Independent Thinking: Lessons from a Solo, Niche Practice

May 15, 2012

Small Law Independent ThinkingIt’s said you can find anything in New York City.  Chances are a truck brought it.  Commercial vehicles, their drivers and the companies that rely on them are an important part of the fabric of the New York metropolitan area.  Legal and regulatory issues abound for these pillars of commerce.  That’s why, in my solo practice, I specialize in trucking and transportation law.

Various courts and administrative agencies have jurisdiction over businesses that operate trucks and their drivers.  Beyond simply handling their traffic tickets, trucking firms need knowledgeable and effective counsel to respond to situations as they arise and to help them to avoid future enforcement activity.  Clients call with issues ranging from A to Z: air emissions to zoning, and everything in between.

To thrive in this specialized market, I’ve learned several lessons that are applicable to any niche practice:

  1. Know your market: My client base ranges from large national firms to individuals with a single truck.  But their objectives are largely the same:  A citation or notice of violation is a nuisance.  They want it disposed of with the least amount of effort and at a reasonable, predictable cost.  They don’t want their drivers to kill a day in court.  They don’t want their drivers’ licenses or the company’s safety rating to be impacted.  They want to know how to prevent future violations. And they want to learn of developments that might impact their operations
  2. Know the players:  Of course its important to know the different judges and enforcement personnel.  But its also invaluable to know who to call if you have a question.  Most enforcement agents are happy to explain agency rules and policies.  Some even give classes or perform mock inspections.  Get to know the attorneys and non-legal people who practice in this area.  Some may cover areas you don’t. Someone may be a referral for an area that they don’t handle. Or, sometimes someone will cover a case for you when you have to be in three different courts at the same time.
  3. Know the law:  That’s true in any practice.  Reread the laws relevant to your practice area frequently.  In a high volume court or agency tribunal, its easy to overlook essential legal elements of the matter to be resolved.  Also, watch for changes in agency rules and enforcement trends.  Monitor proposed local laws and stay on top of local news to keep abreast of issues of interest.  And read whatever trade publications you can get your hands on.
  4. Network, Network, Network:  Of course there’s a networking component to each of the preceding paragraphs.  Join and become an active participant in relevant trade associations and chambers of commerce.  By active I mean “get involved”.  Join a committee.  Speak at a symposium.   Write for their newsletter.  Go with them when they call on City Hall or the State Capital.  Networking with other attorneys is very important.  And, always, tell everyone about your specialty.  You never know when someone might need your specialized services.

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