Being the “Jack of all Trades”
“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, lawyers were one or two to a town and less likely to specialize, being responsible for everything from real estate to criminal. A broad legal education taught you how to think and that mixed expertise was valuable when a client wanted to make a business transaction that would impact their final estate plan.
Today, many lawyers specialize. What used to be a general-practice firm slowly focuses in on just doing real estate for the local area. This allows them to develop systems to streamline the process and provide high quality services for a very affordable rate. Technology tracks the process ensuring no case or detail is forgotten, double-checks make sure the technology and paralegals are working as they should. Even the support staff is specialized, being in close contact with all the important parties. And of course, this specialization makes marketing easier as the longer keyword “real estate lawyer small town” is much cheaper to buy and easier to maintain.
Having built a practice around helping and managing firms that specialize, developing and implementing many of the very processes that allow them to run smoothly, provide cost-effective services, and free up the lawyers time, I’m certainly a fan of identifying a niche and serving it well. Especially as the legal marketplace becomes crowded and consumers/clients are demanding faster and cheaper services, it’s a way for lawyers to survive and thrive.
But I wonder sometimes what is lost when there isn’t some level of general practice involved. When your business client calls in the middle of the night because you’re the only lawyer they know and their son is in jail or your estate client is suddenly grappling with a contested divorce. Developing a network of trusted practitioners to refer these clients to only solves part of the problem. Knowing how to react to their immediate needs, and how that might impact the work you do for them, is also important.
Some broad knowledge is useful and perhaps the easiest way to keep in touch with other fields is splitting your CLE hours between staying up to date in your field and learning a little about a new field. From learning about horses that inherit millions to learning that laws enacted by Queen Elizabeth I still apply in some cases, you’ll be surprised the relevance this new information can have on your practice.
I asked my assistant to draft an article on the advantage of finding or creating a niche for your law practice, which she did, citing many advantages such as increased experience and knowledge, less competition, streamlined marketing and branding, increased fees, and improved processes. All of which are absolutely true and apply to all of the practices I manage. But her use of the common phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none” got me thinking, what have we lost in the process of specialization? Is there a way to retain the value of both mastering our specific niche while still understanding the broader practice of law and it’s implications?