OSB Professional Liability Fund

You May Be Needed Elsewhere: How a Market Analysis Can Help

mini town structure
November 15, 2019
by Hong Dao

For lawyers who want to open their own law practice, here is something to consider: examine the market you want to practice in. Doing a market analysis is an essential first step to opening any business.

Opening shop in an area without assessing whether the market is favorable to you will likely result in frustration and potential loss. A market analysis is important because it lets you understand the market you are entering, who’s competing in that market, who your potential clients are, and how you can serve clients in that market. It will help you determine where you want to practice law geographically and how to market effectively to potential clients.

When you analyze the market, you want to look at its size: how big is the market and how much of it do you want to capture? Will you be one of 500 or one out of five lawyers serving a population of 50,000 or 100,000? If the market is saturated with other lawyers doing the same work as you, think hard about what value you can bring to the table.

Given the size of the market, is there a demand for your legal services? What are the legal needs of the clients in that market? Does that market require a general practitioner who can do a bit of everything like family law, estate planning, personal injury, and criminal defense? Or does it require a more specialized focus like agriculture law or patent law?

There is a huge demand for services for low- and moderate-income people according to legal needs studies conducted by a lot of state bars, including by the Oregon State Bar, available here. These clients’ needs are not met at all or inadequately met, and it’s creating an access to justice gap that should be concerning to all lawyers. Think about whether this demand is something you can help meet.

If there is a demand, which geographic location is it coming from? Is it from urban or rural communities? There is always a demand for lawyers in coastal areas, rural communities, and smaller towns. Certain pockets of the metro areas have different demands. That is something to consider.

Many tools are available to help lawyers do a market analysis, including court records, census data, and data from local cities and counties. The Oregon State Bar has compiled some data on the number of attorneys in private practice with PLF coverage compared with the total population in each county in Oregon. See the chart below.

We can see huge disparities between the ratio of the population to attorneys in, say, Multnomah County (226:1) to Douglas County (2280:1) and Tillamook County (1553:1). A few counties have no private attorneys at all, like in Marrow County with a population of 11,885. This doesn’t even take into account the baby boomer attorneys who are or will be retiring with possibly no one else to replace them and meet the legal needs of those communities.

Lawyers who do a market analysis may realize that there is huge potential to build a successful practice in different parts of Oregon where there are high demand for legal services, but with low competition.