I Need to Shift My Legal Practice, Where Should I Begin?
"The only thing that is constant is change." - Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher
If one thing is for certain, it is that these past four months have brought about an extraordinary amount of change in a short time. Even if you are one of the few whose daily life is minimally impacted by the pandemic (i.e., you previously worked from home, relied heavily on video conferencing for communication, or ordered your groceries online), it is guaranteed that those around you have no such luck. With courts closed and businesses shuttered nationwide, many lawyers find their practices heavily disrupted or halted entirely. However, others in the profession are seeing a surge in their areas of expertise to meet the growing needs of our societal overhaul. If you find yourself in the former category, it's time to face the fact that change is here - whether we like it or not - and to come up with a plan to address it.
In my last article, I shared why having a strong digital presence is critical to law firms of all sizes, especially during COVID-19 when the majority of our personal and professional interactions happen online. While taking the time to boost your digital channels is incredibly valuable, it is of equal importance to determine the type of content and information that should be disseminated across those channels - whether you're deeply entrenched in your practice area or looking to explore fresh territory. If you're thinking about transitioning to a new or related practice area to address your clients' shifting needs, here are the initial steps to take:
This task may sound incredibly obvious, but it cannot be overstated. In order to best position yourself for a practice pivot, it's important to take the temperature of what's going on in the world - from what's happening in your own backyard to changes happening on an international scale. For starters, determine the areas of the law that are top of mind right now. Some that immediately rise to the surface are civil rights, cybersecurity, employment, ethics, and insurance (but there are many others!). Take the time to read (from broader news and legal-specific sources), listen to others (peers, industry thought leaders, family members, etc.) and absorb their teachings.
In Alan Deutschman's book "Change or Die", he describes the inherent value of learning from others:
"No matter how successful we are in whatever we do, it's still vital to keep learning - to become successful at something else, something new. And the way to learn is from other people. They have the habits and the skills and the conceptual frameworks that we lack. The trick is learning from them rather than stubbornly believing that our ways are the best ways or the only ways or telling ourselves that we're no longer capable of changing."
As you begin to form a picture of today's trends and hot legal topics, you can then turn to how your expertise ties in to any of these growing areas - if not directly, then tangentially. Ask yourself: What is an interesting part of the cultural conversation that I can address? If not personally, how can I team up with others who have this experience that I can add to? Now is the ultimate opportunity for collaboration - with those in your organization, peers outside of it and others beyond the legal field. Follow people in your orbit who have timely and interesting perspectives to share (this can be as simple as tracking relevant #hashtags on Linkedin or Twitter to find them). Think about where you fit and the avenues in which you can expand your expertise (this could include anything from enrolling in CLEs related to up-and-coming topics to cross-selling services with another firm practice group).
Once you find the niche area you'd like to expand into, contribute to it like crazy! Join organizations related to that practice area, engage in LinkedIn groups and online conversations around those topics, write blog posts and publish articles, participate in webinars and host CLEs. No one will know you are dabbling in this new arena unless they start to associate (i.e., see and hear) your name with content surrounding it. The last transition to a new practice area will occur in your head. For example, saying to yourself, "I am now a privacy attorney" or "I focus my practice on ethical issues during COVID-19". If you embody it, others will catch on.
We all know that change is hard, and this year may arguably be the most difficult time to embrace change during many of our lifetimes. However, attorneys are known for their critical thinking skills and are well up for the task at hand. According to Dr. Larry Richard, a psychologist and former lawyer who studies lawyer behavior, "abstract reasoning €” analyzing, solving problems, and using their intellect €” is a hallmark trait of lawyers." Now, it's time to live up to that reputation.