« Go back to Blog Index

Why You Need to Hire Specialists for Your Law Firm

Lawyers who are considered generalists usually practice within the areas of litigation and corporate law. Real estate has also become more of a generalist practice area these days, as well. On the other hand, niche segments include areas like employment, healthcare, ERISA, bankruptcy, immigration, tax, telecommunications, governmental, white-collar crime, etc. If you are planning to open up some positions at your firm, you may be wondering why you should hire specialists for your law firm versus generalists.

2016 Trends

In an interesting trend, 2016 saw a decrease in demand for generalist attorneys for both interviews and placements. Firms typically hire lateral attorneys when his or her existing experience fits in with the work that is available, and when a firm is confident there is profitable work to give the attorney. At the lateral level however, there seems to be a supply and demand situation where there are too many attorneys at the lateral level competing for a limited number of jobs in generalist practice areas.

The number of corporate attorneys, litigators, and real estate lawyers is much more substantial compared to attorneys with specialized skills. This sudden surge of interest in hiring specialized attorneys represents one of the largest shifts in the lateral attorney market. Whereas a degree from a top-10 law school and a position with a major law firm was enough to prompt a successful lateral move, numerous associates with these qualifications are struggling because law firms are just not interested.

Firms have become less concerned about what firm a candidate is with and where they went to school than the specific skillset they bring to the job. Hiring a generalist means that a firm will have to invest both time and money to training. The attorney will need to understand all the intricacies that go along with regulations, laws, and statutes in a particular niche.

Benefits of Specialists

When making hiring decisions for your firm, there are definitely pros that go along with hiring specialists. First, if your firm deals within just one or two practice areas, you’ll want someone who can start working and get up to speed on client cases with minimal supervision. Specialists can zero-in on the primary concepts of whatever cases you assign.

In terms of purpose, specialist attorneys are probably more passionate about finding solutions to cases and exploring every possible angle for a favorable outcome. There was clearly a reason they chose to delve into a niche area of law – whether it was for greater salary opportunities or because they had a personal experience that led them there. Even if they are new to the niche, their enthusiasm and desire to learn are qualities that will make them work hard for your firm.

Specialists have the knowledge to implement complex solutions to complex cases. This is one of the main reasons more and more firms are hiring them over generalists. It is understandable that lawyers cannot and will not know the particulars of every single rule in the book; however, there is a better chance that your attorneys will impress clients if they already have experience within a practice area. For example, a generalist may take several weeks to come up with a winning strategy for a case versus a specialist who has already handled multiple cases of the sort and can provide several winning strategies within a matter days. As a business, a firm’s goal is to grow and make money. Many are now hiring with the assumption that in-depth experience of a particular topic is more valuable than general knowledge.

Another benefit that goes along with hiring lawyers with niche experience is the ability to bill at a higher hourly rate. Clients with serious legal problems may prefer to work with an attorney who can cut to the heart of the matter and has handled similar cases many times before. There is no reason why you shouldn’t charge a premium to clients working with specialist attorneys.

Hiring an attorney is not just about caseload or keeping clients happy. As you may know from starting a small firm, you want to bring in people who can excel and grow your business. Selecting a candidate who has worked within a niche area of the law also means that you are potentially bringing in new clients as well. If your firm focuses on trademark law, you can count on the fact that any lawyer you hire who has worked in trademark law already has qualified leads. This is another reason that hiring a specialist over a generalist can prove beneficial for the entire firm.

The reputation of your firm as a leader in your specific practice area goes a long way when it comes to building your brand and growing. Satisfied clients are more likely to come back for future work, and refer people within their network. This is a win-win situation for your firm.

If you are hesitant that hiring specialists will limit opportunities to take cases from your clients that are outside the scope of your core practice, the solution to this dilemma is to hire contract attorneys. Whether you want to test out the idea of hiring specialists, or if you already have specialists and want one or two generalists, contract attorneys give you the flexibility to test out different scenarios.

Another advantage of hiring contract staff is your ability to fill in gaps when full-time employees are on vacation, handling too many cases, or just need more assistance. Suddenly, the burden falls off just one or two people and an overwhelmed staff can have some space to breathe.

If you need to hire soon and you are unsure of the best plan for your firm, there is no harm in hiring a contract attorney who has some specialized skills. This will give you the opportunity to observe how quickly they can brainstorm strategy, their comfort level when interacting with clients and answering specific questions, and their efficiency when it comes to handling multiple cases.