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Practice Management: Chuck Newton
Virtual, Solo, Or Work From Home Law Practices Are Not Niches
By Chuck Newton
I do not mean to be critical because there is no reason to be critical of lawyers who either operate or wish to operate virtually or as solos or from home. I operate my practice in each of these ways. It is admirable. But, operating in these ways do not represent niches that are relevant to anybody but the lawyer doing so.
I get examples from attorneys constantly of their great niche as a virtual law firm. Most often I have to ask or I have to go to their websites to see what areas of law in which they practice, and then it is generally something like family law, estate planning, bankruptcy and other multiple, broad areas.
A practice niche can have two attributes. One, is an actual heavily focused, targetable portion or subset of a larger practice area. I for example, do not practice bankruptcy law, or business bankruptcy law, or consumer bankruptcy law. I represent debtors already in or out of bankruptcy in the prosecution of automatic stay or discharge injunction violations. Bankruptcy is not a niche in this regard. It is not a subset. It is a market sector in and of itself. This type of niche practice is truly a specialized market.
Two, a niche can be merely a preference, position or function assumed by an attorney in regard to a larger practice area. For example, a lawyer might very well practice the full variety of family law, such as divorces, child custody, child support, but publicly limits the type or style of clients accepted. An attorney may, for example, limit his or her practice to just representing men in a family law setting. Likewise I have run into lawyers that practice in a broader context, but only represent clients who are deaf, or only represent Vietnamese, or people whose primarily language is Spanish.
From the public standpoint, having a niche might be good for any lawyer, but the primary benefit should be from a marketing standpoint.
From a marketing standpoint then, potential clients rarely, if ever, care if you run a virtual law firm, or that you are a solo practitioner, or that you work at home. What does that have to do with their problem?
Potential legal clients, rightfully so, are like my children when they were very young. They care about their own needs, and any sacrifice you make for them goes unnoticed. Potential clients do not care, and will never care, about the hard work, tech, or even pure genius you put into creating and operating your law practice.
The reason for this is that establishing a virtual law firm, or deciding to go solo, or making the move home to work is ALL ABOUT YOU! It is not about the client. To promote this is to spend good time marketing about you. Clients want it to be about them. They want to know how you can help them solve a problem they face and how you will make their lives better. A home office, or the fact you do not have partners, or that they can communicate with you online are not seen by clients as an advantage that necessarily helps them or makes their lives better. And, the point of making it a leading point of your practice is not great.
By way of example, there is a real estate agency in town that likes to tout it was first on the Internet, to use PDFs, to used video tours, and to use podcasts. Who cares really. Good for them, but most agencies do this now. The question is what can you do for me now. Well, the same is true for lawyers. Just go out and make the bulk of your marketing that you are a virtual firm and see where that gets you, or that you work from your home, or that you are a solo, and see where that gets you.
To take the discussion further out of the purely legal field, this falls back to the Marketing 101 difference between benefits and features. You sell benefits and not features. The fact that you are a solo, or operate virtually or work from home represent only features of your firm or practice. They do not represent benefits to your clients, or at least not benefits easily seen by potential clients. Benefits relate to a client on an emotional level while features do not.
Benefits or niche practice areas naturally drive potential clients to action or compel a response in relation to your practice. This is because niche practices appeal to specific client motives. The niche speaks in terms of the benefit that a potential client intimately gains by retaining your firm.
There might be a point in any attorney - client relationship when features become important (or not), but I can assure you that nobody hires me because I operate my law practice virtually, of that I work by myself, of that I work out of my home. Those are all features that make me competitive. Those are all features that apply to my immediate benefit. So, do not slap virtual, solo or home office on your practice area(s) and call it a niche. What you do needs to speak to those who will hire you to solve a legal problem they have. It needs to motivate them. Virtual, solo, home office do not.
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