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disruptors

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With a hint of self-deprecation, but maybe only a hint, Michael Carabash notes that he wanted to be the number one criminal lawyer in Toronto, but for the fact that everyone else wanted the same thing too.

Just a few years out of law school, and with an MBA and a handful of law-related online ventures under his belt, Mr. Carabash found himself looking for a saleable niche. "I was doing everything under the sun as a general practitioner – and I was just spinning my wheels," he says.

It was when he found himself with a dentist in his lawyer's chair that he hit upon an idea for a novel practice that could fly with the help of some canny online marketing: A law firm that caters to nobody but dentists.

"He said you should only work for dentists, and I thought he was nuts," says Mr. Carabash. "There are only 9,000 dentists in Ontario, and people thought we'd starve."

But they didn't. Three years later, Mr. Carabash says his curiously-focused three-person practice DMC Law – the only one he knows that caters exclusively to dentists – is set to double in size in the next year. It's a testament, he says, to the way the web can help a firm dominate a niche market.

Dentists need lawyers, and not just for the reasons you might suspect. Mr. Carabash's practice doesn't do malpractice at all. "Just the happy stuff," he says. "Buying and selling."

Dentists are small business owners like any other, and have practices to buy and sell, properties to manage, and employees to hire. But they also have to deal with the particularities of working with their provincial college and its regulations, which might confound a generalist commercial lawyer.

Part of Mr. Carabash's approach is to blend online DIY with in-person legal review. On his site, dentists can have legal forms for things like contracts and practice sales drawn up automatically after filling in a questionnaire. Their responses are fed into a template, which is then reviewed and finalized in person by the firm's lawyers. Mr. Carabash says it's a win-win: The client has their legal fees slashed to the tune of two thirds, and the lawyers are spared the dreariness of managing repetitive questionnaires by hand.

"We separate out the labour we don't want to do, so we can focus on the more complicated areas of law we're interested in," he says.

(The dental legal forms service is an outgrowth of a general-purpose legal forms venture he started in 2012, called the "Will-O-Matic," which does more or less what it sounds like it does.)

But part of Mr. Carabash's approach involves a good, old-fashioned content strategy.

Dentistry is a tight community, with a finite number of trade publications and industry events. So, with an eye to dominating the search results for people looking for dental law (because really, how many could there be?), he started blogging, pumping out post after post on his given topic, even as David Mayzel, his more traditionally-minded partner in the practice, looked askance.

But for every 100 articles he'd put up, he'd gain about 1,000 unique visitors a month. And as the new firm started attracting clients – he says they now serve up to 100 a year – he found that almost half had found them through their website.

Soon, Mr. Carabash started playing a game with his doubting partner, quizzing him on whether any given new client had arrived via the blog. Invariably, they had.

"He hates that game," says Mr. Carabash.

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