Recently I was asked a great question. I say it was a great question because I lived the answer in my own career.

The question:

How can I develop a niche practice when I have done no legal work in the niche area?

I’ve written many blog posts about niche practices. You can do a search and find them.

The beginning part of my answer is always the same:

What you do with your billable time and what you do with your non-billable time does not have to be the same.

As you may know, I’ve done presentations for law firms and bar associations on how to development a Niche Practice.

In 1978, I began my focus on transportation construction contractors when I had no experience handling a matter for the transportation construction industry.

I remember my partner mentor at the time telling me no one wanted to represent transportation construction contractors. Thankfully, I didn’t let him discourage me.

Why did I pick that niche?

Well, I had experience in the USAF litigating government contracts. Transportation contractors bid and are awarded government contracts, only most are state government contracts. So, I was building off of a foundation I already had.

I would have considered government contractors more generally. Only, none of the big government contractors were anywhere near Roanoke, Virginia.

There were large highway construction contractors in the area and two of them were owned by the families of my Virginia Tech classmates and friends. So, at least I knew someone in the industry.

Finally, I didn’t know another lawyer in all of the United States who was focused solely on the transportation construction industry.

I don’t think any of the construction lawyers wanted to focus just on transportation contractors. That meant I had a chance to be thought of as the “go to” lawyer for the industry.

You may know that my first step was to write a law review article. It took forever.

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Because I was writing the law review article for the Public Contracts Law Journal, I was asked by that section to speak at the ABA Annual Meeting in New Orleans in August of 1981.

Other than practicing public speaking that turned out to be a waste of time. Once again, a lawyer tried to discourage me. In a conference call the moderator of my panel, a DC lawyer said:

Cordell, no one cares about highway contractors.

I was actually encouraged by that advice. If no lawyers in the Public Contracts Section of the ABA cared about highway contractors, I thought I should be the first.

Later in November of 1981, I was asked to speak to Virginia Contractors. If you’ve been reading this blog for sometime, you likely know that one presentation literally launched my niche practice career.

I look back now, 35 years later, and think about how fortunate I was.

Enough about me: If you are wondering whether you can try a particular niche, give it the same kind of thought I did many years ago and consider these two things:

  1. To the extent you have control over the situation, don’t let anyone discourage you.
  2. Be patient and persistent. It took me more than two years (and a heck of a lot of work) before any business started coming my way.