Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 21

"

In the for-profit context, we
can get more money for the
client and more money for
us. We just need to think like
a for-profit law firm.
JUSTIN ZELIKOVITZ
DCWageLaw

Courtesy of Justin Zelikovitz

medical marijuana patients. "Cannabis law can touch upon banking, housing,
employment, custody, and, of course, criminal matters," McGowan says.
Today, Kinner and McGowan count themselves among the few cannabis law
experts in the greater Washington, D.C., area. "No matter what success we have,
we will be able to say that we are the most successful [cannabis law] litigators in
the city," McGowan says. "There are firms here in D.C. that have been around for
about 100 years. But cannabis law? Hardly anyone has been doing it."

DRILLING DOWN THE MARKET
Mills of the PMAS says most of the small practice lawyers he deals with are in
traditionally consumer-based practices, where their clients usually have never
interacted with a lawyer before. One explanation is that many niche practices
such as cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, and gaming germinate inside well-established Big Law practice areas like intellectual property and international trade.
Justin Zelikovitz was another young attorney faced with a dismal job market
when he graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2008. He
worked as a summer associate at a Big Law firm but did not get an offer. "Up
until then, it was very rare for that to happen," Zelikovitz says. "So I scrambled."
Zelikovitz landed a job at Maryland Legal Aid, where he litigated employment
cases. After four years, he worked for the D.C. Employment Justice Center for
a year before starting his own practice.
Zelikovitz realized that Big Law firms seldom handle cases involving wage law
violations against low-income people; nonprofit legal organizations like the D.C.
Employment Justice Center usually take on those cases. But Zelikovitz wanted
to employ for-profit business strategies to better serve his clients. "In the forprofit context, we can get more money for the client and more money for us,"
he says. "We just need to think like a for-profit law firm."
Zelikovitz joined the ranks of attorneys who have taken the solo route,
launching his firm DCWageLaw in 2013 with a capital investment of $500.
For the first eight months, he met clients at Starbucks or in his dining room.

"All you really need is your mind, internet access, and a laptop," he says. "I was
fortunate to have a boyfriend at the time who worked in Big Law. I wasn't
worrying too much about living expenses because we owned our home
together."
Zelikovitz built his firm one client at a time, eventually moving his practice to an
office in Chinatown. He now rents the entire building and has a staff of three
that includes an attorney, a paralegal, and an administrative assistant. Although
many small firm attorneys work remotely or in shared workspaces such as
WeWork, Zelikovitz argues that there are certain cultural expectations of lawyers
who work in his field. "Ultimately, this is a retail kind of law practice. We have
clients who come to our offices," he says.
Focusing on a niche market has given him an advantage, Zelikovitz says.
Most of DCWageLaw's clients work in the restaurant, construction, landscaping,
janitorial, or car wash business. "As I get more established and our website gets
snazzier, we are starting to see more white-collar cases," Zelikovitz says. "I've
represented an investment banker, a computer programmer, and a highly
compensated sales executive."
Like Kinner and McGowan, Zelikovitz discovered that focusing on a specific
aspect of law allows him to be an expert in a niche with few competitors.
"Increasingly, the cases in our briefs are my cases from the past," he says. "It's
nice having that small area because you don't have to [compete] as hard."
Mills agrees that in places like Washington, D.C., the more narrowly focused
an attorney's practice is, the easier it is for him or her to become an expert.
"Prospective clients have come to expect a specialist, particularly in big urban
areas," he explains. "They really want a high-conflict child custody divorce
lawyer as opposed to just a family lawyer. They want someone who is an expert
in solving a particular [legal] situation. Sometimes being narrowly focused can
be a challenging proposition for lawyers because they think their net will be
wider if they have three or four different practice areas. That might have been
true back in the day; it might still be true in rural areas. But it's not true here or
in other big metropolitan areas."
*

APRIL 2019

*

WASHINGTON LAWYER

21


http://dcbar.org

Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - April 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Niching Down to Build Up feature
Going Small feature
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask the Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 12
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - DC Bar Practice Management Advisory Service feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Niching Down to Build Up feature
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Going Small feature
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Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Ask the Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
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Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - 51
Washington Lawyer - April 2019 - Last Word
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