National Post Article about DMC LLP
Many thanks go out to Drew Hasselback of the National Post > Financial Post for writing this article about DMC LLP. Here’s the text of that article:
Drew Hasselback, “Finding their niche: Young lawyers bite into the dental market”, National Post (29 July 2014)
How do you bite into a saturated market? You talk to dentists. At least that’s the strategy two business lawyers are using to carve out a niche in the crowded Ontario legal market.
Michael Carabash and David Mayzel may be the only two lawyers in Ontario who exclusively serve the legal business needs of dentists. It sounds bizarre, but it works.
“We were kind of laughed at,” Mr. Carabash recalls of 2010, when he and Mr. Mayzel created DMC LLP. Detractors said they wouldn’t find enough work if they focused on such a small market. “The funny thing is that we’re growing exponentially because of the amount of work that’s out there.”
One of those early skeptics was Mr. Mayzel. He and Mr. Carabash met when both were sole practitioners sharing office space in Toronto. Mr. Carabash suggested they form a firm that serves only dentists, but Mr. Mayzel thought it might make more sense to target a sweep of medical professions, from doctors to veterinarians.
“At the time I thought, that’s crazy, why limit ourselves,” Mr. Mayzel says. “But it’s turned out to be a really good decision. We’ve been able to dive deep into one profession and understand it as best as we can. It really paid off.”
It wasn’t easy at first. At the end of their first year their client roster was in the single digits. By 2013, the number had grown tenfold, giving them the 50 to 100 mandates they need a year to generate a healthy profit. They’ve also grown on the revenue side, increasing their fees as they’ve established their brand and honed their expertise. They’ve even expanded their team. Recently they recruited a new lawyer, Ljubica Durlovska.
Mr. Carabash has always challenged conventional wisdom in the legal business. About five years ago, when he was trying to set up his general law practice, he went on Dragons’ Den to pitch his do-it-yourself legal forms business. The dragons didn’t bite, but he says two million people saw the spot and he got a national platform for his products. The legal forms business, which is separate from DMC LLP, is still up and running.
DMC LLP strategy would strike a lot of lawyers as odd. To start with, the firm restricts itself to an extremely small market — there are only 9,200 dentists in all of Ontario. It also focuses exclusively on business advice, not litigation. You might find personal injury lawyers on Google who call themselves dental lawyers because they specialize in suing dentists for malpractice, but that’s a different business. DMC LLP does only corporate-commercial matters, work such as advising on the purchase and sale of dental practices, setting up professional corporations, drafting employment agreements or assembling wills and estates.
A lot of this work is standard paper-pushing that any business lawyer does. DMC LLP has embraced the mechanized nature of their work by offering clients fixed fees for roughly 90% of their services. This isn’t new in itself. A lot of small law firms are embracing flat rates or “alternative billing” plans to differentiate themselves from the bigger downtown law firms.
Yet DMC LLP can also differentiate itself in that “dentistry law” is a real thing. Mr. Carabash and Mr. Mayzel have had to master some of the unique law related to dentistry, such as understanding the laws and regulations around privacy, patient records, the dental profession itself and all regulated health professions generally.
Mr. Carabash and Mr. Mayzel contend their niche strategy works because dentistry is a tight-knit profession with a ready-made social network. They attend dentistry conferences, read the industry trade publications, and know a lot of the bankers and accountants who work with a lot of dentists.
Plugging into that network was a lot easier than building a position in another industry, Mr. Carabash says. “We still had to work at it. But if you compare it to trying to be like Toronto’s No. 1 criminal law lawyer or Toronto’s No. 1 franchise lawyer, this was 10 times easier.”
So here’s the takeaway. The niche strategy may be a solution for other young lawyers or professionals who feel squeezed out of the professional services market.
“Look at the competitive landscape. See how easily and how quickly you can penetrate the market,” Mr. Carabash says.
No matter what you try to do, it’s going to be hard at the beginning, Mr. Mayzel adds. Stick with it, focus, and become the recognized expert in a particular field. “Try not to be a generalist and dabble in different areas, because you’re likely going to drown. You can’t be everything to everyone. Try to be the one person to one group.”