There are many people who advocate a niche practice over a general practice. I tend to agree, but it is tough. This year alone, we have turned away four clients already. Of course we refer these people to other attorneys, but it still feels like turning money away. As a result my partner and I have discussed expanding our practice. But how can one expand into unfamiliar areas of the law?
When Audits are a Good Thing
CLE classes are a great opportunity to expand your legal education. But they can get expensive. Luckily many providers offer an “audit” option. This allows attorneys to pay less money, still get the materials, and still attend the seminar. The only difference is you don’t get the credit.
This option offers the benefits of CLE without a good bit of the cost. We have started exploring CLEs in various areas that interest us, and we’ve already audited several valuable CLEs. Now that Lawyerist has paired with Solo Practice University, I expect we can dip our toes in even more areas.
Although CLEs can help a lot, they rarely provide enough information to get started in an unfamiliar practice area. Many CLEs through national providers give an overview, but don’t discuss land mines to avoid in your own practice. Not to mention best practices to ensure you are giving your client the best representation possible.
This is where mentors and other experienced attorneys are very helpful. Before we even contemplate taking a case in an unfamiliar area, we discuss it with someone that practices that kind of law. Usually the more experienced attorney can help with templates, checklists, key cases to read, etc.
We do work for other attorneys that need help because they are simply too busy. This contract work lets us dip our toes into a new area of law while working directly with a more experienced attorney. That attorney checks the work and explains the parts of the case we may not be familiar with. It’s similar to what I imagine an associate in a big firm does. We handle a part of the case under the supervision of a senior attorney.
This experience has been invaluable. The attorneys we’ve worked with are patient and helpful. As a result we’ve gotten experience in several areas of the law we never even contemplated.
The Importance of Caution
Although it breaks my miserly heart to turn away any paying client, it is a necessity. There are many areas where neither I nor my partner can offer competent representation. So, although we are considering expanding, we do not solicit clients in unfamiliar areas at all. If a client has a problem in an area we are unfamiliar with, we do a copious amount of research before we even take a meeting. After the meeting if we think it is beyond our expertise, we still refer the case out.