Why Being a General Practitioner as An Attorney is a Dead End (and an Ethical Nightmare)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve said it before; you can no longer be a generalist as an attorney.

The way the laws changes on an almost daily basis, keeping up with every area of law is almost impossible.  It can also be an ethical nightmare for you since ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 on Competence says:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Now, while comments to the rules do allow for attorneys who may be practicing in an unfamiliar area to become more proficient with “necessary study”, the fact is that clients want attorneys who already know their stuff.

Please understand that clients hire attorneys because they have a problem that only a lawyer can solve.    And they want an attorney who can help them solve their problems in the fastest, easiest and most cost effective way possible.   They do not want to pay you to learn how to solve their problem.    They want you to pay you for knowing how to solve their problem.

How can you be competent if you have to have knowledge on every area of law?  How can you do the work you diligently (ABA Model Rule  1.3) if you are so busy trying to learn many areas of law to the exclusion of becoming proficient in a specific area?

Being a “Front Door Attorney” , an attorney who will take any case that walks into the front door of their office, also creates a marketing nightmare.   How do you position yourself in the public?

If you are the only attorney in a small rural town, hanging a shingle and being a general practitioner is a fine way to make a living.  It is also the easiest marketing you will ever do.  Everyone knows who you are and what you do.

However, according to the ABA Market Research Department, as of April 2013, there are 1,268,011 attorneys licensed to practice in the United States.  Very few of them are located in the very rural areas of America.  You need to find a way to distinguish yourself amongst this large group of lawyers.

You need to create visibility for your legal practice and this is where marketing comes into play.  Except, now people want to know what you can do to help them.  As a general practitioner, you will not be able to position yourself in a way that helps you come up to the top of a search engine.  As a general practitioner, you will be positioning yourself as a small fish in a very, very large pond.  This is why you need to create a niche for yourself and your practice.

As I wrote in Rainmaking Recommendation #86: Pick a Niche to Scratch Their (Legal) Itch, creating a specified area of practice will allow you to:

  • Widen visibility within that group,
  • Cost effectively market your services,
  • Level the playing fields,
  • Position yourself as an expert


Being the “Jack of All (legal) Trades” means being the master of none in the 21st century.

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