Law school exposes law students to a a smorgasbord of substantive law. This creates the impression that in real life you will deal with complex real estate issues in the morning and handle a criminal trial in the afternoon.
I don’t know any solo attorneys who practice that way. If you are opening your own shop as a solo attorney, find a niche and stick with it.
“I do all sorts of things” is not an elevator speech
I sue abusive debt collectors and defend consumers in debt collection lawsuits. I don’t say “I’m a solo attorney handling consumer rights cases” or “I do mostly consumer law.” I handle two types of cases and nothing else.
My pitch is active and memorable—most people remember what I do after meeting me. By narrowing my practice to a niche within a niche, it also implies I have enough business to stay in business.
On the flip side, saying “well, I do ____, but I do some ____” is a marketing nightmare, in my humble opinion. Nobody will remember that, all they will remember is that you do a bunch of stuff. That makes it difficult to associate you with a certain type of case. Finding a niche makes it easy to market and easy for people to associate you with your practice area.
A niche will make you more efficient
As a solo attorney, you will spend lots of time adjusting to the additional responsibilities of running a firm—like marketing and answering the phone. Developing a niche practice will help you become efficient and increase your productivity.
If you take any client that walks into your office, you will find yourself spending an excessive amount of time on each case. For example, drafting a simple will may not be that simple if don’t really handle estate planning. In addition, you may not be able to spot bad clients if you take anyone who walks in the door.
Regardless of what you get paid for that random case, the more important number is your effective rate—how much you are making per hour. If you are a jack-of-all-trades, that might pay off in the long run, but in the short term, you will be working like a dog, and end up making $10/hour.
If you handle the same types of cases, you can develop forms and documents that only need fine-tuning, rather than creating everything from scratch. You will learn the local players, how judges react to your cases, etc. Those are all huge time savers, which will pay off in the long run.
A niche makes you comfortable and confident
New attorneys are constantly being intimidated by opposing counsel. If you dabble here and there, you will constantly be hazed by opposing counsel—as you are constantly trying to establish your presence in an area of law.
You will still get hazed if you have a niche (it still happens to me), but it should not last as long. For one, I have enough experience now to avoid the tricks and traps that I did not see a year or two ago. Two, I have had enough good resolutions in cases to realize that I am not a complete moron—a stance that opposing counsel has also begrudgingly accepted.
Comfort usually equates to confidence. And if there is one thing young lawyers usually lack, it’s confidence. Find a niche, get comfortable, and start building your confidence.