Boutique Law Firms, Midsize Firms / Regional Firms, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Size Matters: Wanna Be Successful? Think Of A Niche To Scratch

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is no secret that I do not like my small firm. But I do know people who have found happiness and professional fulfillment by working at small law firms. And, since Biglaw probably can’t hire all of you, what other choice do you have?

One positive feature of practicing in a small law firm is that is enables an attorney to take a wide variety of unique cases and to specialize in interesting areas of the law. Indeed, one small-firm lawyer is gaining huge notoriety with the Super Bowl XLV ticket class action on behalf of ticket holders who were denied seats at the game. The suit is being brought by Michael J. Avenatti, a Los Angeles based attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LLP — a firm of less than twenty attorneys, per Martindale-Hubbell. Per USA Today, Avenatti estimates that the class will reach 1000 fans and seeks $5 million in damages. Biglaw would likely scoff at such a case, but perhaps Mr. Avenatti will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Let’s look at a few other examples of niche practices….

Take Daniel Whitney of Maryland. His firm, Whitney & Bogris, LLP, is a six-person firm that specializes in, among other things, bed bug lawsuits. As you might expect, he has more business than he can handle.

Rachel Rodgers, a 2009 law grad and founder of Rachel Rodgers Law Office, has found a niche in representing Generation Y entrepreneurs.

Young people are not the only group worthy of a niche law practice. Nolo’s Legal Marketing Blawg suggests that niche practices may be found by representing Baby Boomers. I don’t know about you, but specializing in Granny Snatching sounds very fulfilling.

A recent article in the February 2011 issue of the Chicago Lawyer, entitled Midsize Firms Often Offer Outside-the-Box Practices, features Chicago lawyers working in unique markets such as restaurants and luxury goods, and specializing in such areas as fire and explosion law. The article offers a few reasons why it is only possible to practice in such quirky areas in mid-size firms:

(1) large firms would be hesitant to work with these risky industries, due to high failure rates; and
(2) the clients, many of whom are small start-ups, cannot pay Biglaw fees.

Consequently, “midsize firms inspire a sense of ingenuity and adventure and serve as the ideal setting for experiments with new industries to grow into full fledged practices.”

While the article focuses on mid-size firms, the reasoning applies equally to small firms — just look at Michael Avenatti. So attorneys should consider small law firms because they offer an environment wherein an attorney can take on unique clients.

Let’s be honest: the odds of any young (or old) attorney getting AT&T as a new client are low. But it seems entirely reasonable for any young (or old) attorney to round up disgruntled sports fans or slumlords. I am sure there are myriad areas out there just waiting for a small firm attorney. The Nutella lawsuit has already been filed, but just think about all the other faux-healthy foods out there. I am rather peeved that ABC brought back Brad Womack as the Bachelor. There may be a lawsuit there. Or, my niece is always getting me sick from her disease-producing daycare. That sounds niche-worthy.

You get the point. As the saying goes, there are no small cases, only small lawyers.

Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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