The Advent of the Legal Practice’s Micro-Niche, Part 1

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Data Analytics, Efficiency, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Leadership, Legal Innovation, Micro-Niche, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Practice Engineering, Small Law Firms

process improvement

I have a new word that I share with lawyers whenever I’m speaking at conferences — “Infobesity.” It is meant to help them try to conceptualize that we now live in a time where we all suffer from an information epidemic, wherein we are exposed to the digital equivalent of more than 176 newspapers worth of data every day!

Meanwhile, every minute of every day about 570 new websites come into existence, 204 million emails are sent, and 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. In fact, the amount of data being produced is truly mind-boggling, and it impacts every lawyer’s personal practice.

Add to this one more complication: The average attention span of most intelligent humans is only eight seconds, according to the latest factual findings from the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.

How is this relevant? Well, there was a time when we simply organized our law firms vertically, by the same subject matter we studied in law school — a corporate practice, a litigation practice, a labor and employment practice and so forth. So that today, we tend to think of the typical labor and employment practice as highly commoditized with practitioners doing low-value work for highly discounted fees.

In the real world, however, those looking at the trends, monitoring the pace of change, and exploring where new client needs may be are discovering the answers might be in highly-specialized micro-niches.

Let’s look at the legal concept of workplace surveillance as an example. Today, there are companies, like Three Square Market in Wisconsin, “chipping” their employees and inserting implants under their skin (with a syringe between the thumb and index finger). Employees can then use the chip to access the building, log into their computer, and other tasks. In Sweden, roughly 3,500 people have had microchips implanted in them to function as contact-less credit cards, key cards, and even rail passes.

…[T]hose looking at the trends, monitoring the pace of change, and exploring where new client needs may be are discovering the answers might be in highly-specialized micro-niches.

If chipping isn’t your thing, then there are all kinds of surveillance software programs to consider, from WorkSmart, an employee monitoring tool that takes photos of your workers every 10 minutes; to InterGuard, a digital panopticon that monitors email and phone activity, tracks web-browsing patterns, text messages, social media posts, private messaging apps, and face-to-face interactions with co-workers. Workplace surveillance is just one of about a dozen highly specialized micro-niches in today’s labor and employment practice arena.

More recently some forward-thinking law firms started organizing horizontally, with practice groups specifically constructed to serve industry clients, recognizing that there was significant research to show that clients actually chose their legal providers based on that firm’s demonstrated industry knowledge.

Now again, the total amount of data being captured and stored by industry is currently doubling every 1.2 years — which means it is not good enough to simply call yourself an energy lawyer, a real estate lawyer, or a healthcare lawyer, because in healthcare alone there are now more than 8,000 peer-reviewed medical journal articles published daily. So, how in the world would you ever hope to stay current by trying to serve an entire industry? It cannot be done.

Again, micro-niches within larger practice areas may provide the answer.

If your horizontally-minded law firm moved to set up a team to serve the agricultural industry, for example, you might want to examine where the lucrative micro-niches might exist to serve clients. And if you did, you might just stumble across “vertical farming.”

The vertical farming micro-niche represents a market space that saw 22,000 patents filed globally between 2014 and 2016 and attracted $350 million in venture capital last year alone. Vertical farming is not at the mercy of nature, produces crops using 95% less water and no soil (seeds take root inside growth plugs made of moss), uses 30% less energy, and can grow in 12 to 16 days what ordinarily takes traditional farming techniques 30 to 45 days to grow in a field.

Every hectare under vertical cultivation is the equivalent of nine hectares of conventional outdoor farmlands and saves 200 tons of water per day! One side effect of this new era of farming is its impact on real estate. Growing urban populations paired with a desire to eat local is spurring farms to settle in cities and industrial areas. Now incorporate advanced robotics, machine vision, and AI and the modern vertical farm can ensure that its crops’ temperature, humidity, nutrients, and lighting are all balanced. Want to grow strawberries? Just press “strawberry” mode.

In my next blog post, we will look at what I have come to call, “tech-driven hybrids”, which are micro-niche legal practices that are unconventional because they require a level of expertise that goes beyond any one singular vertical practice and extend beyond impacting just one horizontally-served industry.