Scott Limmer

The hosts continue their discussion of how to add a niche practice of law to your business. They remind listeners that it may take time to grow, it will not happen overnight. Scott and Oscar give some specific details of how to start such a practice. It starts with setting goals and creating a business plan. Selecting the right area is key and it may take more than one attempt to find the right niche. It’s best to look at areas that you already have a potential to get business in that area. Some pointers:

  • Start by deciding the large practice group – Family Law, Criminal Defense
  • Look for narrow topics within those larger areas –private adoption for example in Family Law or Forfeiture Proceedings in Criminal Law
  • Research the field and see what it is that clients will be looking for; analyze the market place to see if that niche is already glutted with lawyers. Are there associations you can join that will expose you to businesses and entities that may need the services you are looking to provide?
  • Develop social media around the niche area including a separate web page entirely or at least a strong section on your current website devoted to the niche area. Write an article or two in that field before you start marketing yourself.
  • Continue networking but focus on establishing yourself as the go-to lawyer in that niche area.

Remember that the whole point is to differentiate yourself from other lawyers and to have clients who are looking for lawyers in that niche area find you and hire you. Patience is key, take time to decide on the right area, put the social media in place directed at that area before you start marketing and networking and then go out and channel your networking efforts in trying to attract business in your chosen niche area.


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 everybody. This is Scott Limmer. Welcome back to Reboot Your Law Practice. Thanks for tuning in this week. I want to thank everybody for the reviews and the star ratings on iTunes. We appreciate anybody enjoying the podcast, please drop by iTunes and leave us a rating or a nice comment.

So what are we going to talk about this week, Oscar?

OSCAR:                      We’re going to continue our discussion about the development of a niche practice. We began a little bit about it at a couple of podcasts ago and we’ve got some feedback from folks who had listened to it and inquired about, “Well, it sounds easy but what exactly are the steps that I should take to doing that?” The first thing I want to say to those people is, “Whoever said it was easy?” I don’t know how and the things we said it was going to be simple or easy or maybe we made it sound easy, that’s great, but the fact is, it’s not going to develop overnight.

SCOTT:                      Sometimes it’s the least of two evils. It’s what’s the least painful thing is. Learning a new practice and going out there may be a lot less painful than going home and not being able to pay your mortgage.

OSCAR:                      Exactly and also not having a game plan and not having a thought of where you’re going to take the practice can lead to a lot of stress and can lead to a lot of problems in yourself. So you’re going to have to be building towards it and we can start talking about it in this podcast some of those initial steps that you could take to begin to develop a niche practice but understand please, it’s going to take a little while to grow. It’s not going to happen overnight and you may even have to switch to another practice area before you find the right one.

SCOTT:                      That’s why we want to be kind of specific in this podcast. It’s very easy to read an article, listen to somebody say, “Hey, go find a niche practice and you’ll be successful,” but what we’re going to try to accomplish on this podcast and maybe a few comments going forward is, like Oscar said, give you some specific things that you can do, some goals, and if you don’t mind, let me start. Really, the first thing you have to do and there’s no question is you need a plan. I’ve said this before, you can’t do anything without a plan. You can’t decide you’re going to go into some niche practice and then look around and say, “Oh, I’m not getting the business.”

OSCAR:                      Right, the very first step is obviously trying to find out the actual area that you’re going to try to develop and the best way to start doing that is by looking around yourself. Who do you know, who do you associate with, what are your current contacts, what are your current network opportunities, what is the ability you have to look and find in the area? You could certainly go on websites that will list, like 15 or 16 popular legal niches that you could start at. You want to do it that way? That’s fine.

You look at those lists, say, “I have an access to this level of work. I could get this type of work. I know people who own that type of business. I never thought about that.”

SCOTT:                      Even if you don’t know anybody that does anything, even if you have no previous contacts and certainly any previous contacts help and anything that you’re interested in certainly makes sense to do, but even if you have no prior contacts with anyone, there is no doubt that we can give you some help in how to immerse yourself in whatever niche practice you’re looking to get into.

OSCAR:                      So let’s say you find an area and we’re going to first tell you to try to narrow your field as much as possible. One of the best ways to go about it is maybe first decide on the easy one and that is, what’s the general subject matter that I want to do? Is it criminal defense, is it personal injury, is it commercial law, is it business litigation, is it family law? Let’s say, “You know what, I think I can go into family law.” Family law is a little bit too broad. That’s a good start.

SCOTT:                      Right. If you go into family law and you just say, “Hey, I’m a family lawyer.” That’s not saying anything to anybody. You might as well just say you do everything.

OSCAR:                      Right. So then say within that field, I want to focus on, and Scott and I were talking about this a little bit earlier, private adoption, foreign adoption. So you know have a very specific niche area that you know from either your own personal experience or you’re just reading about it, there is a level of work there. People do need lawyers to help them with these matters. There are few and far between lawyers who actually can help with that.

You’ll see certain ads with them from time to time but now you decide to develop that niche. You now have to immerse yourself in that world for some period of time and really get an idea of what it is that clients are looking for from their lawyers. There are a number of ways that you could do that. One of them maybe is as simple as joining an association but I also recommend reading articles, looking it up online. Finding out the resources for the information that will tell you what kind of work these lawyers actually do and what do the clients want in them.

SCOTT:                      In my opinion, once you do all your due diligence, you sit down, and you figure out how you’re able to bring these cases in. You figure out how you’re able to associate yourself with people in this industry. If you go to bar association meetings, you sit down next to people and you talk to them. You see what they know about the niche practice you’re looking to go into.

OSCAR:                      Right and if they know nothing about it…

SCOTT:                      Move on.

OSCAR:                      Right or even better…

SCOTT:                      Maybe they will refer you a couple of cases.

OSCAR:                      Exactly so that’s great. That’s what I do entering that area of practice. “So please think of me if any of your family law clients need that kind of help.” If they don’t and you can’t find that mentor, you can’t find that person to give that information, you’re going to have to pound the pavement. You’re going to have to find associations, maybe not even legal associations, maybe some not for profits, maybe some community organizations that you can get involved in that. Volunteer, try to find out what is it that’s going on that you could participate in.

SCOTT:                      What you need to do is you need to have a plan on how you want people to see you. You need to know what clients are looking for from you. You need to brand yourself as the foreign adoption attorney. I’ve done something similar with myself. I’m practicing school in special education law. That’s what I brand myself as. That’s what I talk to clients and tell them that I’m practicing and we get into a nice conversation about it.

If you have a plan and you know the way you want people to view you, you could go to these networking events. You can go to a bar association meeting of the family law committee and you can talk to everybody. Instead of saying, “Oh, I do a little family law” or “I do a little bit of this,” you go up to the person, you shake their hand, and say, “Hi, my name is so and so. I’ve recently started a practice where I’m handling foreign adoptions. I’d love to have a conversation with you about it.”

OSCAR:                      Right. Have you ever come across that or let me know if any of your clients are in need of that service.”

SCOTT:                      The plan gives you the confidence to be able to go and speak to people and not stutter around and not be confident.

OSCAR:                      So you’re also going to want to make sure that you try to secure a good URL, a good domain name that’s going to be kicking back and preferably an independent website specifically about your niche or a section of your current website that you devote to your niche practice so that when you’re out there telling people you do that, they are going to find a reference source to look you up and see that you have, in fact, set yourself up. You have that platform.

SCOTT:                      It’s all part of a puzzle. I don’t mean to cut you off.

OSCAR:                      No please go ahead.

SCOTT:                      I don’t like to keep cutting you off.

OSCAR:                      I don’t mind.

SCOTT:                      But it’s all part of the puzzle. It’s all putting yourself out there. Is this brand, is this person that you want people to see you as, that’s the only way. Think of the people you know. Think of the attorneys that you know. Think of the criminal lawyers you know. There are those criminal guys that everybody knows that they are good attorneys. Why? They put themselves out as criminal attorneys and they are impressive guys. They talk about it in an impressive way, and by guys I mean guys and girls, of course. Think of other attorneys that you know. They are impressive because they have a confidence about them. They know what they want to say when they are talking to people. That’s what you either learn or you have to fake it really well.

OSCAR:                      Develop it over a number of different fields – on your business card, on your website, when you talk to people, “This is what I do. This is who I am. This is my area of practice.” Before you even go out and do that, have at least one or two blog articles in the pipeline. Have one published and have at least two of them that you’re ready to put back out in the field of whatever you decide to do. By the way, if you can’t find enough to write about for two or three articles…

SCOTT:                      Don’t bother.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. That’s not going to sustain you. You need to find a practice that interests you that has enough complexity and diversity that will allow you to constantly express yourself as a leader in that field and as someone who has thought this through, has a plan, and can help the person. You don’t want to totally jump the shot and could be so specific that I represent folks who have your sinkholes in Marine County California. Who knows, you might get a call.

SCOTT:                      Actually, I don’t know. That might work out really well.

OSCAR:                      Yeah. My point is it has got to be somewhere in between, so finite that there’s no room for discussion and growth and so broad that it doesn’t bring people to you. Please remember that. The whole point of this is to differentiate you from the masses so that when people are looking for that type of lawyer, they are going to find you. That’s why you needed the domain name. That’s why you need a nice website with content that’s devoted to that. I would suggest that at the very least, especially if you’re just launching, before you really have a trail of success, put up a 30-second, 45-second video on your website on a YouTube channel somewhere.

SCOTT:                      While I don’t disagree with using video, I think video is a very tough starting point. I think there are a lot of things to do where your time is better spent than a video. That is something I have been struggling with forever. I have thought about putting up YouTube videos for my Special Ed practice for a while and just to be able to do it and get it right and not look goofy, I think it’s tough.

OSCAR:                      Okay. That’s fair. I would put it back to you this way. It worked for me and one of the ways I developed my niche field and I pay. It worked well though because the person that I had associated with launched a website similar to mine had experience in doing videos and putting them up on YouTube so it came easy.

SCOTT:                      It came easy, right.

OSCAR:                      So that might be the case for you. The purpose of the video and the reason why I like it is it adds instant content to the video and it helps search engines find your site. That’s really the only additional plus you get from it.

SCOTT:                      Again, I don’t disagree with you. I think video is a good thing but I guess I feel that there are a lot of steps before that. Is there anything you have left to say about that? I’m sorry.

OSCAR:                      No. I mean, there is more than one way to skin the cat. These are all suggestions. Some work for me. Some work for Scott. Some work for other people.

SCOTT:                      I’m being very argumentative.

OSCAR:                      No, it’s okay. This is what the podcast is about because there’s no one way to get there, folks. You will need to do some trial and error to figure out.

SCOTT:                      What makes sense for you, right?

OSCAR:                      Right. What you can do. That’s all.

SCOTT:                      I want to talk about building a website for a second and we’ve talked about this a little bit before but I want to get into a little more depth because if you’re going to work out a niche practice for yourself and you’re going to brand yourself, your website, as we’ve said, is usually the first way people come into contact with you. Too often what attorneys wind up doing when they are building the websites is they just let other people take care of them. I’ll ask you this question, Oscar, besides you and I, do you know any attorneys that like their websites?

OSCAR:                      Just the opposite. Most people I talk to hate the whole fact about it.

SCOTT:                      And I’m going to tell you why. I’m going to tell you absolutely why everybody hates their websites – because they are not representative of themselves. Their websites, as we’ve said, there are gavels, there are courtrooms. The websites that people put up have absolutely nothing to do with them. Their words probably somebody else created, email to them, said, “Hey, is this good?” They said, “Fine, just throw up the damn website.”

OSCAR:                      And especially a lot of the content is just blabber. It’s the same message that every other law firm is sending out there. It’s not unique to your voice. It’ doesn’t describe you as you would describe yourself.

SCOTT:                      Right. You put this website out for everyone to see and there’s no picture of people. It doesn’t suck anybody in it. It’s just some piece of information that’s out there. You have to utilize it. I went through a lot of terrible, terrible website, guys. Listen, plenty of people helped me. I had plenty of people editing my stuff, looking it over, and reviewing it, but I figured out what message I wanted to send to my clients who may hire me for school and special education cases. I figured out what questions they may want answered and try to have the website have a welcoming feel, an interesting feel. Hopefully I succeeded but if the least, it’s a little bit of me in it. If the least it will succeed because of that.

OSCAR:                      And more importantly, well, I have more than one website. I want the website that’s targeted towards a particular niche area to be like really super directed at the content that I think the client is going to want to know. You can always direct people back to your general website if you want to show them your basic platform but if you’re going to put out that niche website, you need to have spent a lot of time figuring out what are some going to be searching for, what are they going to be looking for in a lawyer? How do I put that into words and how do I put that in my voice so that they can identify me as that person and that I could follow that up when they call me and come for an interview about that area. Again, if it’s going to be private adoption or foreign adoption as an example, funeral home negligence law….

SCOTT:                      Whatever it is.

OSCAR:                      Whatever crazy niche you develop you decide on, think about that website first and that has to be part of your plan because by the way, you can’t build that website without first learning what clienteles are going to want, what content are going to be necessary to them, what’s going to be interesting to them, and what do you have to say about it.

SCOTT:                      Basically, the summary of that sentence, Oscar, is that before you give value with your website, you have to be authentic. You need to learn about that practice and understand what you need to put out there before you do it or it’s just going to be some schlocky site, “Hire me, hire me.”

OSCAR:                      Right and by the way, you may find that niche area in the work that you already do.

SCOTT:                      Sure, absolutely.

OSCAR:                      Let’s say if you’re doing criminal defense and you find one particular area or client based representing auto body shops or representing restaurant owners, or bar owners or those types of cases.

SCOTT:                      With the school and special education practice I have and also still handling some criminal cases, lately, it seems that I have started handling a lot of college disciplinary hearings. I’m doing them and I’m talking about them and I spoke to it about somebody and guess what, I get referred another one. It steam rolls. If you talk about it, if you put it out there, you can’t help but get this work.

OSCAR:                      And it’s going to expose you as we said in our first podcast on this topic, it may expose you to other revenue source within that field that you weren’t even aware of, which what’s Scott is talking about where predominantly, he was focusing on high school and elementary to middle school issues.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      And then lo and behold, parents of college aged kids started coming. You could go and you could look and you can find a dozen lawyers with great niche practices just representing college kids. That may have worked out in reverse where they may then end up getting work in lower school levels. The point of it is we don’t know what you’re going to get until you start and you can’t start without doing the homework and getting the base level of content that you’re going to need for both your website, a blog, and your networking opportunities.

SCOTT:                      So this is the thing and those of you listening out there, I know what some of you are saying. This all sounds very nice but this is going to be a lot of work and this is going to take a lot of time. I have a practice while it’s not doing so wonderful, I’m still working 60 hours a week to put food on my family’s table. What do you say to somebody like that?

OSCAR:                      I would get some consulting help if you’re doing 60 hours a week and you’re still not making ends meet.

SCOTT:                      No, someone who has an okay practice, someone who is bringing money in and we’re telling them, “Hey, take 20% of your time and now put it towards business development.” I think some people listening might be saying, “Well, that’s all well and nice but I need to do the work that I have.”

OSCAR:                      There’s time. There’s time because you have to prioritize. There’s time when you’re sitting in court and nothing is going on. Bring out a notepad, bring out a tablet, always have a tablet or a notepad with you and think about a to do list or think about topics, or a blog article. Take every step in small measure and you’ll eventually get there. Believe me, when I started doing it by necessity, I was eating my meals with a notepad next to me and thinking about ideas. I had my laptop open in front of me. I was jotting down sites that I wanted to go look at, ideas that I wanted to go formulate. When I was riding a train into court in the morning, I wasn’t reading a newspaper. I was doing something else. I was working on a blog article. I was working on website content.

You could find the time. You’ve got to prioritize. Don’t go out to lunch, brown bag. Train in don’t drive in. That gives you the ability to work. If you’ve got to train in, get a voice recorder and record notes as you go in. There are times. If you could devote 1.5-2 hours a day somewhere to developing it, that’s enough to get you started. Maybe you devote four hours every Saturday. Don’t gulf. There are things to go and find the time. It has got to be a priority because you shouldn’t be doing 60 hours a week. It’s something that’s miserable and not making you money. Let’s find an area of law that grabs your interest, that you want to work 60 hours a week not just because it’s lucrative but because it’s rewarding and then you won’t have to worry about it ever again.

SCOTT:                      The other suggestion I have is that it’s certainly possible and I’ve spoken to a lot of attorneys. Everybody talks about those 10% clients that take up 50% of your time and is only 10% of your business. It may not be the worst idea to evaluate the business you’re doing, what money you’re bringing in from what types of cases, and maybe take a look at maybe not doing everything you’re doing. When I was making the transition from criminal law to special education law, I was on the 18B panel. For those of that don’t know, the 18B panel is what we call it in New York when defendants get assigned counsel.

I gave up doing that work. It was making me a couple of bucks every month. It was getting me in court but what I realized is that although I was making the money, it was taking me away from learning and going to conferences or meeting people for lunch, and I lost a big chunk of money for a year or two that I was making. It was a nice extra few dollars but if I didn’t give that up, I would still be saying, “I don’t have time to do any of this.”

OSCAR:                      Those little safety nets that we have are hard to give up and I’ve had to give it up along the way too. The clients who might call for, “Oh, I have this little business issue. Can I give $1,500?” It’s like, okay. It’s a lot of money to them and it’s okay money, but it’s going to take more time than that.

SCOTT:                      It’s going to take you hours to deal with this person which is not going to be worth it.

OSCAR:                      Right.

SCOTT:                      It’s just going to want you. You’re not even going to be able to give it to someone else.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. It’s not going to end up being worth it and it’s going to be a negative drain on you.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      It’s going to sound like it’s money. It’s that old joke where someone walks into a store, the prices are lower and they say to the guy, “How can you afford to sell this below your price? This is cheaper than what I paid for it. How can you do that?” He says, “I do by volume.” If you’re cutting yourself short, if you’re nickel and diming yourself, what you’re doing is you’re talking yourself away from developing a practice and you’re not prioritizing practice development, and it may mean, by the way, trim on some expenses. Find a way to get leaner so that you can have free time and devote free time to doing it. It’s going to come back to you 10 fold if you do it the right way and you devote yourself to it. So you’ve got to analyze your practice and say, “What am I spinning the wheels on? There’s no point being the hamster in the cage.” You’ve got to try to find a way that you could control your practice to the point where it becomes lucrative because all we have is our time.

SCOTT:                      That’s right, exactly.

OSCAR:                      It’s what we have to give and what we have to monetize.

SCOTT:                      That is a good point. All we have is our time and we’re trying to encourage everybody listening, don’t go to that bar association event just to go around and have a drink and talk to a few people. Go to that bar association event with a purpose. Go with the idea that I am handling foreign adoption cases. I am doing this or I’m doing that and talk to people. You don’t have to scream “refer me a case, refer me a case” but you meet people. You talk to someone. maybe you find a mentor or someone who is willing to help you. You never know.

OSCAR:                      First of all, by the way, you may be testing the waters to find out if that niche is going to work.

SCOTT:                      Yeah, it might be horrible.

OSCAR:                      These are things that you’re going to have to try to do and try to push yourself out there to do. Now, I would recommend particularly like let’s say bar associations that by the time you start going to bar associations, to talk to other lawyers, you should have some comfort that you’re in the right zone because you’re not going to get to talk to those same lawyers again at the next meeting and say, “Guess what, last week I came to you as a private adoption lawyer. Now, I’m doing dog licensing law.” Before you take that bar association meeting and start networking directly to lawyers, you have to have this credibility established, a couple of blog articles up, good website, maybe some early clients, something that you could talk about a success story or two.

SCOTT:                      You don’t get that second chance. You only get one chance to make that impression.

OSCAR:                      Exactly, and don’t forget, when we talk about saving time and this is my last little tip, if you find that mentor, pro bono, volunteer. Say, “I will help you. I will stand next to you. I will cover some court appearances for you. I will do what it takes to give myself a value to you so that I can learn this practice, develop it, and push it forward.”

SCOTT:                      I would never ever in my practice do anything that I wasn’t getting paid for, ever. If you think about it a different way and say, “Hey, you know what, think of how much you paid for law school to learn something. I am thrilled to do something to learn something for free now. I am thrilled when someone wants to either teach me something or let me hang out with them and learn something new.” It’s the greatest education you can get. If you’re stubborn and you think, “Oh, I can’t do anything for free,” you have to look to the future. Don’t be closed minded about it.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. That’s very important because think about how much that’s going to pay forward when you finally get to that comfort zone or allows you to at least talk about a real case in your niche that you’ve worked on. For example, if you do want to work in any of the niche areas that we spoke about like representing pet owners, different areas with animals, and animal abuse, you could volunteer your time to a pet shelter, to a north shore animal league or let them know, “Hey, if a pet owner comes in and they have problems that they can’t afford, you know what, I’ll give two or three hours worth of free time. Here’s my card. I’ll allow you to judge who is the awarding person to get this.”

SCOTT:                      Sure.

OSCAR:                      Put on the card “two free hours of legal work courtesy of Oscar Michelen” or whatever. A lot of what I started doing in my IP Practice, I did that, lowered my rate, did some for free, helped some not for profit groups for free, and it allowed me to have some real clients and success stories that I could talk about without it just being in the abstract. Hopefully, we’ve given you some stops along the road map towards developing a practice area. Let us know what you think. Come back to us. Tell us what works for you. Tell us what doesn’t work for you. We look forward to listening to hearing your comments on the next podcast. This is Oscar Michelen. You can reach me at Oscar@LawReboot.com.

SCOTT:                      This is Scott Limmer. You could reach me at Scott@LawReboot.com or as always, you can call us at 516-900-4842. Feel free to leave a comment, a question, or a topic you’d like to hear us discuss in the future. As always guys, thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

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

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