When it comes to legal services, clients now have so much choice they might be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed: as well as working with a traditional law firm model, clients may also choose to work with direct access barristers, consultants and freelancers as well as other professional services which offer legal advice as an add-on. Since the pandemic, the competition has been even fiercer because location is no longer a barrier to being instructed. But what does this mean for individual lawyers? How do they stand out in a crowded field and convince potential clients that they are the right choice?
When clients buy legal advice, they are really buying a relationship with a lawyer. Trust is key and trust is built on confidence in the lawyer’s expertise. Does the lawyer really understand the client’s situation and their needs? Do they “talk the same language”? Do they have the right points of reference and empathise with the client’s problem? Can they give an authoritative answer and deliver effective solutions? Can they give a friendly, personal service which enhances the client’s experience, at what might be a stressful time for them? All these things can generate confidence and help persuade the client that they have found the right person for the job.
It’s inevitable that generalist lawyers don’t have the depth of knowledge and experience across all areas if they have a very wide and varied practice – it’s just not possible to be all things to all people, all of the time. Not only can it be more professionally satisfying to immerse yourself in a niche specialism and really master your subject, it also gives lawyers a unique selling point that very few others will be able to compete with.
As long as you pick a specialism that is not too esoteric there should be a steady stream of business for you to tap into as a known expert in that field.
The Positives of Niching
Lawyers who have a previous background in and/or genuine interest in and can specialise in a small area of work will quickly gain experience and develop a track record. This will greatly assist them in becoming known as an authoritative expert.
Working in a niche area means personal recommendations and word of mouth tend to be more important so, do a good job for one client and you are likely to get more business coming your way – with no need to spend money on advertising or time doing marketing.
Boutiques and alternative legal services providers such as Nexa demonstrate how successful specialists can be. For example, pensions boutique Sackers is the law firm with the smallest headcount that makes the list of top 100 UK firms and has been ranked number one for many years by both Chambers and Legal 500. By specialising in providing pensions advice, the team at Sackers are true leaders in their field so have no difficulty attracting clients.
As CEO of Nexa, I’ve seen first-hand how successful specialists can be. Many of our consultants work within an incredibly small niche – they have become the “go to” people in their sphere and there is nothing they haven’t seen or don’t know about within their tightly defined areas.
For example, Barry Sanky is a vastly experienced commercial real estate lawyer whose practice is focused on advising clients in the science, technology and research park and innovation sectors to be the extent that he is known as “Mr Science Park” in certain legal circles! Roy Carter is an ex-fire fighter who qualified as a lawyer and now has a specialist regulatory and health and safety practice utilising his significant expertise in regulatory fire crime investigation and enforcement. Jonathan Jacobs is a corporate lawyer who has found a fantastic sub-niche; he doesn’t just have extensive expertise in the healthcare sector, he is particularly focused on meeting the legal needs of dental professionals.
These are just a few examples, there are many more as the consultancy model lends itself well to niche legal practice partly because consultants are free to focus entirely on their businesses and don’t get bogged down in the admin and politics of a traditional partnership model. Individual consultants can not only offer top quality expertise, but they are also likely to be more cost effective for clients.
I’d urge all lawyers, if they haven’t already, to look at building a niche practice within their wider discipline in order to differentiate themselves effectively as the legal market that is likely to get even more crowded in the coming years.
Nigel Clark is the CEO of Nexa, a legal services provider.