Specializing* for Rural Practitioners

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Rural practitioners aren’t necessarily known to be specialists*. In many ways, rural attorneys serve clients and their universe of legal needs. Additionally, there may not be a large enough need in your comminuty to sustain a practice in a niche area of the law. However, it’s almost impossible to have compentency in every area and you may not enjoy practicing in every area. So, how can a rural practitioner limit their practice and still keep the lights on?

1. Don’t think about what you will practice, think about what you won’t.

Specializing in a rural area can be difficult. In metro areas, it makes sense to think of what area you want to do and stick to that. However, in a rural area, you may not have enough clients to sustain a niche practice. Instead, think of what you don’t want to do. Usually, what you’re left with are areas of law that are related. The related areas of law may have enough of a need in your area to sustain a practice.

2. Expanding your practice might just make you a better niche lawyer.

Practicing in the related areas may make you a better attorney in your favorite niche area. For example, you may want to have a niche probate practice. But, you may need to expand into real estate and business planning. Having a background in knowing what it takes to convey good title at a closing will inform your probate filings and make the work you do in those files more beneficial to the client. There can be benefits to practicing in more than one area.

3. While expanding your practice, expand your marketing audience.

While you need to market to clients, also market to other lawyers and other professionals. If you want to do estate planning, for example, you need to be the one that a financial planner thinks of when they suggest a client do a will or an attorney thinks of when they have a conflict or would rather spend their time in the courtroom. Get to know fellow attorneys and see if there are areas they enjoy practicing that you don’t. Start referring some of those files to them and let them know what areas you like to practice. That may lead to referrals in your preferred areas.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorkmaster/5504723258/)

*Alright, here’s a typical lawyer-y disclaimer. Using the term “specializing” or any other derivative in marketing your practice is fraught with ethical implications if you have not attained formal recognition as a “specialist.” Don’t advertise yourself as a “specialist” unless (1) you’ve been recognized as a “specialist” by your bar, or (2) your bar is one of the minority that don’t care. I’m falling back on the term “specializing” because I couldn’t find a fun picture that plays on the words “limiting” or “concentrating.”

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  • A. Beatrice Travis

    I recently spoke to a local attorney who gave me pretty much the same advice. I really don’t want to practice family law or criminal law, but, I had asked him if I could apprentice for him just to learn those areas. Instead he asked me why I want to be just another fish in the pond, and gave me suggestions for areas of law not currently being served by our county’s attorneys.

    So, I wrote an introductory cover letter and walked around to the local law offices handing out my resume, cover letter, and business cards and asking for “crumbs.”

    • I’ve never thought to “interview” for referrals, but that’s not a bad idea. I might have to dust off my resume.

      • I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea of making a formal request for referrals, which is why I never have. It just feels too strained, and I’m not necessarily willing to reciprocate. I’ve always hoped that by doing my best, I would earn a reputation for good work and good client service, which would make attorneys want to refer me cases.

        • It would take some subtlety and social E.Q., but approaching possible referral sources by informing them of your expertise and contact information if a need arises wouldn’t necessarily be awkward.