In Hinge’s 2017 High Growth Study, law firms demonstrated the lowest median annual growth among the professional services industries surveyed, at a modest 8%. Consulting firms, by contrast, experienced growth rates that were two times higher. What do consultants do differently from lawyers?
It’s no secret that the legal market faces many challenges in today’s post-recession world, but how can an individual lawyer take action to help grow their practice?
One answer is specialization. Hinge’s High Growth Study revealed that specialization is related to firm growth. In fact, high-growth firms are 22% more likely to be highly specialized. Here’s the data that describes areas of firm specialization:
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Why do lawyers avoid specializing? Because of law firm economics, which both compel individual lawyers to generate a flow of new clients and create a fear of losing out on potential business. Specialization, on the other hand, requires sacrifice — cutting out entire categories of clientele and focusing on what you do best. But as counterintuitive as it sounds, sacrifice is what makes a practice stronger.
Just think about it — who would you rather treat you for a critical medical condition — a general practitioner or a specialist? Would you pay more for that specialist?
It’s no different in the legal profession. Specialists can attract more clients in their area of expertise. And specialists can charge higher fees, too.
In this article, I’ll take a close look at each of the areas of specialization identified in our report and suggest some ways lawyers can apply these findings to their own practice.
- Offering Highly Specialized Services
High-growth firms are 33% more likely than no-growth firms to offer highly specialized services. One way that many lawyers specialize comes early in their career — when they decide between establishing a litigation or transactional practice. Some litigators will demonstrate their specialized service in terms of courts. For example, some specialize in representing their clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. Litigators might also specialize in a specific industry or practice area, such as construction litigation.
Think about what kinds of specialized services you could offer. Then position yourself as a specialist by writing and speaking frequently about this specialized area of expertise. Before long, clients who need these services will see you as having deeper knowledge than a lawyer who provides a wide variety of services, and these clients will have a greater level of comfort choosing you to represent them.
- Focus on Solving a Particular Challenge
Nearly twice as many high-growth firms as no-growth firms focus on solving a particular challenge. Criminal defense law lends itself to this approach. And many lawyers specialize in DUI or traffic law because defendants believe specialists will have the best chance of winning their cases. Suppose you’re a transactional attorney for local businesses. What specific challenges can you help clients solve? Once you’ve formulated an answer, lead with this when promoting your services – make it easy for clients to understand where your expertise lies.
- Industry Specialist
In our research, we were surprised to learn that industry specialization was less effective for generating growth. In fact, no-growth firms were nearly 25% more likely to have an industry specialization.
So what’s going on here? Focusing on a particular industry alone is not a catalyst for growth. If you specialize in an industry that does not have growing legal needs — or if the industry is one in which legal services are becoming commoditized — it’s time to rethink your strategy.
If you are already committed to a particular industry, think about how you might offer highly specialized services or focus on solving a particular challenge within the industry to better position your practice for growth.
- Focus on Helping a Particular Role
High-growth firms were a whopping three times more likely to focus on helping a particular role (i.e. CEO or president) in an organization. When you can target your marketing and business development at a narrow audience, it’s easier to demonstrate that you are a good fit and win the business.
For example, if you practice business law, are the bulk of your clients family-owned businesses? If so, you could target owners of family businesses. If you also have clients who aren’t owners of family businesses, don’t fret. If they are satisfied clients, they won’t go anywhere. In fact, they might refer friends who own their own businesses, as they will have a clear understanding of the audiences you serve.
- Geographic or Regional Focus
High-growth firms were 60% more likely than their no-growth counterparts to have a geographic or regional focus. While not all practice areas lend themselves to a geographic focus, some certainly do. If your knowledge of local nuances in the law enhances your ability to serve clients, you may be able to use that expertise to differentiate your practice. However, before you do this, make sure that competitors haven’t already embraced this focus. If they have, you can still promote your local knowledge, but you should consider finding another way to differentiate yourself in the market.
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In today’s increasingly competitive market, there is much that lawyers can do to take a proactive approach to their growth strategy. Specialization can help you stand out from the crowd and increase your client base.
- Read more about this topic in our free Professional Services Guide to Research.
- Check out our free research-based book Inside the Buyer’s Brain to learn how your business development team can better understand what your buyers really want.
- If more of a hands-on approach is for you, register for one of our courses through Hinge University and become the next Visible Firm®.
How Hinge Can Help:
Hinge has developed a comprehensive program, The Visible Firm® to deliver greater visibility, growth and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.