GreeneHurlocker’s Brian Greene pulls back the curtain on ways small firms reap the benefits of a narrow focus.
Table of contents
Every small law firm founder faces a big question: Spread our wings wide or dive deep into one specialty? For us, going deep into Virginia’s energy and renewable sectors was the best strategic decision we could have made. Sure, the idea of being a jack-of-all-trades is appealing, but we found our sweet spot in really getting to know a specific industry. And what we found is that owning that niche didn’t box us in — it actually opened up way more doors than we could’ve imagined.
In this article, we’re pulling back the curtain on our journey, showing you how zeroing in on a niche might be the best move you can make as a small law firm founder. Whether you’re on the fence about specialization or looking for ways to expand, let’s explore how narrow focus can lead to growth and opportunity.
The Power of Niche Focus
I get it. For some, the word “niche” equates to putting yourself in a box. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Picking a niche isn’t about limiting your potential — it’s about channeling your energy and resources into becoming the best in a specific area. Think about it: Would you rather be decent at 10 things or outstanding at one?
For us, the energy and renewable sector in Virginia wasn’t just any pick from the hat. Eleven years ago, we saw it as an area with great potential and, importantly, as a sector we had experience in and were passionate about.
Our deep dive paid off. Clients didn’t come to us because we were “another law firm”; they came because we had a reputation for knowing our stuff in their industry. They would see my name on a pleading filed with a state utility commission in an energy-related case or see my law partner speak on a panel at an energy conference, and then they’d check out our bios on our firm’s website and LinkedIn. Word spreads in the industry.
Think of it this way: if you’ve got a serious, specific health issue, you’re better off seeking a doctor with specialized expertise instead of a general practitioner. Nor are you going to a podiatrist if your shoulder hurts. You want a doctor who knows your problems and how to fix them. Law is the same way.
Our niche didn’t just give us credibility; it gave us a community — a tight-knit circle of clients and other professionals with a similar focus who recognized and trusted our expertise. And in the legal profession, when it comes to generating work, trust is currency.
The Benefits of a Narrow Focus for a Small Law Firm
Diving deep into a niche isn’t just about passion or preference — it’s also a smart business move with tangible benefits. You’re setting yourself up for some immediate advantages when you opt for a narrow focus.
1. Reduced Competition
The legal world is crowded. But when you drill down into a specific niche, that vast ocean feels more like a manageable pond. By specializing, you’re not just another fish — you’re a big fish. Clients think of you because you’re not trying to be everywhere serving everyone. When you dedicate yourself to a niche, you rise to the top of clients’ minds as the go-to expert who knows their industry inside and out.
2. Pricing and Profitability
Focusing on a niche means you’re not constantly undercutting your prices to win clients. Instead, you’re competing on the strength of your expertise. Clients are willing to pay a premium for someone who truly “gets” their industry. For us, this meant we could set prices that reflected our deep knowledge and, in turn, reinvest those earnings back into our firm. But we were, and are, careful to set our rates at what we think are lower than BigLaw’s rates because that’s part of our marketing pitch. That still leaves plenty of room to be profitable from specializing, which hasn’t just boosted our bottom line — it’s enabling us to bring on more talent and expand our offerings.
3. Generating Referrals From Large Firms
One of the unexpected perks of carving out a niche is becoming a referral source for larger firms when they hit a snag. Whether it’s a conflict of interest they’re trying to navigate or their rates come off as too steep for a client, big firms need someone reliable to pass the baton to. And who better than a smaller, specialized firm that punches above its weight? Their reputation is on the line, and they want to ensure their clients are in good hands. By being experts in our niche and not a threat to steal a client because we are not a one-stop shop, we became a trusted referral source, further expanding our client base.
Broader Opportunities Stemming From a Narrow Focus
So, you’ve got a niche, and things are looking up. But what happens next? Do you stay in that lane forever? You can — but a single niche doesn’t have to be the end of the road. Our deep dive into a niche served as a springboard to broader opportunities. Let’s dig into that.
Once you’ve got a strong base (thanks to your niche), you can start adding more layers. Once we’d firmly planted our flag providing a relatively narrow set of services for the energy and renewable sector, we saw opportunities to expand into broad offerings for these clients, such as general corporate, transactional, land use and zoning, and employment law. Our clients already trusted us, so when they needed help in these areas, it didn’t require a huge leap of faith for them to turn to us. Plus, we had the confidence to branch out, knowing we had a solid clientele backing us.
And that’s not all. When you’re excelling in one industry sector, doors start opening in adjacent industries. Think about industries as a network of interconnected nodes. Once you make a mark in one, the nodes around it begin to take notice. Our success in the energy sector allowed us to gain traction in related industries, such as technology startups and commercial real estate, looking for similar legal expertise. And just like that, by mastering one niche, we found ourselves with a foot in the door in multiple sectors.
Think Big, Start Narrow
We started as two lawyers with a vision: to specialize and become the best in a specific niche. Today, we’re a team of 10 lawyers and growing. This growth wasn’t random. Our narrow approach not only attracted clients but also drew in talented lawyers with unique but complementary skills and experience. And as our team grew, each lawyer amplified our impact for our clients.
Along the way, we learned an unmistakable lesson: Choosing to specialize — to go deep into a niche — can set the foundation for future growth.
Image © iStockPhoto.com
Don’t miss out on our daily practice management tips. Subscribe to Attorney at Work’s free newsletter here >