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4 Steps to Becoming Recognized as the Expert in Your Legal Specialty

Be the Recognized Authority on Legal Issues in your Area of Law Practice

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Establishing yourself as the legal expert in your area of specialization is one of the best ways to market your law practice. Many attorneys overlook the importance of becoming established and recognized as a legal expert in their field of specialization. Yet promoting your expertise can be one of the most effective ways to market yourself as a lawyer, with the added benefit of being one of the more affordable ways to market your law practice too.

Note that most state bar associations forbid attorneys from using the S word ("specialist") to describe themselves, with the exception of a few states that will let you use that term if you pay several hundred dollars a year to some certifying specialty association. As a result, most lawyers cannot use the words "specialist" or "specialty" or any similar words that imply that the lawyer has a specialized practice in the area of law where he or she has specialized practice. However, just because your bar association won't let you say you are a specialist doesn't stop the public from perceiving you as a specialist, if you promote yourself correctly.

Bar association nitpicking about terminology aside, the following are the top four ways to establish yourself as the recognized in your legal specialty field:

1. Law Firm Website.

In today's internet-obsessed society, your website is one of the greatest marketing opportunities for your law practice. And unlike many forms of advertising such as television, phone books, and radio, the internet is one place where a solo practitioner or small law practice can compete on equal footing with the big law firms. Smart lawyers are taking advantage of this opportunity to promote themselves and their knowledge to the public.

The key to a successful law firm website is to build a clean website (avoid flash and too many graphics) written in plain English which focuses on answering questions people have about your area of law practice. Ask yourself what your potential clients would type as a question in a search engine, and then answer that question on your website. Go through this process again and again, periodically adding new material to your site over time. The result is that people who need help with specific legal issues will find your article answering their questions, which will make them perceive you to be the expert on the subject.

In future articles, we will go into more detail about some of the steps you can take to make your law firm website successful. You can also read about some of the things you should not do with your website by reading Lawyer Website Mistakes - Top 10 Website Mistakes Made by Attorneys.

2. Publish.

When I was in law school, one of our professors was considered the "national expert" on a particular aspect of tort law. We knew this primarily because he often mentioned it during the course of his lectures. One day, a student asked him just how one goes about becoming the expert on a particular issue. His reply: "write an article about it."

Researching and writing an article on an issue related to your law practice is a great way to establish yourself as the legal expert on that aspect of the law. Whether that article is published in a law review, a state bar association trade journal, or a specialty association newsletter, publishing articles about what you know is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge to your colleagues. This can lead to referrals, as well as to speaking opportunities at seminars, conferences, and other CLE events.

Additionally, having an article published in a journal read by other lawyers working in your field conveys to potential clients that you are so knowledgeable about the subject that even other lawyers look to you for guidance. Of course, for the potential clients to form this belief, your marketing materials need to highlight your publication credits. Potential clients assume (usually correctly) that if a trade journal in your area of practice has published your article, you must know what you are talking about.

If you are even more ambitious, consider writing a book on your area of law practice. You don't necessarily have to write a lengthy treatise, either. Is there a narrowly defined topic in your field where you have expertise that would make a good subject for a book? If you can say enough about a topic to fill up a book, then you can be an expert on it.

And if you can't find anyone who will publish your articles or books, you can always go back and publish the material on your own website.

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