The counsel to “develop a niche” is liberally dispensed in legal marketing discourse. On its face, its promise is very seductive: A lucrative pipeline of business from clients who seek very specific expertise. In practice, however, niche prominence is difficult to achieve — particularly for small and solo firms — and is more a function of inspiration and serendipity than of deliberate advance planning.
The most successful niche products and services emerge organically from identifying and leveraging a unique set of characteristics in work you’ve already performed. Mining your own experience ramps faster and is more sustainable over time than premeditated strategies.
An ABA Law Practice Today post summarizes it this way:
“Experience relevant to a particular niche market can be developed in many ways. Some practitioners may have generally relevant legal experience that they can couple with prior work experience in a particular market. Others may be able to apply generally relevant legal experience to a market with which they are familiar due to a personal interest such as a hobby. It is quite possible that you may have sufficient expertise to support a niche marketing effort without realizing it. Rethink the types of matters you have handled as an attorney. Viewed from a new perspective, they could well represent meaningful expertise in a particular niche.”
Characteristics of a sustainable niche include:
- Expertise in an industry or issue where potential clients are highly networked – Niche practices gain traction best when they tap into existing word-of-mouth infrastructure.
- Significant barriers to entry – Ownable, defensible niches leverage scarcity, which typically means a) deep technical, product or issue expertise, b) obscure or arcane knowledge, c) high levels of complexity, or d) a singular service delivery model (i.e shared-risk/incentive-based compensation).
- Referral business unaided by niche marketing activities – Organic business development through word of mouth is the best predictor of sustainable success in niche markets. Without it, reaching prospective clients in a niche is cost-prohibitive.
Or you could try the “Gypsy” method:
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