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What to Do When Your Client Calls About a Different Practice Area

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 07, 2013 11:55 AM

Sometimes attorneys are expected to be Jacks and Jills of all trades, but we all know what ends up happening -- we end up masters of none. So, after you've spent your career developing a niche area, one of your clients (or a potential new client) calls with a question about a different practice area.

What is in your best interest to do in this situation, ethically and financially?

Hiring Contractors

Unless you live under a rock, it's pretty clear that the legal job market is not what it once was. If you're intent on keeping the work for yourself, even though it's out of your practice area, consider hiring contractors with experience in that area. That way, you are providing your client with competent services, but also retaining her business.

Adding Practice Areas

If you are getting lots of calls about a particular practice area that you don't already specialize in, you may consider adding it to your areas of expertise. Perhaps you live in a town or city that has particular legal issues that arise -- take advantage of this. If it's something that's more than a one-time deal that you could take care of with a contractor, consider actually hiring attorneys or partners with experience in that practice area.

Maintaining and Building Your Network

Remember all those people you went to law school with? Well, hopefully, most of them are employed and you keep in touch with some of them. Why is this important? Because they are your foundation for your legal network -- it's very likely that many of the alumni work in different practice areas and they can provide the foundation for your referral network.

Developing a Referral Network

Now that you have a foundation for your legal network, before you get too excited, brush up on your local jurisdiction's attorney ethics rules. According to the ABA, ethics rules vary a lot according to jurisdiction: some jurisdictions don't allow referral fees, while others do but within certain guidelines. Whether or not you are able to get a fee, you may just want to do it for the karma; you may get a referral sent back your way.

Don't be quick to write off potential clients because they call about a different practice area. If you are unable to provide services to them in the first instance, you never know when they will have an issue that arises within your practice area. Also, people don't live in a bubble, and though you may not be able to help this client out now, that potential client has family, friends and colleagues that may need your help in the future.

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