Written by Elliot R. Ginsburg, Garner & Ginsburg, P.A.
I was in a small town in Washington defending a deposition. My client was having a tough time and long story short, there was a fair amount of yelling – more out of frustration than anger, but it was still a relatively unpleasant experience. As I drove back to Seattle that evening to catch a flight, I decided that I needed to expand my practice to incorporate more transactional work. While I enjoyed litigation, I needed balance.
Fortunately, when I was at the airport, someone I knew from college posted on Facebook that he was starting a brewery. I figured that there was no harm in trying, so I sent him a message and said that I would love to do some legal work for him.
Initially, it was a small amount of work, but I had my foot in the door. I did not know it would lead to the development of an entire alcoholic beverage practice, but I hoped it would at least lead to some work for the booming brewery scene in Minnesota.
The Start of Something Hoppy
After starting with my brewery client, I knew that to get more work, I’d have to tell people what I was doing. With a background in franchise and distribution law at my firm Garner & Ginsburg, P.A., I thought beer distribution would be a good topic, so I wrote an article with my now-partner Erin Johnson for mnbeer.com.
This was something we could put in our bios to show that we were familiar with the industry and could credibly work within it.
Then, other acquaintances also started a brewery, and not only did I help them out with legal work, I also joined their board of directors. This led to more work and suddenly clients were coming in through our expanded network, through new networking opportunities, and our continued presence at beer-related events.
The alcoholic beverage industry is very friendly, and the people involved share ideas and information about vendors. This was great for us and led to our working with more and more clients in the beer, wine, and spirits industries.
Our firm then began attending and presenting at industry conferences, taking on more work for clients in the industry, joining trade organizations, and providing CLEs. My firm’s senior partner, W. Michael Garner, was willing to invest in the development of this alcoholic beverage practice area, so we took the next step of developing a brand for our work: Hop Law.
This was an important part of developing our niche practice area because it gave us the latitude to have a little more fun with the work we were doing, as well as tailor our messaging and presence to those in the alcoholic beverage world. This isn’t necessary for anyone looking to find success with a niche area, but it’s something to consider because it allows you to build out a brand that tells a clear and compelling story.
Straying from the Comfort Zone
Like other businesses, alcoholic beverage manufacturers run into a lot of legal issues and one question that comes up is how we learned to deal with areas of the law outside of our comfort zone?
In this regard, I cannot recommend enough reaching out to other lawyers (whether people you know or otherwise) for help and guidance.
We have had other lawyers help us complete projects and teach us along the way. This is the only way we found that we could develop new skills and expand our capabilities. Also, it takes a lot of work to learn about practicing in areas of the law in which we were not familiar – it paid to make sure that our bills to clients did not reflect all the work that goes into learning.
If you’re looking to develop a niche practice, here are a few things to consider:
- Networking is key.
I hate to say this (because I hated it when people told me), but networking is key. You can learn everything there is to learn about a particular industry but without those first few clients, it’s going to be tough to do anything with all that education. We were fortunate enough to have a few “ins” through friends and friends of friends, but because we took the time to really get to know the industry (from a business and a legal perspective), we have been able to grow.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Getting into a new area can be challenging and although the legal profession is competitive, I’ve found that people generally want to help each other out.
- Give it a brand.
Again, this isn’t for everyone and every field, but a brand can really help prospective clients, prospective partners, and even you understand what kind of services you’re providing. Hop Law  gave us space to be more creative and lighthearted than we could be on a traditional legal website.
- Make sure it’s worth your time and interest.
Just like Hop Law’s tagline says, we’re lawyers who like beer. Getting into a niche space take a lot of time, effort, and ongoing focus – do something you’re going to enjoy.
Did we get a little lucky developing a niche practice in an area that was about to boom? Sure. But we wouldn’t have sustainably and authentically grown without a strong launch pad, a great legal network, some hard work, and a decisive plan for how to grow.