practice is related to those issues. He says here in the article, it happened organically. Because he was involved in that area, people started coming to him.

Similarly, here’s a lawyer who is a big bicyclist. He and his sister who is also a lawyer were big bike riders and they decided to focus their personal injury practice on bike accident victims. Lo and behold, almost 40-50% of their practice is in biking. The third one I want to discuss briefly is a woman who loved dogs, had volunteered in animal shelters for many years. Now, she has a practice representing pet owners in various different types of claims, including being hired by some not for profits to try to lobby or propose legislation on behalf of animals and animal rights. Those are just three examples of folks who carved out healthy practices for themselves from something that they loved that led to a niche practice.

SCOTT:                      So when you’re looking at starting a niche practice, I think what the three examples of the attorneys you’ve given us is they all are practicing something they are interested in practicing. They didn’t just decide, “Hey, I’m going to do this” or “Hey, I’m going to do that.” They found something they enjoyed. The attorney who we know who does the body building, he took a love of something that he had. He was a criminal defense attorney before and blended kind of both of those things to handle all of these types of body building cases.

OSCAR:                      It’s important that you realize that having that area is going to help you when folks are searching for that type of attorney. They are going to say, “Well, here’s someone who specializes in that field.” Yes, while they like lawyers who are competent, who are experienced, it will also help boost your income and your client base if people feel that they have a variety, a particular experience in that field. For example, if you look at the person on the biking case, it wasn’t 100% of his practice like the steroid lawyer is 100%. It was 40-50%. That’s still going to give you kind of a guaranteed flow and those clients, of course, are going to come back to him if they or someone they know gets into a car accident or something else. It doesn’t have to be 100% but it could be a nice steady area that could lead you to other clients.

SCOTT:                      Right and you just can start in anything and if you have a plan, you see where it goes. Maybe it’s something that’s 25% of your practice, maybe it’s something that takes over your practice.

OSCAR:                      Exactly right and you don’t know where it’s going to lead. For example, one of the other folks who is featured in the article started out working in representing a hospital and got a particular specialty in Mental Health Law. She then started getting contacted by people who wanted her to represent their loved ones in these mental health proceedings where they are being involuntarily committed or where they wanted to be involuntarily committed, you know, a family member wanted to involuntarily commit somebody.

SCOTT:                      Sure.

OSCAR:                      That led her to get such experience with it that she was soon getting hired by the hospitals and the mental hygiene centers. Now she’s part of one of Long Island’s biggest firms with almost several of the major hospitals hiring her and her firm to represent them on mental health law issues. I’m sure 20 years ago when she started doing this, she may not have seen that it could have led to that kind of corporate client base that was obviously a very steady, nice stream of practice. You’ve got to think about where it might lead eventually and look for opportunities to grow that niche into other areas.

SCOTT:                      Right. Well, it’s all about planning. You have to sit down and think to yourself, “What is it that I’m interested in doing?” Then say to yourself, “Well, can I make money doing this?” You obviously don’t want to become a lawyer who just handles, I don’t know, law school diploma suits. There’s not going to be much there.

OSCAR:                      Yeah so you have to investigate the area and know that there’s work there to be had and then figure out a way to differentiate yourself to attract that business. When we talk about our own practices and when we talk about how we kind of reboot ourselves, which led to the podcast, it was in large part by finding our own niche practices, neither of them occupy 100% of our time but both of them, both of the areas I went into, I appeal litigation predominantly over digital images, you went to Special Education Law, etc., it was a way to find an area that not a lot of people in our community were practicing in and then secure clients in that area and we developed the base around that. So when we talk about how do you develop a niche practice, I think that’s really the first step.

SCOTT:                      Definitely.

OSCAR:                      Analyze the market place, take a look, find an area you’re interested in, and you’ve got to check out who is practicing law in that area, what are they doing, what can you do differently, what good ideas do you have that you can kind of co-opt to build your own practice in that area, and then start going out there and looking for that work. If you’re going to do this gym law and things related to that – steroids, fitness…

SCOTT:                      Don’t go to the gym and start handing out your cards. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that.

OSCAR:                      Exactly, but you got to want to look, you’re going to want to find out what the market place is, how many lawyers are doing that, where are they located.

SCOTT:                      Well, we’ll take that. If you really want to do gym law, let’s say that’s something you want to look into and you know that there are cases floating around there, you figure out, “How am I going to get those cases? Am I going to go to the bar association and meet people from bigger firms and say, “Hey, I’m the gym law guy. Make sure you think about me when you have a case like that. I could help you out.”

OSCAR:                      Right.

SCOTT:                      How are you going to go about selling yourself?

OSCAR:                      But let’s remember that what we’re hoping is that you’ve picked Gym Law or Steroid Law, whatever the area is for the same reason that this person did and was able to build his practice because he had inroads in that community, because he had contacts in that community, because he knew the issues to that community.

SCOTT:                      Well, there are two things you are talking about really. We’re talking about one, that natural synergy that you have with the type of practice that you can enjoy that I had with Special Education, that he has with the steroid law, but then we’re also talking about, “Hey, start from square one. You’re at a practice that you’re not really sure where you’re going and really, there’s no synergy with anything you do. Start learning, start thinking, and start talking. Those are your two options.

OSCAR:                      That’s really what I did. I went that route. I had a case that came to me over digital image litigation. I found it interesting. I knew generally the law in IP surrounding it but then once I saw that there was this potential out there, I developed a website specifically for that. I invested a little money to get SEO optimization and make sure that when people were looking for this kind of work that my website would come up. I made sure that I thought about who were the types of individuals that are going to be looking for this so that I would target what I would charge, what the website would look like, what would be the talking points.

SCOTT:                      It’s like starting a new business. You don’t think of it as an attorney starting a new business but if you would look at all the things that you have to do and the projects that you have with your business, this is like starting a new business.

OSCAR:                      Right. So you’ve got to take a look at yourself and you could try to do either the plan A or the plan B. The plan A is I think even if it’s not the road that I took, it’s kind of the road Scott took – you have the interest, you have some idea of the law in the area and you know that there could be a market out there for you, and you start either joining associations, going to meetings, putting up websites, and go that route.

SCOTT:                      Right and that’s kind of what I did with the Special Education. It was very slow how I got acclimated to it and it’s not something I jumped on quickly but it’s something that I learned a little this year, and the next year, I learned a little more. Then I started taking some easy cases, then I started getting taking some harder cases, and then I said, ‘Hey, I better find out if I could actually make a living doing this because it was starting to take up so much of my time.” There were a lot of people who really gave me some great information and realized that as long as I structure it the right way that I absolutely can. It was very organic and natural for me too.

OSCAR:                      Yeah and that seems to be the kind of them here with respect to the lawyers that were highlighted in this News Day article as well as you and I in that you have to then look at the potential for the organic growth of the practice and think that through and have a plan of how you expect to deal with it and where you can find expansion. So for example, before that niche came into my law practice, I wasn’t a member of the IP Bar Association. I wasn’t interested really in trying to cultivate that aspect of my background to reflect a solid IP base but it led to that and very quickly in turn, we found other lawyers from other states referring cases to us and because IP, you can practice it nationally.

That led to a whole separate thing that we’re now finding to be a very essential growth to our practice which is being local counsel in New York for outside lawyers who are unadmitted into New York as well as taking cases in other jurisdictions and finding those local lawyers there to move us pro hac vice and again, that seems to be this year where we’re focusing a lot more attention to develop it. You’ve got to try to keep an open mind when you find the niche as to where it could take you from that beyond the very simple case that you may have started with. It may not work the very first time.

SCOTT:                      No, it may not work at all. It may take years to work out a niche practice but as long as you plan and as long as you learn and you get knowledge from other people who are doing it, as long as you have a plan, there’s no reason it shouldn’t succeed.

OSCAR:                      Right. The key focus on it is you know it’s not going to happen overnight.

SCOTT:                      Of course.

OSCAR:                      And the most important decision is finding the area and seeing the area that you feel you can cultivate and be comfortable with because certainly, for example, bankruptcy was booming for a while and people like to jump into that water. That’s not what we’re talking about.

SCOTT:                      No, no definitely not.

OSCAR:                      That’s what happened to criminal defense. There was a lot of crime, there was a lot of activity. Everybody jumped into the pool.

SCOTT:                      Listen, we’re talking about healthcare. We’re talking about internet security. We’re talking about there’s got to be litigation with companies like Uber and Airbnb. All things like cannabis. There are all upcoming interesting new types of law that you should get yourself involved in. Bankruptcy and criminal law is most definitely not a good idea.

OSCAR:                      Right, exactly, and even within that, for example, one of the folks that I’m very close to in the law practice has a federal tax criminal niche practice.

SCOTT:                      That’s going to be very interesting.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. Again, even in these broad areas, if you could find a specific niche that people refer cases to you and you could be the kind of go to guy in that area, that may work as well. So I find that trying to develop a new practice area particularly something that not a lot of people obviously are doing out there is a good way to reboot, a good way to start over. You’re also going to find especially if it’s something that you have a personal interest in that you’re going to be excited about, you’re going to have the energy that you might not have if you’re just droning out there, just trying to say, “I’ll take whatever comes through the door. Give me an L&T case, give me a criminal case. Give me anything.”

SCOTT:                      It’s like when you’re in grade school, you did well at what you liked.

OSCAR:                      Right.

SCOTT:                      If you’re enjoying yourself, you had more motivation and you’re into it.

OSCAR:                      And not just that, by the way, it’s even easier to talk about it when we talk about networking sessions about it.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

OSCAR:                      Now it’s, “What do you do?” “I represent Italian time manufacturers.” Oh really?

SCOTT:                      You always have something to talk about. You always have something interesting to put into the conversation. “Oh, that’s what you do? Oh you practice Special Education Law? Tell me about that. What exactly does that mean?” I get into that conversation a million times a week. It’s the opening. You’re creating an opening for you to be able to build relationships with this new interesting thing that you could talk about.

OSCAR:                      By the way, maybe that person you’re talking to didn’t even know that that niche of law exists.

SCOTT:                      Sure. So that’s what Special Education Law is.

OSCAR:                      Right. So now I’m at a party and someone is telling me that their kids are getting services. “Hey you know guess what, I actually know a guy. That’s what he does.” “Really?” “He specializes in that. Give him a call.” It’s not that they won’t refer you cases for it even though you existed.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      If you just went out there and say, “What do you?” “I do criminal law.” “Okay.”

SCOTT:                      Everybody does criminal law. Everybody does personal injury.

OSCAR:                      They have a referring person for criminal law. They have a referring person for PI. They have a referring person for bankruptcy and once that client comes through your door for your practice, they are going to be convinced you’re a good lawyer. You’re going to take care of them, etc., and again, it will develop the client base in that area and beyond.

SCOTT:                      And the more you learn about that niche, the more you become an expert, you get those advantages from having that type of practice, you become the expert. You’re able to charge more because you’re an expert in that field.

OSCAR:                      Exactly and it’s a self fulfilling prophecy because you start going to these conferences, you start going to these bar associations or these specific committee groups related to that niche. So now you’re going to learn other ways lawyers make money in that field that maybe you didn’t know about. For example, this woman that we were talking about, she started representing individuals against the hospitals, did very well in it, and then said, “Wait a second, the better money, the more steady money is in representing the hospitals,” but she was able to put herself in that position because she had developed the niche, whatever, and had gained the expertise and now saw the opportunity. So once you start putting yourself into that program, you may see the way other folks kind of skin the cat and make the money and put yourself in that position.

SCOTT:                      The more you’re out there, the more you’re meeting people, the more ideas you can get for yourself and figure out how you can be successful.

OSCAR:                      So I think to kind of summarize, that’s really an area for folks who are looking to reboot either single practitioner or small firm. Think about what you enjoy doing personally, either a hobby or a special interest or where you devote your community service time, anything you could think of and see if that could develop into a niche for you. If not, research the legal market place, find out what the lawyers are doing in other areas that have this kind of a niche appeal. See if you can develop that in your community and start building a practice up in that area and I think you’ll find that it not only kind of rejuvenates your interest in the law and your interest in the practice but hopefully will revive your cash flow and produce a stream of business for you.

Once again, it’s Oscar Michelen. You can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com.

SCOTT:                      This is Scott. You can reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com. Our phone number is 516-900-4842 if you’d like to leave a comment, a question, or have topics you’d like us to talk about on the show. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next week.

OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot Your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.

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