In this blog post, Vishnu Vinayak, pursuing a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, writes about selecting a niche for developing a legal practice as a lawyer.
Gone are the days when people used to prefer generalists for getting their work done. There used to be a time when a general physician used to treat cold, fever, diabetes, skin, haemorrhoids, etc. Now, it’s an entirely different scenario. People prefer to get treated by specialists and not by general physicians. Suppose a diabetic patient asks for advice regarding the diet he should follow to a general physician, the doctor immediately refers him to a dietician. The reason behind this change is very simple. People over a period of time realised that a person cannot specialise in every aspect.
Similarly, the legal profession in India has undergone a tremendous transition. Probably thirty years back, if anyone had asked a person who had completed his law degree as what advocate would he wish to become, then his reply would be either a civil advocate or a criminal advocate. A civil/criminal advocate back then was a jack of all but a master of none because a civil advocate would deal with all civil litigations, tribunal matters, insurance matters, check bounce cases, etc. A criminal advocate would deal with all bail matters, heinous offences and would also take up certain civil matters if such cases approached his doorstep.
As time advanced, companies came into existence. Economy broadened. It created a fierce market and competition not only in the product sector but also in the service sector. It was during this time that people started realising that they can no more remain generalists as the modern generation desperately demands a specification. They knew it would be difficult to survive the fierce competition if they did not give what clients ask for in specific. That is the point where a niche was created and focused on.
I personally feel that it is tough to identify a niche while we are in law school. Even if one does identify his niche, undoubtedly there would be an element of fear and ambiguity. There would be questions in mind trying to create more chaos within us. What if the niche I select does not work out? What if I do not get enough work here? Would I be limited to just one or two types of work and not know the other practice involved? And on the other side, when law students express their interest in practising in specific areas, say, for example, tax matters, they are probably trying to say that they like the subject of tax which they have recently studied in their semester. This analogy of mine has the following reasons:
- They have nil or minimal exposure in the practical environment.
- They might not have experienced other fields of law, and if they had, probably they might choose to follow other than what they had previously thought of.
TWO ROADS TO IDENTIFY A NICHE AND SUCCEED
This road of selecting a niche is for people who have not decided their journey. In other words, they do not know whether to establish themselves in ‘X’ or ‘Y’ fields of law. They are people who try to explore the depths of avenues unknown to them and then decide to select a niche. These people are passionate to be their own boss. During their initial years of practice, it becomes inevitable for such people to embrace any kind of work that is given to them. It is then that they identify what they are really good at and proceed in their professional life.
The other way round, I have seen my friends with a strong legal background having no idea what to do after completing their law course. Yet, I would say, it is relatively easy and effortless for these people when compared to people with no legal background because these people naturally inherit clients who have been with them for years. Therefore, their survival is not at stake and comparatively have sources and time to select their niche and advance.
It is not strange to find another category of people who are constantly in search of a new field of law. They are people who try to avoid competition and therefore think of getting involved in these new trends of law. To cite a few examples- Sports Law, Air Law, Law and Fashion, Gambling Laws, Video Game Laws are still babies in the cradle. There are almost nil or very few competitors in this segment. Here, people are passionate about getting themselves established in the new Avenue. They obviously enjoy the advantages of piercing the new market where there exists very less competition, but it is equally risky. Advantages are coupled with certain disadvantages as well. Infiltrating a new segment is not an easy task. Without ascertaining the ways to gain potential clients, we would be exposed to huge risk.
“All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”- Gautama Buddha.
We have people who are self-reliant and vigorously think about how to establish themselves in this huge, competitive market. The key aspects to be taken into consideration when selecting a niche area:
What is your passion?
Survival by hook or crook is not passion. One way to attain ultimate satisfaction is to wed your passion. Getting established as an individual practitioner is not for the faint-hearted. It is not as cool as we see on news channels and social media where top advocates of the country give their interviews and we try to imitate their style of life. It is always the passion within us that enables us to find our way. I have friends who are in no way interested in getting into the legal profession. Sometimes, it is the parents or close relatives who forcibly admit their children to law schools without understanding what their kids are really passionate about. My humble request to such people is to stay away from anything which they are not passionate about.
Now, assuming a person is passionate and has decided to proceed with ‘X’ field of law, the second question on which one should ponder is- Will ‘Passion’ alone help in selecting a niche for developing a roaring practice?
Find out the competition that exists
A detailed analysis is absolutely needed to proceed. Let us assume a person ‘A’ has selected his niche, and he is extremely passionate about criminal law. Let us say, this person lives in Bengaluru and is trying to establish his practice in Bengaluru. Without browsing the internet or without trying to obtain any sort of statistics one can easily come to a conclusion that there are thousands of advocates already practising in the field of criminal law. If Mr A enters into the practice, then there are high probabilities of failure. So, what solution is Mr A left with? Should he ditch his passion because there exists fierce competition? I wouldn’t say he needs to go off-track.
Slim it down further
Do not stop digging, thinking you have reached a dead end. When I say, slim it down, I mean dig in deep into your decided area of practice. In the above example, Mr A should definitely try to explore the sub-sects of criminal law. There might be very few advocates in his area who specialise in drug abuse cases. It is quite logical to pick up areas where there are few competitors and initiate or expand the legal practice.
Identify your geographical location and your target market
Let us assume a person is extremely passionate about Marine Laws and has also discovered that there are very few or no competitors in Bengaluru. Again, there are high probabilities of failure if he thinks of practising marine laws in a place like Bengaluru. Geographical location plays a major role in selecting a niche. Simultaneously, one should analyse and figure out his target market. Identifying target market is not simple. We have to necessarily frame questions and find appropriate answers to it. What is our potential environment? What areas are our networks generally associated with? What is our personality? What type of clients suit our personality? Any near threat in the niche we have chosen? Possibility of competition emerging in our specialization? After finding answers to these questions, one would be able to reasonably identify his target market. A supply without a demand is of no use. Therefore, one should analyse what potential clients might approach him and decide accordingly.
Networking and Marketing
Needless to say, an advocate without a network cannot survive at all. Every individual has his own way of networking and creating a client base. One important point for us to remember is that Networking is not marketing. That leaves me to throw light on the concept of marketing. Assuming we have reached this stage after overcoming all the challenges/hurdles discussed above. But, how does one market himself and his niche? Unless and until a miracle takes place, no person would know what we specialise in. To put it straight, clients these days, have two questions-
- What is your niche?
- How good are you at it?
Now, it is for us to choose appropriate platforms and formulate ideas/techniques to let people reasonably know about our niche. If one does not choose to market his niche, then the entire time and effort involved in planning and selecting a niche would be of no use as he would be the only one to know about his speciality and skill.
“An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter even if it is a masterpiece. Otherwise, the play may never open, or it may open, but, for lack of an audience, close after a week. Similarly, an idea will not move from the fringes to the mainstream simply because it is good; it must be skillfully marketed before it will actually shift people’s perceptions and behaviour.” – David Bornstein. Advocacy is a noble profession. Rendering quality service to clients in a niche area should be an advocate’s motto. A blend of passion, hard work, sincerity, patience and logical analysis would definitely fetch positive results in developing a strong legal practice.
Advocacy is a noble profession. Rendering quality service to clients in a niche area should be an advocate’s motto. A blend of passion, hard work, sincerity, patience and logical analysis would definitely fetch positive results in developing a strong legal practice.