I’ve always been suspicious of that Indian restaurant with pizza on the menu.
A lot of lawyers add more and more practice areas to their firm’s “menu”. Maybe they started by focusing on family law, but when that wasn’t quite making ends meet, they added personal injury.
When that wasn’t making ends meet, they added estate planning. And on it goes, until they're adding Admiralty law figuring that there must be a pirate who needs representation somewhere.
I completely understand why this happens. If there’s not enough work coming through the door, you tend to take whatever you can get to pay the bills.
But when you start adding practice areas and taking whatever you can get, it has a profound impact on your future business.
The Danger of Trying to Be Everything
If I’m looking for an attorney to handle my estate planning work, which attorney will I go to?
The attorney who does estate planning, DUI and criminal law, and runs a taco truck on the side? Or the attorney who does nothing but estate planning?
Watering down your practice also impacts your referrals. Typically, the more practice areas you have, the fewer referrals you receive.
One of the big reasons why someone refers business is because they want to look good to the person they refer. It's an essential point. They're not referring to do you a favor. They're trying to do the person they're referring a favor.
And what looks better - referring to a jack-of-all-trades, or to THE lawyer. Who only does one thing.
If you’ve got referral partners who are unproductive, or have started to forget about you, it could be because you haven’t positioned yourself as a provider of a specific solution or for a specific kind of client.
I'm not saying that generalists can't be great lawyers. This has nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with being a good lawyer. It has to do with perception. And it's a perception gap which has profound implications on your referrals and your revenue.
I talk with dozens of lawyers every week about their practices. Do deep dives into where they are, where they want to go, and the roadblocks they have. And it's not coincidence that the fewer the practice areas, the greater the referrals, and the greater the income.
You can have multiple practice areas, but…
You have to be careful about how you slice your pie.
You can focus on one specific area, like family law.
Or you can be a generalist who focuses on a specific group of people. For example, you handle both personal injury and estate planning, but your only clients are dentists.
You’ve positioned yourself as the dentist’s lawyer, so anyone who has a dentist as a client will refer the dentist to you. See? Now you're THE lawyer. Not for a practice area, but for a kind of client.
Or, you can be THE lawyer for a particular solution. As in, THE lawyer who helps high-net-worth individuals make real estate investments. It may bridge practice areas (corporate formation, financing, real estate, estate planning), but it's crystal clear to your referral network who to refer. Think how much easier it is for your network to say "Oh, you're investing in real estate? I know exactly who you should talk to". But that's not what they'd say if you're positioned as a generalist - even if you practice in those exact same practice areas.
It doesn't take being a better lawyer. It just takes a shift in positioning.
So - get clear on how the world sees you, and see your referrals soar.