Niche practices can shine in your corner of the world

 Edward Poll, The Daily Record Newswire

Big is not necessarily better. In fact, doing something special on a small scale is likely to bring big results.

Wal-Mart is a good example. Of course, when you think of Wal-Mart, you think of something big. And that’s true. But Wal-Mart has another side, a smaller side — and that smaller side is paying off in big ways for Wal-Mart. According to an August 2014 Washington Post article by Rebecca Robbins, although “Wal-Mart ascended to its place atop U.S. retail by focusing on big supercenters … [,] today it is counting on something entirely different — growth in its small but surging small-scale grocery store and e-commerce businesses.”

Lawyers, too, can find a way to shine in a smaller way and thus reap big rewards.

Indeed, the current world dynamic dictates that the specialist generally earns more money than does the generalist in fields as diverse as teaching, medicine, technology, and the law.

For years, law school students have been encouraged to develop a specialty practice area as part of their training. State bar associations increasingly offer specialized certifications in certain practice areas.

There are those who believe that no matter the field, one can succeed only through specialization. In this mentality, the generalist is absorbed — or out of business. Granted, specialists and their clients benefit in many ways from such focus, as Wal-Mart has discovered. However, such benefits will never accrue without quality of service.

Clients expect all lawyers to be competent if they have state bar approval. A law degree or advanced certification in a particular field may be a good marketing tool, but from the client’s perspective the real differentiator is the value received for the skill package that the lawyer offers, and that is not dependent on a specialization certificate.

A few years ago, an article in the American Bar Journal observed that clients increasingly are looking for the “strategic lawyer”: the counselor, the type of lawyer who used to be the standard of the legal profession. The strategic lawyer must be able to show the client that the value of their attorney-client relationship is deeper than the forms that are getting filled out and the paperwork that’s being shuttled to and from the courthouse. Value lies in the strategy, the analysis, and the service that the lawyer provides.

By this definition, all lawyers — specialists and generalists — can structure what they do to consistently encourage a high client perception of value. Basic elements include the following:

Establishing a firm policy to return all client inquiries, whether phone call, email, or text message, within two hours of receipt.

Knowing each client’s concerns and understanding that client’s business as well as legal objectives.

Preparing clients for interactive events such as negotiation sessions, depositions, and testimony so that they know what to expect, and incorporating a wide range of possibilities so that clients are not shocked at the process or the outcome.

Never making promises that cannot be kept, as reflected in the expectations of value and service that are defined by both parties.

Regularly asking clients for feedback about the services received, focusing on their satisfaction with the service rather than on the results achieved.

Becoming a specialist is often the key to standing out. However, if you can’t provide quality of service, then you won’t shine regardless of how intriguing your niche market is.


Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a law practice management thought leader and contributor to this publication. His website is at