New Lawyers Practice of Law Starting a Law Practice

Should You Generalize or Specialize?

177130937Whether you’re straight out of law school, considering leaving a large firm, or making a life-style decision, a solo or small firm practice is an appealing prospect for many attorneys. But going solo can be daunting. One of the first decisions you have to make is what practice areas you will cover: Should you generalize or specialize?

Having a general practice may make you feel like you have more options—more potential clients to target—and thus an increased chance of success. But covering a wide range of practice areas may lead potential clients to doubt that you really know enough about each area. In addition, you may encounter scheduling conflicts if you try to work in both federal and state courts.

But a general practice does have advantages: it can be more interesting and will certainly keep you on your toes! And there are situations in which a general practice is actually advisable, such as in a rural community. But in cities, think specialty.

Deciding to specialize doesn’t necessarily mean picking one area. You may want to sample a few areas. Consider taking on areas in which there is synergy between clients or figure out ways to tie the practice areas together. For example, you could cover business and family law and specialize in handling divorces in which the couples own a business together.

Regardless of whether you go with a generalized or specialized practice, find a niche. A niche is doing one thing within your practice and doing it very well. It’s a good way to position yourself in the crowded legal market. A niche will

  • make you more memorable,
  • enable you to command more money for your niche area, and
  • set you apart from nonlawyer legal service providers such as LegalZoom.

A niche can be a subject matter (e.g., a pet attorney who deals with pets in injury cases or divorce cases). A niche can also be a demographic (e.g., cases involving alternative family structures or a particular nationality). There are also industry-specific niches (e.g., online sellers). Niches can also involve the mode in which you will deliver the legal services (e.g., through a virtual law office, making home visits etc.).

The bottom line is that you want to enjoy your work. So choose a practice area that you actually like so you’ll be excited and passionate about it. Your passion will help drive demand. Of course, make sure to look at market drivers and practical considerations, too!

This excellent advice is from Carolyn Elefant in the CEB program Launching a Successful Law Practice, available On Demand. Anyone going solo should watch this program for useful and very specific advice on everything from setting up your practice to designing your website.

Related CEB blog posts:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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