Paying clients:  because you didn’t win the $448 million Powerball lottery, you’re going to need them.   No matter how exciting the subject matter, your practice will be short-lived if it doesn’t meet clients’ needs.

Therefore when choosing a practice area consider:

  • What’s always in demand (greatest hits)?
  • What fits your existing clientele and location?
  • What’s hot?

Greatest hits

According to a 2011 Minnesota Lawyers Mutual policyholder survey discussed by Nancy Hupp at this link, the top solo & small practice areas are family law, probate and trusts, civil litigation, business law, real property, and criminal law.   Your family and friends likely will order at least one item from this menu at some point.  As the lawyer they know, you’ll be asked to handle this type of business or refer it.

Clientele and Location

When I advertised in my neighborhood newspaper, I discovered my community needed lots of work I didn’t do.  Learn from my experience, and from the hyperlocal trend, by considering the needs of the people near you.  What are they up to?  Starting families?  Starting businesses?  What are their legal needs and concerns?  Consider whether your practice will attract local clients or pass unnoticed.

If you already have a clientele in mind, consider their additional needs.  One legal need may beget another, as when family law clients have small-business issues (Karen Hazel in my last post).  Spanish-fluent lawyer Alex Cazales started a family law practice focusing on Latino clients, then added bankruptcy when he discovered the Latino market was underserved.  And lawyers Amanda Heyman and Jennifer Jambor-Delgado founded Fare Grange Law “specifically to support independent farmers and food businesses in the sustainable and organic sector,” according to Amanda.  Because they focus on a particular set of clients with diverse legal needs, “we absolutely have to be flexible with our practice areas as we learn which legal services our clients will find most necessary and valuable.”

Hot topics

Sometimes the economy, new legislation, or other trends can make a practice area hot.  Think health care exchanges, same-sex marriage, sequestration:  what kinds of legal needs will these spawn?  When the economy tanked in 2009, plaintiff’s-side employment lawyer Areti Georgopoulos discovered her clients needed help navigating the unemployment insurance process, and developed a practice in that area.  She later added a consumer rights practice to help identity theft victims and others correct credit report mistakes.  “In this economy, it’s critical to have good credit,” Areti observed.  “Identity theft and credit report errors have been more in the news, and people are starting to take notice of their rights and remedies.”  And a practice area was born.

Experienced solos:  Have you developed a practice area based on client needs, economic changes, or other trends?  Please tell us all about it in the comments.

By Karin Ciano

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Karin Ciano

Attorney at Law at Karin Ciano Law
Karin Ciano is a former federal career clerk in solo practice who likes to meet good people, work on interesting cases, and get back into federal court whenever she can. She practices civil rights and employment law, and she is also a freelance attorney who assists other attorneys with putting their best foot forward in federal cases. She is also the Twin Cities director of Custom Counsel LLC, the freelance legal network, and one of the co-founders of the Minnesota Freelance Attorney Network.
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