By Michael Mazek
Mazek Law Group
As a solo practitioner, it's easy to blur practice area lines. I often find myself crossing into other practice areas and performing dutifully. Yet, I would never, for instance, consider myself a family law attorney, despite the number of family law matters I have handled.
This crossing-over presents a dilemma for the solo practitioner: Should I promote the fact that I touch upon an increasing number of tangential practice areas, or should I advertise the specific niche for which I feel the strongest? The answer depends on your audience and marketing goals. However, there are many indications that clients prefer a so-called "expert" for their problem over a general practitioner. Thus, your firm may be better off emphasizing the areas in which you consistently practice, just with more specificity.
Today's legal marketplace is remarkably separable. In my field, real estate law, there are dozens of subsections that pop up in print advertisements. Where once the term "real estate lawyer" was sufficient, today's marketplace features counselors exceptional with "distressed properties" or "asset protection." Clearly, most real estate attorneys can handle these types of client situations, but these attorneys are marketing more effectively because they are distinguishing themselves.
In an era of branding and target marketing, solo attorneys can obtain better results through their marketing by peeling away the layers of their practice and considering two things: Which layers 1) provide growth potential and 2) fit comfortably within the practice? This allows your firm to avoid a laundry list of practice areas, something clients frequently find when looking for counsel.
If a potential growth area also fits well in the firm's current workflow, the hard work is done. Now, simply create a marketing message that conveys this.
I know of a solo attorney who was already growing a personal-injury practice on the heels of strong verdicts. It so happened that word-of-mouth referrals pegged this attorney as a bicycle-injury guru, so although the practice generally dealt with more traditional auto injuries, there was experience in bike-path litigation as well. This layer was easy to spot within the firm's revenue. The next consideration was whether this experience would provide growth potential. Indeed, the Chicago area was witnessing an increase in bicycle injuries and accidents, including several news-making fatalities. Within months, a new effort to promote bicycle-injury litigation in print formed and was a success for several years before a number of similar campaigns ran.
Today, a simple Google search for "Chicago Bicycle Injury Lawyer" yields nearly 2 million results, creating a need for a new subsection within that practice area (The segment "Chicago Unicycle Injury Lawyer," it should be noted, appears ripe for the taking).
In a time when online reviews and Internet marketing are at the forefront of every firm's marketing efforts, online self-promotion is vital to solo attorneys. The saying, "If it's not on TV, it didn't happen," is already outdated. The Internet is driving referral business today.
Therefore, your solo firm's online identity should capitalize on its strongest layers. The good news is that many online resources to market your practice are free. Online profiles on legal websites typically allow you to write a biography. This is a wonderful opportunity to sneak in practice area terms that are search engine friendly. It is easy to forget, also, that personal profiles are a chance to promote. I frequently bombard my college alma mater with specific success stories for alumni profile sections online, resulting in cases referred.
Other legal profile sites require subscriptions or some form of payment, whether it be answering legal questions for free or taking on a referred case at a lower rate. These sites will typically check off a limited number of practice areas, some general and others more refined. The more specific the area of practice, the better your chance to make your firm become a leader in that subsection.
Many solo attorneys also write online about developments in their areas of law. At this point, there's so much content online — created by lawyers and non-lawyers — that it's become noise for most clients. Some of the writing is canned content, repeated on several other websites. Other writing is so general in nature that it offers very little help. When writing online, consider your audience. If you're bored reading it, that's not a good sign. The online writing that drives the most business to your firm is the content that hones in on a narrow subsection of the law and provides detailed information.
Lastly, I've learned that phone etiquette also provides an opportunity to specify your expertise. Often when clients are calling firms, fishing for pricing or other information, they are looking for indicators. As a solo attorney, there is only so much time in the day to answer calls. So when a client calls me for pricing information, take the opportunity to convey your knowledge concisely. For your current loyal clients, they know who you are and will contact you for any of their legal needs — and this will allow you to maintain tangent areas of your practice. However, your most marketable areas of practice should be clear and specified when promoting your firm.