Finding a Niche

Good morning from Seattle. Good afternoon on the East Coast. This is day two of what will be nine weeks of 45 chapters of legal blogging that I’ll cover, probably get up on YouTube as well, and get transcribed, so that people can use them. Again, the goal, like I talked about yesterday, was to maybe get away from what people describe blogging as today or the false bloggers that are teaching people how to blog and taking lawyers in a direction that is going to ultimately fail them.

Then even more importantly, are lawyers blogging in a way that’s going to make a positive impact on people, whether it’s a consumer, a small-business person, a corporation, in-house counsel, another lawyer, or other legal professionals. There’s a lot to be gained for people through legal blogging. I’m wearing the Phillies hat because there is no major league baseball team in New Jersey. This is the closest one. My folks were natives of Atlantic City. My grandfather had a tile company there, and I found out later that he actually had Philly tickets driving up from Jersey to Philly for baseball games with my uncle.

I think it’s important, as we think about the challenges that we each face in business and the legal profession, for people that have younger families than mine, raising kids through this and whatnot and the stress and the tension so involved, to keep in mind the direct impact that it’s having on people. In New Jersey itself, they’ve had just about 10,000 people die: 9,946. That’s 9,946 families, mothers, fathers, kids, uncles, grandparents, devastating losses as a result of what’s going on. You can really keep it in perspective when you think. Since I was on yesterday, 244 people in New Jersey lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. I’ll mention the Blog For Good campaign at the end.

In any case, this is talking about finding a niche, which is critically important if you’re going to blog. Most lawyers are afraid to get in a niche. What they’ll think about is if I blog on that, that’s going to limit my practice when, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Once you build trust as a lawyer and lawyers that have been practicing for a while, people will come to you for every type of legal work that they might need, whether you do it or not. You could be doing IP litigation and do such a wonderful job for somebody in federal court, next thing they know they’re asking you to handle their divorce. Why? Because they don’t know another lawyer to turn to. You’re the person that they trust.

So, every time you have that niche,  you are developing a heck of a network. You’re getting people coming and asking for things because you have some wonderful clients on some very sophisticated matters through that niche, but you’re now referring people out to other people that are going to get to sing your praises in return.

The other way to look at it too that I tell lawyers, imagine if you had a magazine on a niche that was laying on the coffee table in the reception area of an accounting firm, and it just covered some minutiae issue on some state and local tax, maybe there’s an estate tax in your state and that’s all it was on. It was just this minutiae. Maybe it was on a particular regulation in a tax. Now, if I’m sitting there and I’m looking out at that magazine, what I’m thinking is that these people must know an awful lot about estate taxes and tax law to be able to know enough about that niche. So, they come to you for that reason. They don’t look at it and say I was going to contact them, but they didn’t have a broad website that talked about doing estate taxes. The niche is actually expanding your practice.

What is a niche? It’s tight. Narrow it down. I used to go down to a firm in California called Nossaman and and work and talk with the lawyers about how they could use the net, networking through the internet to build names. They’re wonderful because the first time I’m sitting there on a Sunday morning, about eight o’clock, and a lawyer gets up (he’s one of the leaders in the firm), and he’s got penciled-out notes, literally penciled-out notes, disheveled, and I’m thinking, what is he going to offer here?

First thing he said, he goes, “Remember that we’re Nossaman. We have offices here, here, and here in California, and we have no competition.” I’m looking around the room and there were a few confused lawyers too. “We have no competition.” Think about that. You’re a law firm in California, where 20% of the lawyers in the United States are, and this lawyer is one of the leaders in the firm reminding you you have no competition. He says, “Because we play Moneyball. We do things that other law firms do not.” What they would do is go out and scope out opportunities. They would then have a leading lawyer in the firm develop that opportunity. If you find out that there isn’t a leading lawyer in a particular subject in Nevada, you take one of your leading lawyers in California and go over there and develop some expertise. Nossaman started to realize that people were talking about infrastructure work in the United States and highways. They decided that they could develop expertise in infrastructure and highways work.

It wasn’t beyond them to have one of their leading lawyers get on an airplane, sit in the back of the room so that they could shake the Secretary of Transportation’s hand when they left the room, just to say, hello. Now, most firms won’t invest in that because they’re going to say, “Oh my God, we’ve lost those billable hours in time.” What does Nossaman launch blogs on? I don’t think they had an infrastructure blog. Next, within the first three or four comes an endangered species law blog. Endangered species law blog. How many other endangered species law blogs are there? Zero.

Can you imagine the millions of dollars in infrastructure work that is done all around the United States that gets into issues of endangered species and moving endangered species? It’s the only publication if you will, Barnes and Noble on the subject. Everybody that’s working on the subject, whether they’re a government agency, whether they’re a lawyer working in the government agency, or whether they’re another law firm or they did their work in consortium’s where you might have nine groups. There could be an engineering group. There could be a finance group. There could be legal, different types of things. Nossaman was able to find themselves into maybe eight out of nine of the groups that were doing bidding for major things because they developed niches.

When I think about niches today, I think about how I’m living in a condo right now. Something came up about COVID and I’m thinking, okay, a question on it. I just Google it and Google matches me up to the state of Washington state. They had some information that was helpful and I’m thinking it would really be helpful if a lawyer would just summarize some of this and answer common questions for condo residents and HOA associations, and condo associations in the state of Washington, of which Seattle has a boat-load of buildings, right behind me. They’re filled with people.

Then you think about it, who’s on the board of trustees? Fairly-wealthy people. Who do they hire? They hire lawyers in states, and lawyers charged a lot of money for this work. Well, imagine somebody saying, there’s one person that’s put together a resource for us. They built it for us. It’s the Washington State magazine on COVID issues for HOAs and condominium residents. Now, I’m staying in Seattle. That person could be in Wenatchee, which is a long way away from here, a couple of hours. It could be in Spokane. It really doesn’t matter, but that person is going to get known.

Now, it doesn’t matter if any condominium decides we’re going to call this person immediately and give them their work because that may not happen, but you will get known. You were the woman that did that. You were the woman that really helped us out. I remembered that when we were really struggling on issues that a lot of the residents had, you were the one that helped us. You built that niche. You built the reputation.

Now, if someone started a blog in Washington on coalbed legal issues, it’d be *gag* to me. How lame could that be? That’s everything under the sun. If it was an employment blog, make it particular regulation, make it really tight. If you already have a name in employment law, you’ve got that following already, but not everybody does. Focusing on that’s the type niches. How do you find them? You just open your mind. Maybe an easy way to do it is just to say I’ll break down and get the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post for two weeks or a month and I’ll just page through them and see what I see that is interesting. You will see things.

Nossaman described it as reading newspapers, reading magazines. They called it petri dishes. We’ll just find them somewhere, they’re there to be found, but you’ve got to just open your eyes. Don’t do what other people are doing, because you’re going to get lost in not following a niche. Where you can find niches in your state is to look at what other states have that’s working well but there’s not one in your state.

I’ll give you an example. It doesn’t relate directly to the pandemic. Probate litigation. I had no idea that it’s such a big deal. The first person that I heard that did it was Juan Antúnez, in the Miami area. He called me up and I answered the phone in 30 seconds because I was just starting the company and I wasn’t going to lose the chance to have a customer. “Since I came back as a Captain from the first Gulf War, I joined this firm; they do probate and commercial litigation. I’m trying to figure out where my opening might be. I think it could be in between. I could do probate litigation,” I’m thinking, “really?”

He figures out that at that time, West was distributing about 50 cases a year on Florida probate litigation, will contest. Then he starts a blog by summarizing those cases. Juan has done very well for himself and he’s raised a family as a result of the business that he’s generated on that blog. Now, when I go from state to state and look at other lawyers, they’re struggling on all of these different things. They’re going to conferences and people are selling them SEO to try to get rankings for topics that everybody does, where all they’d have to do is say, “There’s no probate litigation blog in my state. I think I’ll pick up the phone and call Juan Antúnez.”

There’s a lawyer that did it in New York or New Jersey, and I met him barely when I started the company. He came up to me. He was older, so he was probably 60 some years old. This was back 15, 16 years ago. He did one because he saw Juan’s and it worked for him. It spun off some work that he could get that he wouldn’t have otherwise got and he liked it when he was getting closer to retiring, that’s the type of thing. When I’m talking to lawyers I tell them, think of it as a giant circle. Everybody is getting the work in the big circle, everybody is.

Everybody wants to go get that work. That could be even bankruptcy, employment, IP litigation, all that type of thing. Everybody thinks that they want to compete for the same thing. Here you’re down you got that little circle, but you own 100% of that circle and you’re it, you’re 100%. Part of these people think you’re wacky because they’re thinking, “What type of idiot would do that?” Launch a blog on that subject, there’s not enough work. You’re just sitting down here smiling, because you have a 100% market share. Then the public is looking for information; they’re coming right to you because you have must-have content.

When I started on the Internet as a lawyer back in ’96, I didn’t know anything about it, but all of a sudden it dawned on me that I was the only one on ALL that was answering people’s legal questions. The rest of the country was competing on yellow pages and my state yellow pages and all types of stuff, and I owned 100% of the net, nationally.

It sounds crazy, but people were actually contacting our firm, and we were referring them out to lawyers around the country that were members of State Trial Lawyers Association board members like myself, but we had a monopoly. Think about that. There’s the silver dollar out there, could you own the dime. That dime is a great thing to own, and that’s the place to start.

The last thing I’ll say, on finding one. There was a gentleman years ago that took the phone book from New York and the phone book from Chicago, and he got on the train in New York and he rode the train to Chicago. He sat there, and he flipped through the pages. He looked for things that Chicago did not have that New York had and then he got into those businesses and became a multimillionaire and a philanthropist, because of what he did.

This is not very complicated. You could be sitting here, again, not watching Hulu or Netflix at night and just going through blogs. Which ones look like they could be successful in another state or another niche that isn’t being covered here? You’ve got time to do them. The goal of a niche blog is to be the must-have content. It’s must-have. How couldn’t anybody get it that has an interest in that subject?

If I’m interested in endangered species because of some project we’re in, I want to know who else is writing on it. You think I’m going to call Westlaw or LexisNexis? Maybe they have a book on any of these species, they could have, but you’re getting it straight from the horse’s mouth when you’re getting it directly from a lawyer. Be that must-have content on the subject. You don’t want to be competing with everybody else.

When blogs started, people really thought of having a niche and must-have content. I think it’s been watered down, because everybody thinks they can spam the internet and social media. You just open up LinkedIn, and there’s one post after another from all of these people that can’t find somebody to read their content so they start pushing it at people, and it’s everybody giving everybody a pat on the back.

Now, there’s some good stuff that comes through there, and I used to share stuff there too, but you wouldn’t have to be so crazy about pushing your content at people or paying people to distribute your content if you had must-have content.. Why not have must-have content? Barnes & Noble isn’t what it used to be, but I always told lawyers, “Just go down the aisle on Barnes & Noble and oh my God, it’s the one that I need. I needed this publication.” You can be that.

I don’t know how many people have read the book, The Long Tail, or read Chris Anderson’s article on The Long Tail. It’s a concept I believe that came out around 1950. Chris was the editor of Wired magazine. It’s what put me over the top on the net and the use of the net, originally and then with blogs. The idea is that, here’s the greatest volume of sales up here, but it’s really early on the tail, here’s out on the tail.

The best analogy might be to use– Not everybody’s old enough to remember pulling in, in a suburban with the kids in the car and running inside and getting CDs or cassette tapes from Walmart for the trip. You’d go into the Walmart music area; they’d have 200 or 300 because that’s all they’re going to carry. They can’t carry some remote folksinger, because there’s not enough demand for it. They’re selling up here. What happened with the internet, the cost to distribute? You didn’t have to get to Walmart to be successful anymore. Imagine trying to get something inside of Walmart, but with the net you could be out here.

The people that had an interest in your subject were very, very small, but that’s okay, it cost you nothing to distribute. You don’t have to package magazines and get them delivered to law offices; you just get it on the internet and a blog and there she goes, but there’s still demand; there’s still that slice of demand and that’s okay. You’ll be very, very successful in building a name and building a reputation without having a huge demand. Feel very comfortable.

The minute you get scared of, “Gee, I’m going to have too much of a niche,” pick up this book or just look up the article. I think you can find the article where he writes about it. It got my heart going, where I go, “Oh my God, that’s exactly right.” Blogs get way beyond Walmart. They’re way out on the long tail with the country music that nobody would be able to get at Walmart with low distribution costs, and there’s enough of an audience out here on the long tail that they’re going to be interested in the subject.

Take a look at Guy Kawasaki, just put Guy Kawasaki and niche. By reading his book, when I was thinking about doing some consulting on Internet marketing, I stumbled into a blog as a way to share information. People thought I was wacky for thinking I was going to start a company doing blogs for lawyers. What would I do after four people bought the blogs? But it was him talking about having a niche. As a company you had to have a niche. I totally believe it and lawyers don’t.

“Niches leads to riches” is something that Greg Siskind said when I was on a panel with him years ago in Chicago at the ABA Techshow. Greg is the godfather of Internet marketing for lawyers. I’m not sure that there would be Internet marketing for lawyers the way there is today without Greg. We’re talking 24, 25 years ago. Think about where the lawyers that are 30 and 32 years old were and how old they were when Greg was writing a book on how to use the Internet for marketing in 1997.

Greg had an immigration practice. He didn’t have an immigration practice, he quit a large firm in Nashville to start doing immigration work that he would get via the Internet. Think how crazy that is- that’s like Bezos is quitting a good job and saying he’s going to sell books on the Internet- and eventually wants to move to Memphis, that’s where his wife is from.

He gets together with a guy named Tim Moses to write the book, but I think they planned the content out together. He would put up more content than the federal government and immigration.

Then as things got further along, even with blogs. I know that he blogged until now. Greg doesn’t start an immigration law blog; he’s doing work for healthcare institutions. It’s healthcare immigration, and that’s pretty lucrative because healthcare institutions need to bring people’s families into the United States. He’s working for major corporations and he’s getting highly respected as a result of this. He’s a highly respected lawyer.

What next? Well, maybe sports immigration for athletes, but maybe not that. Maybe a blog for particular type of athletes or particular sports. All of a sudden, he picks up a minor league team, and then he picks up a minor league league. Then he picks up a major league player, and then a major league team because he’s doing the immigration work for a particular type of sports’s franchises. That’s pretty amazing.

He’s not thinking like other lawyers think. He’s playing Moneyball. He’s looking around, probably thinking “God help those other lawyers that haven’t figured out that practicing law is about having niches that lead to opportunities to do other things.” Now Greg is on to doing different things with technology so that he can deliver a service through software and those types of things, so different types of things. A niche is just absolutely critical.

I’ll be back on at eleven o’clock tomorrow talking about how you look for opportunities in blogging, some of which I talked about today. I’ll keep this up covering every topic that’s on the post in my blog called Legal Blogging; it’s 45 chapters or so long until we’re done, for about nine weeks. You see Blog For Good down here on the bottom of it. I want to make an opportunity for any lawyer that wants to contribute to helping consumers, businesses, large businesses, you name it during this time.

LexBlog is aggregating and curating all blogs from all over the United States. Now we have probably most of them and we curated out in different ways to associations and bar associations. Today the content is all about the pandemic and the virus. There might be 300 posts a day that come through. If your blogs aren’t in there, make sure they’re in.

If you’re not blogging and you want to feel good about contributing to people, we’ll show you how to do so. We can get you on a blog for, I think it’s $39.99. Nice blog, fully supported, teach you how to do it, everything. If you don’t have any money for it, we’ll give it to you for free.

If you don’t want to blog and you just want to contribute content, we can do that as well through something called a spot, which can bring the content in through LexBlog, it’ll be stored at LexBlog with a display in your profile or like a blog, you just won’t have an independent publication because you feel like you don’t want to carry on the burden of that.

Then for Bar Associations and those people that are active in Bar Associations, we’re now building. I heard from the team yesterday, and it’s a shocking number, one a day. We’re building what is called a portal which is aggregated in all of the blogs in a particular state and curating them to highlight the content and it’s all about the virus.

Then in those states, the Bar Associations will be able to make available to lawyers just like we’re making available to lawyers the opportunity to blog. In certain states like Illinois, that’s already doing it, there might be a hundred lawyers that are already contributing to this. States come on like New York, California, Florida. It’s going to be huge numbers.

My hope is that as lawyers, we wanted to do something positive. We really did. Sometimes that gets beat out of us by the second year in law school, but I think we always did. Well, there’s never going to be a bigger event in our lifetimes than what is taking place today. Never ever, ever. There’s just no chance, we hope.

This is an opportunity for lawyers to feel that they’re contributing and I believe that we really can by looking at information, sharing information without having too big of a burden on our time. That’s Blog For Good. You guys have a great rest of the day.