How to Successfully Select a Niche as a Trial Attorney
Join me as I talk tips for upping your trial performance. I’ll cover all aspects of the trial, including jury selection, opening statements, direct witness testimony, cross-examination, closing arguments, jury instructions, and verdicts. Discussions are welcome in the comments section.
— Tad Thomas
Whether you’re fresh out of law school and looking to open your own firm, or you’ve been established with a firm for a while and want to branch out on your own, it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition. One of the best ways to do this is to have a definitively specified niche. It’s said that if you can identify an overlap between the things you’re good at, the things you’re interested in, and the things that make money, then you’ve found your sweet spot. But as everyone in the legal profession knows, it’s not always as simple as that sounds.
Defining Your Legal Niche
First let’s talk benefit. From a business and marketing standpoint, it can be good sense to narrow your focus, and having an unmistakable brand often makes it a lot easier to tell the public who you are and what you’re good at. But it goes deeper than that for the majority of lawyers who are in the legal profession for more than just the financial gain.
Working with your own strengths to serve the needs of a specific population you resonate with can bring great personal reward. By thoughtfully defining your niche, you carve a place where you know you can thrive—a place where others can find the support, guidance, and advocacy they need to solve a problem no one else is as qualified to solve. A legal niche can bring efficiency, value, and measurable impact to your practice. And it encourages you to develop and augment your leadership capabilities as you become an expert in your chosen niche.
This makes defining your legal niche an important decision. Before you commit to a niche in your legal practice, take the time to ask yourself a few questions. What gives you motivation, what inspires you, what drives you toward continuous self-improvement for the benefit of your clients?
Look to the past and look to the future. In the past, have you written any articles or blogs, given any presentations, or made any social media posts that really clicked with an audience? Is there something about you that makes you better-suited than other attorneys to take on a certain kind of case? Use your own personality, history, and experiences to give you direction. What is it about you that no one else can duplicate? And look toward the future to identify emerging areas in need of expertise on the legal landscape. One place to start is to look at what’s trending.
Identifying What’s Trending
Seeing how our culture is changing is not difficult—there is a world of information in the palms of our hands at all times. It’s deconstructing and parsing through the data deluge that is the challenge. Tools like Google Trends can be a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of top search queries. Legal blogs, journals, podcasts, and trusted legal news sources can all be helpful idea sources, as can communicating with other attorneys in your field.
Look for areas of rapid and sustained growth, areas impacted by advances in technology, and areas of vague, evolving, or inadequate legislation. As you project to the future, think about the longevity of the demand. You don’t want to choose a micro-niche that will fizzle out in a matter of years. Will you get bored? Will clients dry up? Think about why you are choosing this area as your legal niche. Is it just because it’s a hot topic? Or do you see this field solidifying into an area where you personally can make some real headway toward positive, long-term change?
A legal niche can be as broad or as narrow as you feel is right for you and your career. On one end of the spectrum, some attorneys gravitate toward steeply-trending issues—pandemic-related litigation, cannabis law, artificial intelligence, drone use regulations, self-driving cars, climate justice, non-anthropocentric law, cybersecurity, diversity, inclusion, and equality policy—and the infinitely nesting micro-niches within each of these highly complex topics.
On the opposite end, I’ve spoken with lawyers who are hesitant to niche themselves based on that fear we’ve all felt of losing business. Instead of worrying about giving up the business you could have gotten if you had marketed yourself differently, finding your niche is all about zeroing in on that distinct area where you can be the best lawyer for the most well-matched clients. As with most things in life, there is an art to striking the right balance for you.
Diving into Research in Your Chosen Niche
Once you’ve identified your target niche, it’s time to dive in. You will want to start with geo-based research, but keep in mind as well that expertise travels. It’s good to begin by testing the waters. Dip a toe in social, blogging, and other realms where you can engage with an audience. Get feedback and, crucially, work with that feedback. Be flexible. When something fails, be willing it throw it out without regret. Learn to recognize what caused a success.
It should be your goal to become the expert of experts, and your research should be guided by this principle. If you are making an area your niche, make it your niche. Clients seek the best of the best when looking for someone to handle their specific problem. A client in need naturally wants someone better positioned than any other lawyer to tackle their unique case.
Understanding and owning a niche is all about separating yourself from dilettantes and showing your prospective clients that you are qualified and trustworthy. Through research, identify communicable value that fulfills a demand of a population. In researching your client profile, learn to speak the language of the demographic you want to help. Only when you understand your ideal clients can you identify their needs, values, and how to best serve them.
How to Stand Out from the Crowd
In our algorithmically-personalized world of hypercustomized experiences, the clients of today have a different set of expectations than those of even less than a decade ago. If, for example, if a farmer is facing bankruptcy, that individual will likely hop on a search engine and look for an attorney whose background aligns as closely with the circumstances as possible. Rather than looking for a generically “good” lawyer, it’s more probable that the farmer will target a lawyer who specializes in farm and agriculture law, has successfully handled farm bankruptcy cases, and maybe even has a personal or family background in farming.
From a psychological perspective, defining a niche reduces the perception of information overload people experience when beginning the process of finding a lawyer. It further allows them to feel in control, as their direct requirements dictate the choices available to them. As a lawyer skilled in a niche area of law, this is what you want—a group of people searching for a specialty that you possess. You stand apart from the crowd as an expert, and you meet your clients where they need you. The caveat here is to make sure that people are, in fact, searching for what you offer. If there’s no market, your skills won’t be much use.
Standing out from the crowd means putting in the hard work to be great at what you do, and letting people know about it. Let your work for speak for itself, and really show your target clientele that you are for them and with them. This could come through in a number of ways—by getting involved locally, by engaging with online and in-person communities, by putting your money where your heart is, by aligning yourself with the changemakers who devote their efforts to improving your field. We all know it’s easy to spot a phony. Passion backed by action speaks volumes, to both clients and to potential strategic partners.
Another way to set yourself apart is to make a name within the legal community. Take opportunities to position yourself horizontally with other attorneys who will gladly refer cases to you if they encounter a client you could serve better. Be willing to take part in activities like guest writing articles, teaching CLEs, and hosting webinars to help you increase knowledge, garner feedback, improve public speaking and writing skills, and make valuable connections. Whatever your output is, be it thought leadership, education, writing, publication, or advice, make sure that it represents who you are and what you stand for.
Doing Something That Matters to You
When it comes down to the success of your law firm, your business will thrive best if you’re practicing in an area for which you have enthusiasm. As we’ve discussed, defining a legal niche has a lot of benefits, and a high-quality, minimalist approach to practicing law really helps a lot of attorneys establish their ideal career path. The key is identifying what matters to you. If you unquestionably care about your niche area, you will never run out of motivation to be better. That sentiment is what drives a successful career in a niche practice.