Experts get to experience more focus and charge more for their services. What more do lawyers need to know before narrowing down?

Expertise lends a strategic advantage over the long term. Business development cycles can be exhausting. Narrowing your niche into a specialty can deliver clients who are willing to pay a premium for your services with less effort than it takes to find clients who won’t pay their bills.

Most lawyers fall in the middle of the generalist-to-specialist spectrum. Expertise evangelist Jay Harrington, author of One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice illustrates the differences across the work of a “Jack of All Trades” and “Master Craftsman”. Male-oriented terminology aside, Jay’s comparison highlights four benefits to specializing in his piece for Attorney at Work.

  • Specialists get work when results, not price, matter. Generalists get price sensitive work.
  • Specialists are busy and focused. Generalists are busy and scattered.
  • Specialists are sought after. Generalists seek out work.
  • Specialists control client engagement. Generalists don’t.

Generalists never control client engagement? Specialists evolve from generalists. You can start your evolution even if you can’t yet conceive what specialty would return enough income and fulfillment by focusing on the clients and humans already in your life. Develop your communication skills and client relations processes — start with these resources. Jay Harrington presented a webinar for us a couple years back, in which he shares an anecdote about how a small, young San Francisco firm recognized an opportunity to narrow their consumer finance litigation by focusing on lawyers departing partnerships. You can catch that at around the 32-minute mark below, or viewing here on YouTube.

Self-awareness is everything in career development. Otherwise, you might find yourself pursuing nicely packaged opportunities that aren’t fulfilling enough to sustain your efforts. Work-life balance is an illusory goal for those who don’t feel sufficiently rewarded by their careers. Specializing in a narrow area isn’t a panacea for lawyers struggling to find work they enjoy. There’s a wild theory out there that some humans are “multi-potentialites”. You know, even Jay Harrington didn’t develop a specialty from whatever law he practiced at Skadden — he started a digital marketing agency for professional services firms.

Developing your career is some of the most involved, complex personal work you’ll ever do. We’re complex creatures in a complex economy. Yesterday’s clear-cut career paths are overgrown, and they were never as likely to lead you to fulfillment as clearing your own. And all the tools you need are in our Career Research & Development Workbook Series, introduced here. We’ve published all 5 (free!) workbooks into a single, packaged version you can download here (still free!). Or just navigate through the workbooks through the individual posts below:

  1. STRENGTHS [Workbook 1]. SWOT inside and outside to uncover your technical and core strategy, leadership, and communication strengths and opportunities that are worth your time and effort to explore.
  2. VALUES [Workbook 2]. Revisit your values, beliefs, assumptions and unconscious biases and their impact on your most important decisions.
  3. BRAND [Workbook 3]. Rebrand yourself so that your project a strong, professional presence and people remember you exactly as you want them to.
  4. PURPOSE [Workbook 4]. Repurpose your passion into a driver of your success and happiness.
  5. PATH [Workbook 5]Chart your course forward with clear goals, a step-by-step action plan, and insight for implementation accountability.

Career development doesn’t put profitability first. Money requires attention and intention. Never ignore it; never follow it blindly. Stay mindful of why you want to become an expert: to find better balance (which considers income), not just to find more profit. The problem is that we’ve been conditioned to believe maximizing profits makes for happiness, and even if you believe the science that says it’s untrue — you still have to reprogram your brain. Figuring out what really fuels our happiness requires taking care of ourselves. There are a lot of ways to practice self-care, and if you’re not already in a healthy routine, you need to prioritize it now.

Too many lawyers already are looking for lucrative areas of expertise, and too few looking to close access to justice gaps, and too few developing expertise in fee-shifting to ensure income. Lawyers ready to start developing fee-shifting expertise can take advantage of an upcoming opportunity fee-shifting in debt collections (in which up to 98% of consumers are unrepresented!) at the MBA’s program on January 29th.