The Successful Lawyer: The Gains of Specialization – Tosin Ajose Popoola

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Dear Colleagues,

It has literally become a cliché to hear phrases such as “specialization is the new name of the game” “carve a niche for yourself” and so on and so forth.

Before now, it was cool for lawyers to be “the general merchandise” “the general practitioner”, but the dictates of time, no longer accommodate “the general practice”. Also,  with a quick foresight, the general practitioner would continue to be less attractive and eventually become obsolete. Indeed, and of a truth the new name of the game is ‘specialization’. Law is wide and diverse and practitioners have the privilege of choosing from several career paths. The world is moving with a very fast speed. Disruptive technology has become the order of the day; disrupting every status quo and making it more challenging for practitioners. It is no longer fanciful for a lawyer to claim “I am a general practitioner”; that ‘gbogbonise’ approach is gradually phasing out. More and more advancement are demystifying many aspects of our lives, thereby making it most  prudent for any lawyer who wishes to become successful to identify an area of specialty and work at it with all diligence to become an expert there.

Specialization

Now, what does it mean to specialize? Or better said what does it mean to carve a niche? To carve a niche literally means to organize ones work to create a secure position[1]; it involves establishing a unique role (for oneself), usually by excelling in a specific area.[2] Carving a niche and specializing are in substance one and the same and I will use the phrase and words interchangeably.

Ordinarily, when you specialize in an area and consistently restate your commitment to that area of specialization, you’re simply carving a niche for yourself. Accordingly, specialization could mean identifying an area of interest, exposure or profitability, taking on task, briefs, training etc., in that area with the ultimate aim of becoming an expert or a thought leader, while earning decent or acceptable income from same[3].

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To carve a niche in the legal profession presupposes the identification of a specific area of law and consistently proving oneself in that area. It means staying true to a designated path or (using the popular slogan) being a ‘thought leader’.

There are lots of benefits in specialization and to bring my point home, I have created 4 talking points which I have termed the 4 W’s of specialization; they are:

  1. Why do I need to specialize?
  2. What does it take to specialize?
  3. What happens to my profitability?
  4. What gain is in specialization?

I sincerely hope that at the end of this discuss, you will come to a place of understanding, while appreciating the essence of specialization in the legal profession. And if you’ve already specialized and working tooth and nail to carve a niche, I hope that this would inspire you to keep to the path until you become the best.

Why do I need to specialize?

The answer is simple! Specialization is the new name of the game. It is no longer attractive for people to be ‘jack of all trade’ especially in the legal profession. The world has become a global village, competitions are rife and only those who have something special to offer are breaking even. A lawyer who remains a general practitioner would continue to eat the crumbs and may never get the brief that gives success. Multinational companies, high net-worth individuals and establishments are looking for lawyers who can solve specific problem in specific areas. It is now common place to hear client (even retained ones) asking you to look for those who are experts in a particular field, even when you have not given them any reason to doubt your capability. People no longer believe that one person can do it all. There is a growing trend of realization which is aggressively making people want the best of everything. When you specialize, you not only set yourself apart for handsome briefs, you have an edge over other competitors in your field. You create a room for rapid evolution of skills, knowledge and network. Specialization also yields and breeds respect in any field or community of professionals.

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What does it take to specialize?

The first is to identify your area of interest. Specialization requires that you take time to understand the various areas and find the place where you really feel attracted to. It is the passion and the desire to become an authority in a given field that will determine the extent to which you can go. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for you to excel as they say, passion fuels hard work.

The next after identifying an area of interest is, hard work, discipline and Focus. When you’ve elected to specialize and working towards carving a niche in an area of law, you open yourself up to the public in a way and manner that you’re considered to be deeply knowledgeable in that chosen area of specialty. When a huge confidence has been reposed and a standard set, there is a constant need to live up to the standard which can only be met with hard work, continuous and consistent hard work.  Discipline and Focus helps you to stay true to that specialty, there will be constant distractions and seasons of self-doubt. Discipline and Focus helps to transcend those seasons.

What happens to my profitability?

As earlier mentioned. Companies that reward handsomely are now going after experts. When they have an issue in a particular area, they would prefer even their retained lawyers and firms to seek for practitioners who is specialized in such areas. Well paying clients are now after those who have a specific knowledge in the area of their challenges. I can only say to you to be rest assured that your profitability will not diminish due to specialization. Specialization does two things basically, it earns trust and leads to in-depth knowledge. The trust earned will lead to an increased client base, while the in-depth knowledge of law will maintain and sustain the client base[4]. So, whichever way, you look at it, it’s more profitable to specialize.

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What gain is in specialization?

Again there are lots of gains in specialization, let me share a few with you. With specialization comes with the expert status which is capable of being monetized. Have you ever wondered why some lawyers are paid so much for certain legal services? It is because they have shown themselves to be expert in that area over time. Another one, is the efficiency that comes to be associated with one’s reputation, this efficiency equally has monetary value and of course is maximally responsible for increment in fees or remuneration.[5]

Have you seen the need for specialization? Or do you disagree with me? Please reach out and share your thoughts with me.

I leave you with a quote that is apposite for this work:

“Adam Smith pointed out that there are three things that makes us more prosperous, in a general sort of way; freedom to pursue our own self-interest; specialization which he called division of labour and freedom of trade[6].”

Oluwatosin Ajose Popoola, ‘Tosin is a lawyer, content creator and blogger, she is passionate about law and its numerous instruments. She can be contacted at: tosinajose22@gmail.com.

Footnotes

[1]www.collinsdictionary.com>dictionary>carveaniche

[2] Idiomsthefreedictionary.com>carve+a+niche

[3] I have come up with this definition with full regard to some of the reasons, that leads to specialization in an area, sometimes the firm or organization where a career is kick started may determine the desired area of specialty.

[4] https://blogs.partner.microsoft.com/mpn/specialization-the-pathway-to-profitability/

[5] https://www.firstrepublic.com/articles-insights/life-money/build-your-business/five-reasons-why-specialization-is-the-key-to-profitability

[6] P.J. O’Rourke

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