Branching out: Practice area pivots that make sense

Let’s face it — we’re in uncharted territory. No attorney has experienced anything on the scale of the current COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s no wonder that many feel disoriented and are struggling to navigate this new reality. For attorneys at solo and small law firms, during what is likely to be a prolonged period of uncertainty, being nimble and adaptive is critical.

The economic toll being exacted by COVID-19 is particularly harsh for attorneys who focus in certain practice areas. As the vast majority of people in the U.S. continue to shelter-in-place, for most, daily commutes now consist of a short walk to a makeshift desk at the kitchen table as motor vehicles sit idle in driveways. Consequently, traffic accidents have dramatically decreased in cities like Los Angeles which means personal injury attorneys likely aren’t receiving anywhere near the normal volume of calls from clients who have suffered injuries in crashes and collisions.

Additionally, crime rates are down across the U.S., with many large cities reporting far fewer arrests for everything from drunk driving and drug possession charges to violent crimes like robberies and murders. The result? The phones of previously in-demand criminal defense attorneys are now silent.

Expanding your practice area horizons

With so much changing so quickly, attorneys at solo and small law firms may be at a loss for how to weather this unpredictable storm, much less predict how long it will last. When will people be able to return to work? What about eat out at restaurants or grab a drink with friends? The truth is that no one knows exactly when things will return to normal or even what that new normal will look like in the short or long term. The other hard truth centers on attorneys needing to be able to adapt and discover new ways to use their skills — to potentially expand into other practice areas where demand is likely to remain strong or even surge.

If you are an attorney who primarily handles personal injury claims, criminal defense matters or family law cases – it’s wise to make a contingency plan now and explore your options. While demand, at least in the short term, is likely to ebb in these types of practice areas, other areas of the law will likely experience a significant increase.

Factors to consider

What does this mean for you and your business? If you aren’t seeing the volume of car accident cases you need to sustain your practice, it may be wise to consider adding another practice area to your list of offerings. If divorce cases are temporarily stalled, you may want to expand your focus to include a practice area that is in more high demand.

But branching out into another practice area shouldn’t be a rushed or knee-jerk decision. Prior to doing so, it’s wise to contemplate some basic questions. Have you or another attorney at your firm previously handled the matters you’re considering taking on? Does this type of work align with your firm’s value proposition? Being able to answer these types of questions can help you decide if a practice area pivot is the right move for your firm and, if so, the types of matters that make the most sense to pursue.

If you decide to move forward, keep in mind that this change doesn’t necessarily need to be permanent. Rather, think of it as a strategic business move that’s in direct response to the most basic economic principle: supply and demand.

Taking action to drive business

Yes, as an attorney at a solo or small law firm, you may be under more immediate pressure to adapt and change course than a colleague at a midsize law firm. However, with less hierarchy and internal bureaucracy, working at a smaller firm allows you to do so according to your own timeframe and terms and to quickly adjust your plan if needed.

As you work to expand your legal offerings and pivot your practice in a way that aligns with both your short-term and long-term business goals, consult our new guide: Online Marketing Essentials for Small and Solo Firms in Uncertain Times. In it, we provide helpful tips on how to use low-cost digital marketing tactics to win over new clients.

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