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Not long ago, I was asked to make a presentation at a state bar’s Law Practice Management Committee luncheon. Topic? Getting clients, of course. When we opened things up for questions, a gentleman in the back said, “You make it sound like the only way to get clients is to specialize!” Ummm. That is exactly what we spent the first 45 minutes discussing — and yes, focusing is the best way. Based on his tone, he didn’t like that idea.
There are something like 1.35 million lawyers in the U.S. Without some unique characteristic that serves as a handle by which potential clients can get hold of you when they need legal help, it’s just a game of Claw Crane. And that is a game with very low chances of winning.
Look at it from the client’s perspective. Why would they want to end up with a lawyer who has no particular experience with the particular legal issue they want resolved? If I’m a landowner looking for assistance with a Montana mineral and water rights sale, I don’t want someone who says they handle traffic tickets, child custody, eminent domain litigation and maritime law, too. I want someone who specializes in mineral and water rights contracts — or at least does a good deal of that kind of work. (Just like I wanted an experienced hand surgeon when I needed a thumb joint repaired, not a general practice doctor.)
Really, the last thing you want, when you have an important problem to solve, is someone who says, “Well, I think I can figure out how to do that.”
But it’s not just a matter of competence and client confidence, knowing that you’ve done tons of whatever it is that they need. Focusing your law practice in some way builds effectiveness into your marketing activities, too. A lawyer who specializes in municipal transportation litigation knows where to advertise, what topics to make speeches about, how to focus articles for publication. She knows the kinds of organizations to join to spend maximum time building relationships with the right potential clients and referral sources. And those are different from the places an immigration lawyer, animal husbandry lawyer or non-confrontational divorce lawyer would go to market.
Without that kind of focus, how can you know where to begin marketing?
It is possible to build a successful law practice without specializing in a particular type of legal problem — we all know a successful general practice lawyer. But even then, there must be something that differentiates you. Here are a few ways you might characterize yourself that would allow people to decide if you are the lawyer they want to hire:
You can see that these characteristics won’t necessarily help you define your marketing activities. Also, they all mean you are going to have to work a lot harder at marketing than if you had a specialty area. At a minimum, though, one of these characteristics could clarify your marketing message: “He’s the friendly lawyer.”
So, I come back to specializing as the most important first step to effective marketing — and the smartest way to build a successful practice. Not only does it mean you are highly competent, deserving of your clients’ confidence and well-focused in your marketing activities. It means you can choose to do the kind of work you really want to do, not just any kind of work that comes in the door.
And who doesn’t want that?
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