How to Be an Expert in Your Legal Specialty
Establishing yourself as a legal expert in your area of specialization is one of the best ways to market your law practice. Many attorneys overlook the importance of becoming established and recognized as a legal expert in their field of specialization. Yet promoting your expertise can be one of the most effective ways to market yourself as a lawyer, with the added benefit of being affordable too.
Note that most state bar associations forbid attorneys from using the S-word ("specialist") to describe themselves, with the exception of a few states that will let you use that term if you pay several hundred dollars a year to some certifying specialty association. As a result, most lawyers cannot use the words "specialist" or "specialty" or any similar words that imply that the lawyer has a specialized practice in their area of law. However, just because your bar association won't let you say you are a specialist doesn't stop the public from perceiving you as a specialist, if you promote yourself correctly.
Bar association nitpicking about terminology aside, the following are the top four ways to establish yourself as the recognized authority in your legal specialty field:
Your website is one of the greatest marketing opportunities for your law practice. And unlike many forms of advertising such as television, phone books, and radio, the internet is one place where a solo practitioner or small law practice can compete on equal footing with the big law firms. Smart lawyers are taking advantage of this opportunity to promote themselves and their knowledge to the public.
The key to a successful law firm website is to build a clean website (avoid flash and too many graphics) written in plain English which focuses on answering questions people have about your area of law practice. Ask yourself what your potential clients would type as a question in a search engine, and then answer that question on your website. Go through this process again and again, periodically adding new material to your site over time. The result is that people who need help with specific legal issues will find your article answering their questions, which will make them perceive you to be an expert on the subject.
Researching and writing an article on an issue related to your law practice is a great way to establish yourself as the legal expert on that aspect of the law. Whether that article is published in a law review, a state bar association trade journal, or a specialty association newsletter, publishing articles about what you know is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge to your colleagues. This can lead to referrals, as well as to speaking opportunities at seminars, conferences, and other CLE events.
Additionally, having an article published in a journal read by other lawyers working in your field conveys to potential clients that you are so knowledgeable about the subject that even other lawyers look to you for guidance. Of course, for the potential clients to form this belief, your marketing materials need to highlight your publication credits. Potential clients assume (usually correctly) that if a trade journal in your area of practice has published your article, you must know what you are talking about.
If you are even more ambitious, consider writing a book on your area of law practice. You don't necessarily have to write a lengthy treatise, either. Is there a narrowly defined topic in your field where you have expertise that would make a good subject for a book? If you can say enough about a topic to fill up a book, then you can be an expert on it.
And if you can't find anyone who will publish your articles or books, you can always go back and publish the material on your own website.
In some areas of law practice, it is common for attorneys to offer seminars to the public to educate them about certain areas of law. This is particularly common in estate planning and elder law, but lawyers in other areas of law practice are starting to get in on the game too. These seminars are a great way to make yourself known to the public, and will greatly enhance your reputation in the community (assuming, of course, that you don't botch the presentation).
Even if you practice in a field where public seminars are not really practical or appropriate, you can still pursue seminar speaking opportunities to legal associations and other attorneys. Does the state association in your practice area conduct an annual seminar or regional seminars? Volunteer to speak on a topic you know well. Does your local bar association have a monthly bar meeting where 1-hour CLEs are presented while everyone grabs a sandwich and chips? Find out who is in charge of scheduling speakers, and volunteer your services.
Can't find any good speaking opportunities through other organizations? Organize a seminar of your own, and invite other lawyers to attend.
Reporters, journalists, and other writers are constantly in need of experts to provide information, analysis, and quotations to go into articles. Ever wonder why you see the same attorneys being consulted over and over about certain legal issues? Sometimes it is simply because that attorney has made himself or herself available to the media. If a reporter knows that a phone call to your office will provide the quote needed for finishing off an article, then that reporter is likely to call again and again.
Some attorneys dislike speaking to the media, and some completely refuse to do it. This is usually the result of that lawyer feeling like he or she was burned previously by being misquoted or having something taken out of context. While it is easy to blame the reporter, many times this is the lawyer's own fault. Remember that when speaking to a reporter, one of that reporter's goals is to find something in your comments that is quotable. Most lawyers want to talk in long sentences that include too many legal terms or complex words.
In most situations, those comments are not quotable and your lengthy explanation is just too detailed and/or boring to go in a news article. Good politicians speak in "sound bites" because they have learned how to provide reporters with what they need for writing a story. Learn that skill and the media will like talking to you too.
Becoming recognized as the expert in your field of law is one of the best steps you can take in your practice, both for improving your competence as a lawyer as well as improving your marketing competitiveness. Use any or all of these four steps and you will be able to gain recognition for your knowledge of the law.