Tag Archives: Niche Practice

Spontaneous Exclamations: Finding your niche…with bacon

Adam Katz is a senior associate at Harrison & Held, LLP.  He concentrates his practice on federal & state tax matters, mergers & acquisitions, entity structure and formation, commercial finance, and non-profit law.  Adam can be reached at (312) 753-6110 or akatz@harrisonheld.com.  Comments on all posts are welcome!

Before we begin, I just want to say: Welcome back, I hope you enjoy your stay and feel free to leave a comment!  While I’m not offering a free continental breakfast with those deep-fried French toast sticks, lukewarm yogurt, and unlimited bacon strips, I will offer you my musings every Thursday— a close second to infinite bacon.

Today, let’s discuss an extremely important matter your law school overlords may not have emphasized: how you find your niche, aka that link under your name on your law firm profile that lops you into your “Practice Area.”

Much of the time, when attorneys discuss their “niche” they are referring to a subarea of expertise within their practice.  As I have perceived it, junior attorneys find their niche in one of three ways: (i) you know what type of law you want to practice as of day one; (ii) you get thrown into a practice group and never leave; or (iii) your niche finds you.

If you know what type of law you want to practice from the day they hand you your tassel hat, good work.  If you stay in that area for the rest of your career, I’m impressed.  If you have the opportunity, there’s no shame in branching out and trying other areas.  After completing a summer clerkship with the 2nd District Illinois Appellate Court, I was set on becoming an appellate litigator and taking on those oft-fire-breathing panels up high.  Then, I was lured away by the temptation of tortuous tax calculations, and here I am, happy as a clam.  So my advice to you is: Reach outside your comfort zone and you might be rewarded.  Also, maybe bring a calculator.

If you get thrown into your unwanted practice group, make the best of it.  If you had your heart set on M&A and you get placed in real estate litigation, you’re certainly allowed to be disappointed, but keep an open mind.  If it’s not your cup o’ tea, see last week’s blog post and start networking with attorneys who may offer you work in your desired area!  A successful transition to a new area requires that the commanding attorneys trust you and want you on their team.  Convince them!  Keep in mind that sometimes you may need to be politically savvy in the office to slowly make your way to another group.  Law firms can be made up of various personalities that have the tendency to clash over the little things.  You don’t want to be caught in the middle.

Sometimes, your niche finds you.  It did for me!  As a summer associate, I was placed on a tax matter and that was it—I was set on corporate and tax. Your niche will likely arise out of chance—one day you will handle a matter and truly enjoy it.  Over time, you may pursue the same types of matters and, voila! You earn expertise in your practice and create happiness at the same time.

Bringing that joy with you to work really does make all of the difference.  In summary, while you may not love the area you are in, be patient, grasshopper, your passion may leap out from behind a corner and tackle you at any moment… and that is better than unlimited bacon.

Advanced education in niche practice

Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve Public Relations, a PR firm serving the law and finance industries. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in law, legal marketing, public relations, and his Secured Solo Practice model. Nick shares career growth strategy and experience with legal job seekers.

Attorneys in transition increase their chances of getting hired if they possess pragmatic knowledge that makes them more valuable in niche practice areas. The best lawyers navigate areas they know well. Consider that even community college programs in certain fields can give lawyers an added boost and outlook.

Workers’ compensation lawyers who undertake education on physiology and medicine are better able to understand and litigate cases where health and ability to do work are at issue. You don’t need to be a licensed physician to understand how bones break and heal, for example. Medical malpractice and personal injury are also practice areas where many lawyers work to become educated in the underlying matter.

Securities and corporate attorneys should have a business background to effectively represent clients and advise on transactions and litigation. You don’t need an MBA; however, if all you need to do is hire forensic experts when what’s most important is being able to read and understand their report. To a corporate finance officer, a lawyer presents unique value when they understand the world of finance and markets.

Health care is a unique field and attorneys handling litigation and transactional work are light years ahead when they understand and appreciate health-care administration. Lacking understanding in the fundamentals of public policy can make health-care practice unnecessarily difficult. The lawyers who embrace health-care policy and its implementation can help make the system work better and should write extensively, for public benefit.

Just as lawyers participate in continuing legal education courses, other professions offer advanced training and cross-disciplinary learning opportunities. Take for example, the Chicago School of Trading. Did you know that in six months, you can learn the ins and outs of equities trading? If you’re a securities lawyer this is a good way to drill down into finance and make new friends who can be helpful resources when you need industry contacts or advice.

Think of your resume as well when taking on more education, you might be better able to gain admission to schools you otherwise wouldn’t have applied when first going to college and law school. If you take a refresher or professional studies course at a school with a large alumni base you might find yourself attending a new set of events.

Nick’s five picks for practice area growth

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Pro Serve PR, a public relations firm serving law and professional service firms. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition based on his experience in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and innovation with legal job seekers.

Coming up on 10 years since I graduated from law school, I have seen shifts in practice areas. Some are due to economic conditions and others likely follow a lawyer’s interests and values developed through experience in practice. One thing I learned from lawyers who shifted to different practice areas: Just do it. Allow me some editorial then I will share a few practice areas that seem to be growing.

What do you really know about different practice areas? Do you get most of your information from word on the street? Did you consider the factors that come into play when someone tells about their practice area?

Most of us make initial opinions on reports from others. Often we do not dissect the information or fact check people in polite conversation. If you wanted to cross examine popular word on the street about various practice areas, consider a few of these questions: (1) Do you have enough work in your practice area, so much that you don’t want my competition; (2) Do you complain about how difficult and stressful your practice area is, and fear I will realize it is not that bad; (3) Is your impression of your practice area affected by the years you have spent there?

Some of the most successful lawyers I know say, “There are plenty of clients out there who are looking for good lawyers.” I suppose the best advice is being good at what ever practice area your chose. If you become knowledgeable, pick up a lifeline colleague to phone in a question, you should be ok. The people who do not do well fail to learn the ins and outs and take cases outside their practice area proficiencies without assistance.

Here are a few practice areas I would recommend for future growth:

(1)    Collaborative Practice

There are several uses of the word collaborative. For purposes of this example, I suggest that attorneys working in a team-like setting with other professionals and with the client is a practice model more clients will be seeking in the future. Some quick research on collaborative practice in various underlying practice areas will lead you to groups and associations who certify collaborative practitioners. Another good collaborative practice is to delegate reasonable tasks to clients and help them participate in litigation. Many clients enjoy saving money on making copies and organizing bank records. Some dislike the idea of a client getting too close to the work. I think it depends on the situation.

(2)    Intellectual Property

As the call for efficiency increases, business and technology will continue shaping our presence in the marketplace. For many, the intellectual property focus areas such as trademark, copyright and patent will continue increasing with the ease of electronic communication and collaboration. More and more businesses launch with cloud-based operating systems, tablet pc’s and smart phones. The lower the cost of entry makes low-overhead business start-ups easier to get off the ground; many come with IP needs.

(3)    Information Technology

Think about the potential list of defendants on in information technology lawsuit where the project management team alone could fill a room. The IT bus is in motion and picking up more passengers with complex software issues and various agreements, and addendums to keep a perceptive IT lawyer busy. The online networking opportunity is ripe here where you find several IT professionals actively participating in LinkedIn discussions and chat boards on various topics.

(4)    Corporate Litigation

Economic change challenges small to medium sized businesses.  Flexible companies survive these economic transitions when they can reorganize to meet new market demands. During reorganization, there are new agreements to draft, old agreements to sever and everything in between. I anticipate plenty of growth in the business services legal market so long as the number of businesses increases.

(5)    Commercial Real Estate Finance

The economic changes I reference also affect residential and commercial real estate, affecting local and state revenue; an empty building sitting is no good. Economic shifts offer the opportunity for some to move around and improve upon their surroundings. Many financing agreements require work at several times in an agreement’s life cycle.

Pay attention to your communities

J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Inc. agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in legal marketing, public relations, and practice management. Nick shares career growth experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Today one of my frequent radio show contributors, Dr. Leah Jackman-Wheitner, the career consultant for lawyers, suggested an upcoming LawTalkRadio episode: How to choose a practice area niche. In the same conversation, we talked about the communities where solos are finding clients and referral partners. Below are a few of my thoughts.

Definition: com·mu·ni·ty: noun, communities, plural. 1) A group of people living together in one place, esp. once practicing common ownership ( – a community of nuns); 2) All the people living in a particular area or place ( – local communities); …6) A group of people having a religion, race, profession, or other particular characteristic in common ( – Rhode Island’s Japanese community; – the scientific community).

Our communities are wider than we realize. The first community you likely consider is the area immediately surrounding your home or work. Let us expand our definitions and make a list of our communities. Think about your parents and their neighbors. Your parents might not live on the same street where you played as a child; they still jump at the chance to tell the neighbor their kid is a lawyer. Your parents are like referral partners. If they know what you do, they can tell others. You never know when Bob from across the street needs someone and you can help. Make a list of your communities and attend to them.

What do the people in our communities need? Depending on the type of community, members could need to hire a lawyer, know about a lawyer who is hiring and growing a practice, or ask for confidential attorney contact, you know, “for a friend.” Overall, what community members really need, if you ask me, is to communicate with other community members. Tell members of your communities about what you do as a lawyer.

How will you serve the members of your communities? We all know someone who participates in their local civic activities to attract clients. This person may be the local bankruptcy or traffic lawyer – nobody talks about hiring this person – everybody wants to know this person. Consider my friend, the patent attorney, who follows the word on the street regarding “patent trolling” and writes articles for other patent lawyers. My friend is adding value to his patent lawyer community. Get out there and serve the members of your communities. When you’re done, find more communities and repeat.

Leveraging Your Reputation: Be an expert

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

You’ve probably been practicing law long enough to know that you are good at what you do, and should be recognized for it beyond just your coworkers, clients, and other attorneys. One way to stand out from the crowd and communicate to a wider audience is to become an expert. If you don’t want to be an expert on a national or international scale, you can be a big fish in a small pond. How big you want your sphere of influence to be is up to you.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Define Your Niche and Audience. An obvious niche is the area in which you already practice law. But can you refine that even more? Decide if you’re going to be an expert to other attorneys or if you are going to want to appeal to people outside of the legal profession. Then you can plan where you are going to share your expertise and what type of language you are going to use to communicate with them.

Prepare. Even though you already have a lot of knowledge and experience, it never hurts to get more education and to read even more so that you will be a good source of information for others. Get tips from someone who is more established in your niche, or talk to a mentor. If you don’t know anyone personally who can help, then go online and look at experts’ books and articles to read all you can. Look at what the current experts know, and see if you can add something unique or extra. Or just find out what the average person knows. You just need to know more than they do to give them helpful advice.

Break it Down. Law is a complex subject for many people. A good way to become an expert outside the legal profession is to take a complex case that you have worked on, or an important historical or current legal decision, and simplify it for people to understand. You can also explain what current laws mean in “layman’s” terms. Then post your summary online, either at your own site or someone else’s. There are also various publications that you can submit your explanation to, online or offline.

Outlets. Experts give seminars, teach classes, appear on panels, write articles, post online, publish books, go on TV and radio, have a YouTube channel, and more. Decide what outlet you want to use to display your expertise. Or do them all. The more exposure you have, the more you’ll be known, and after a while, you won’t have to put forth so much effort; people will be asking you to make an appearance or write something for their publication.

And remember: Substance still matters. Stay informed on your chosen niche, develop superior speaking and writing skills, and the combination of your helpful knowledge and experience, combined with your exposure, will make you a solid expert to whom people will turn.