Law firm specialization is accelerating, leading law firms to realign themselves to better serve client’s changing needs and inspiring lawyers to form boutique firms that focus on a small number of legal issues.

Specialization in the legal industry has been an ongoing trend for decades, as many firms evolved from a practice orientation to an industry sector structure; many solo practitioners and small firms decided to focus on a narrow area of law.

In recent years, as the economy has grown more complex and technology-driven, new practice areas have emerged, creating a demand for different types of legal expertise and forcing lawyers to grapple with an entirely new set of client concerns and issues — even within existing industries. (See related article: Attorneys: To Specialize or Not to Specialize)

For example, in health care, the rapidly emerging field of telemedicine is raising a host of legal issues, such as cross-state licensing and reimbursement. Regulators are behind the curve in addressing these issues and there is a need for attorneys who can help shape the emerging regulatory framework and provide guidance to industry participants.

To be sure, the legal generalist has not gone the way of the buggy whip. At most larger organizations, in-house counsels who are well-versed on a range of legal disciplines and are intimately familiar with the underlying business provide valuable services.  Similarly, many trial attorneys successfully position themselves as generalists capable of litigating disputes in a variety of areas.

Still, the movement toward legal specialty appears inexorable, as the extraordinary pace of technological change continues to create new industries and new ways of doing business – all of which give rise to new legal issues.

There are many advantages to specialization for law firms:

Competitive Differentiation: Expertise in a particular area enables a law firm to distinguish itself from its competitors and allows it to market to an easily defined client segment.

Credibility: Clients and others perceive that a firm possesses an expertise in its chosen niche, particularly if it has a strong track record and if partners speak and write on the subject in public forums.

In-House Knowledge: By focusing on one specialty, the firm gains a deep knowledge of the area, which strengthens the quality of its service and enables it to better serve clients.

Efficiency: The firm can move quickly to address most client issues because it routinely deals with similar concerns and is familiar with the latest developments and case law.

Cost Reduction: There is no need to maintain an extensive legal library and conduct research in widely disparate areas of the law.

Ultimately, specialization is all about serving clients better. Law firms that endeavor to understand and address their clients emerging legal needs will be positioned to prosper in the years to come.

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