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Building a Solo Law Practice, Part 2: Choose a Specialty

September 7, 2011

This is the second in an exclusive series of guest posts by Douglas Greenberg, a successful tax solo based in San Francisco, CA.

Once you have decided to become a solo, the first step is to determine what your practice is going to be about. How will you distinguish yourself? I highly recommend focusing on cultivating a single area of specialty.  By selecting a specialty, it will be easier to set goals and structure your practice.  I say this for a number of reasons:

(1) The law today is, obviously, very complicated. There is just too much out there to learn it all. You can’t be exceptionally good (or even reasonably competent) at all areas of legal practice. So choosing a specialty is the reasonable solution. By specializing you can focus on doing one thing, and doing it really well.

(2) Specializing will also help by giving you an identity. If you market yourself as “Stephanie the Attorney,” you really have no identity. People will have a difficult time remembering you, and you want to be memorable. You will have a better chance of being remembered if people can associate you with something—a problem.  For instance, “Stephanie the Employee’s Lawyer” is someone I can associate with a real need. I might call her someday if I have trouble with my boss.

(3) Finally, a specialty gives you a market to target. Once you have a specialty, you can begin targeting potential clients and building a referral network. If your specialty is real estate law, you can start networking with brokers and other relevant professionals. You can draft legal articles on real estate issues and give presentations. Just remember the words of the philosopher, Seneca: If we know not which port we are sailing for, no wind is the right wind.

In my still-young career as a solo, I have already observed a number of attorneys struggling with ‘general’ law practices. They are afraid to specialize because they don’t know what to go into or they fear that specializing will cause them to miss opportunities in other areas. In my experience, this is a mistake.

Specializing won’t necessarily foreclose opportunities to take matters in other areas. People will come to you with diverse needs anyway—if it’s a legal matter, they will assume any lawyer can handle it.

On the other hand, attorneys and others simply won’t take you seriously if you solicit yourself as a generalist. This is like opening a restaurant that promotes itself as serving great “food.” With so much competition and choice out there, being a generalist just doesn’t cut it in today’s market. You have to have a hook, something you do really well. You have a better chance of catching fish with a good line than with a bad net.

Other posts in this series include Part One (the decision to go solo)Part Three (sole proprietorship, corporation or LLC?), and Part Four (gaining practical experience as a young lawyer), Part Five (preparing to go solo mid-career) and Part Six (getting clients).
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