By Rachel Fischbein ’12
When you are starting a new practice, it feels tempting to take any work that may come your way, especially for basic skill development, and sometimes it feels required to pay your bills. In the early months, it can be difficult to tout yourself as an expert of a legal field, so any client issue can feel equally challenging, making you feel equally qualified for any work that comes your way.
While these are valid considerations, I urge you to consider the long-term impact of being a generalist verses developing a niche practice. In my early teenage years, I dreamed of combining two loves, law & fashion. To establish this career, I decided to build the ideal job opening for myself within the fashion & legal industries. I now work with small fashion & cosmetic companies. My niche practice allowed me to quickly build a reputation and expertise. Even if you didn’t come to law school with a narrow focus on the type of law you wanted to practice, you may want to consider developing one as way to distinguish yourself from other young attorneys. Other types of work have come my way, but I keep going back to my niche for the following reasons.
Expert Reputation: With a niche, you can quickly establish your skills and show expertise because you are allowing yourself to dive deeply into a small group of legal categories. You’ll be devoting yourself to solving fewer types of problems, but you’ll establish confidence and skills more rapidly than if you attempt to solve a wide range of situations or issues. Suddenly you’ll find lawyers with several more years of practice asking you to help solve the chosen narrow issue for their clients.
Community Building: When you’ve pick specific industry or a type of legal issue you’d like to focus on (such as a specific environmental issue), you can quickly develop a community or join a community that aligns with your practice. This community will understand your vision, and help build your reputation. I currently attend at least one fashion industry event a week, and overtime have created strong relationships with various fashion organizations through consistent attendance and volunteer efforts supporting the community. These communities are great referral sources.
Quick Connection: Within that community, you will find clients that feel a connection to you because you understand not just the legal issues of their situation, but you understand their passion or strife. They will know you are focused on helping people just like them. For example, I often see similar issues that any small business attorney would see, but I can connect with small fashion business owners more easily because we can chat about their industry as a whole and I can guide them to making decisions that support their overall business plan.
Clear Marketing Message: For clients who will be introduced to you outside of your immediate network, letting friends or colleagues know exactly what type of client you are looking to help creates a clear marketing message for them to share. Anytime my friends come across a fashion designer or fashion tech startup, they feel comfortable bringing up my work because they know exactly what type of law I practice, and the type of client I want to work with. It becomes an easy trigger for their memory -making a connection from the fashion entrepreneur, to the fashion lawyer. If you are generalist or taking a wide scope of cases, friends or colleagues may hesitate to recommend you if they are unsure of your expertise and experience. This concept also works well for your website. Many general law practices create generic websites, making it difficult for a client to choose a lawyer, or to even find in the competition for general search terms within search engines rankings. If you are creating a marketing message that is tailored to a small group, someone within that group will feel your marketing message is meant for exactly them, because it is!
To discover your niche, think about the type of people or companies that you enjoy working with. Examine your hobbies. Reflect on the types of news articles that peak your interest. Within those habits lies your ideal niche.
Rachel Fischbein ’12 is the founder of Law On The Runway. She primarily assists fashion and beauty entrepreneurs as they build the foundations of their companies and navigate contractual relationships. She is published by Women 2.0 and Young, Fabulous, & Self- Employed Magazine. Ms. Fischbein is an active member of the San Francisco Fashion and Merchant Alliance, PeoplewearSF, and a registered panel attorney for the California Lawyers for the Arts.