How Two Lawyers Built Successful Niche Practices

November 29, 2016 | The Legal Intelligencer

Stacy West Clark

There are some lawyers who really get it. They have found the secret to getting great business: notably, they have carved out specific niches for their practices and thus have seized both the limelight and newfound revenue. I thought it would be helpful to look at exactly how they did it. So, as they say on "Law and Order": These are their stories!

Patricia Hamill: Hamill is one of the most accomplished commercial litigator, white collar and federal equity receivership lawyers in the city. She is the co-chair of Conrad O'Brien's complex commercial litigation practice group. But while I know she is one of the most respected members of the Philadelphia Bar, after more than 25 years of practice, she went ahead and re-branded herself a fourth major practice area. She is now one of the country's leading lawyers defending college students nationwide when they face disciplinary charges, possible expulsion and criminal charges in Title IX proceedings for alleged sexual misconduct on campus. The other part of her practice in this area involves representing students in litigation or threatened litigation against their colleges or universities in the wake of an adverse disciplinary finding or sanction.

Honing in on her litigation skills, Hamill often attempts to resolve the cases behind the scenes. But where resolution cannot be achieved, she has filed lawsuits against the colleges for breach of contract, violation of Title IX (or other civil rights statutes) and tort liability on the basis that the colleges' investigation and adjudication procedures failed to ensure the students' fundamental due process rights, discriminated against them on the basis of sex and breached the schools' contractual obligations.

So how did she seize this market? She did it with a combination of taking thought leadership in the area, becoming a national speaker, and getting widespread press for bringing suit in federal district court on behalf of a Swarthmore College student and then a Brandeis University student against their respective schools. She was quoted in Newsweek, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Washington Examiner, The Delaware County Times and more. Today, she speaks at Title IX summits locally and around the country on how to handle Title IX lawsuits. She writes frequently, is listed as a recommended attorney on the FACE website: Families Advocating for Campus Equality, and offers a portion of her time pro bono to students who cannot afford an attorney. Her Brandeis case is listed on the "Save Our Sons" website which is aimed at families whose "college sons have been falsely accused of sexual misconduct." As she does with her other practice areas, but especially here given the hot-button and evolving nature of this work, she spends many nonbillable hours keeping abreast of legislative and case law developments. As the practice has grown, she has also gathered other lawyers at her firm, both partners and associates, who work as a team handling these matters and who are integral to providing excellent client service and results in these emotional—and often times—sensitive cases.

She got her first case through a referral from her good friend and fellow attorney, Ellen Brotman. It got national attention. Her team nailed the case and the phone started ringing from parents and other lawyers not familiar with how to handle these cases. Hamill cannot stress enough her good fortune in getting the first referral and then working with people in her firm, particularly her partner Jeannette Brian, who helped her deliver for that first client. By her practice and public writing and speaking activities, she has become one of the country's go-to lawyers in this niche area.

Ashley W. Brandt: Ashley is a partner in Chicago's Goldstein and McClintock and his niche is in "libation law." When you first look at his bio, you see that his practice, like Hamill's is very diverse, His bio indicates his practice focuses on media and internet matters, Manufacturing and food and beverage sectors as well as construction and real estate contracting and litigation. But he caught my eye with the way he has developed his distillery and brewery practice. Founder of the popular blog "Libation Law," Brandt spreads the word of national cases and developments affecting the beer industry. He is a member of key ­associations where clients are! These ­include: the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association; the Brewer's Association; the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild; the American Bar Association (referral sources) and has previously served on the governing committee of the Illinois State Bar Association's Agricultural Committee.

How did Brandt get his first client in the industry? As he explained: "I received my first client through friendship and ­persistence. I had several friends that I offered plenty of free advice to and one day I got a call from a referral through one of them for a client that needed some help with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. I told them what they needed to do and they said, 'Great, we'd like to hire you to do it for us.' Since that day, I have a rewarding practice that has grown thanks to hard work and the kindness of my clients."

Over the years, Brandt has "helped clients in every aspect of their business from entity formation to state and federal licensure and permitting, negotiating ­agreements with wholesalers and distributors, branding, trademark and trade secret information, legal compliance, alt-prop and contract brewing agreements, financing and equipment lease and purchasing. He also represents food and beverage importers helping them with import-export issues and international sourcing, licensing and food import compliance agreements." He is a thought leader for those in the industry because of his blog and active involvement advocacy groups. Chicago Lawyer Magazine found his practice so interesting that they wrote a story about his niche practice. Check out the article in the March 2013 issue, "Niche Practices Play a Big Role in Midsize Strategy."

So it is your turn to develop a niche. As always, I am rooting for you. I can't wait to tell YOUR story. So get up, get started and get going! 

Stacy West Clark has been helping lawyers and law firms grow their practices and revenues for over 30 years. She is a former attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and was its first marketing director. She is president of Stacy Clark Marketing (www.stacyclarkmarketing.com).