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LEGAL CENTS: Finding and building niche practices

Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and Wisconsin Law Journal’s editor-at-large. She can be reached at jpribek@bellsouth.net.

Sussex lawyer Dan Riegleman found his niche in the law in the late 1980s after talking to two brothers and a sister-in-law, all chiropractors, at a family gathering.

“I’m very devoted to my family, and their problems kind of became of interest to me,” he said. “I saw that chiropractors have their own unique set of circumstances that they’re dealing with legally.”

Shortly after that gathering, he read an article published by the State Bar of Wisconsin expressing negativity toward using chiropractors as experts. He said it made him want to stick up for the profession.

Attitudes have changed since then, said Riegleman, who now devotes about 25 percent of his workdays to representing chiropractors. They also have become valuable referral sources for his personal injury and workers’ compensation work.

A niche legal practice can mean reaching out to a profession, as Riegleman did.

That is similar to the approach taken by Westby lawyer David Abt, who has farm law as a practice area. For Abt, though, law is his second job. He’s a farmer first. Other farmers in the area knew Abt held a law degree and practiced, and they began asking him legal questions.

A niche practice also can mean courting a particular demographic or group. Milwaukee’s Julius Andriusis bills himself as “Abogado [Lawyer] for the Latin Community,” and Milwaukee lawyer Jane Probst appeals to horse owners with her equine law practice.

Yet another way to create a niche is to focus on a discrete topic with a wider practice area. Mark Seidl, of Wausau, for example, practices in business, real estate and estate planning. A couple of years ago, he added a mix of those areas, cottage law, to his menu of legal services.

Seidl said he heard of a Michigan lawyer, Stu Hollander, using the limited liability company designation to keep cottages within families. He could not find anyone in Wisconsin offering similar services and decided to fill that gap.

Riegleman said the first step toward creating a niche practice is for attorneys to figure out what interests them the most.

“Ask yourself if there’s a group you’re part of, either through your own activities or your family, or if there’s something that really motivates or inspires you,” he said.

Then plan how to market it.

Riegleman said he started attending monthly meetings of area chiropractors to network and occasionally speak about a legal topic. He also targeted chiropractors with a quarterly newsletter, which he now publishes online.

Seidl said he created a separate tab on his website for cottage law and launched another website, cottagelawyers.com, in addition to posting a separate profile devoted to cottage law on LinkedIn. He also wrote a cottage law paper brochure that he sent to various lake associations statewide.

But practicing in a niche brings unique challenges.

Andriusis is not a native Spanish speaker and constantly is working on his language skills on top of keeping up with the law. It requires long hours.

Riegleman said that, ethically, he can’t call himself an expert in chiropractic law, nor are there certifications available to surmount that hurdle. So all he can promote is his 25 years in the practice.

Also, he said, there aren’t many other lawyers doing chiropractic legal work with whom he can exchange ideas. Then again, that means he doesn’t have a lot of competition.

And for some, such as Probst, the niche cannot be a full-time endeavor. She said she would have to move to Kentucky to practice equine law full time.

In fact, none of the lawyers I talked to have made pursuing a niche full time a goal, although if it happened, they said they would love it.

That’s because the niche work is the most satisfying aspect of their work. Abt, for example, said he relishes the variety of farm law — boundary disputes, injuries, the effect of divorce — and it’s gratifying to help other farmers.

Riegleman echoed those sentiments, adding that there’s potential for growth by representing professionals practicing other alternative medicines. He occasionally fields calls from massage therapists, acupuncturists, physical therapists and reflexologists.

Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and Wisconsin Law Journal’s editor-at-large. She can be reached at jpribek@bellsouth.net.

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