CPA Dave Roberts finds it baffling that some accountants express reluctance—or even fear—about pursuing a niche practice.

Currently managing partner of RBZ in Los Angeles, Roberts has ridden the specialization express train to considerable success. Over the past 25 years, he's built and grown one of the most successful and well-known practices serving law firms on the West Coast.

I met Dave while participating in a conference on practice growth. At a break I started talking with him, and thought to myself, "This guy knows his stuff - we need to talk further."

 

PAYING 'THE PRICE'

Dave was employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers (then known as Price Waterhouse) in the 1980s when the large CPA firms were starting to move into vertical markets. The firm had targeted the legal industry and Dave, who also had previous experience working inside law firms, dove enthusiastically into that pool of specialization. Years later, priorities changed at PwC, and by 1990, they were less interested in evolving their national law firm practice. Dave, on the other hand, was just warming up to the potential of this unique specialty.

Undeterred by a non-compete agreement that prevented him from taking clients with him, Dave opened his own firm, working mostly with mid-market law firms in the Southern California area. In that way he stayed below the PwC radar of the very large law firms and found a comfortable space. With virtually no competitors that could offer these types of specialized consulting services, Dave could easily differentiate himself as an "expert" and grow his practice. I often espouse, "Find your market hole," and Dave certainly found his!

For several years he continued to deliver specialized services exclusively to law firms, such as partner compensation consulting, strategic planning, partner retreats, organizational restructuring and profit enhancement.

But by 1998, Dave had identified the need for greater depth in support of his rapidly growing client base and joined the Los Angeles accounting firm of RBZ. At that point in time, RBZ had approximately $6 million in gross revenue and six partners, and was just realizing the enormous potential of growing the firm with highly specialized niche practices. Twelve years later, RBZ is approaching $28 million in gross revenue, has 14 partners and a staff of over 100 people with many highly trained specialists.

 

EARNING TRUST

For the past dozen years, Dave has championed RBZ's impressive leadership in the law firm services sector and earned the firm, and himself, a highly regarded reputation. He's done it by embracing his specialized niche - getting to know lawyers, law firms and the legal industry - and letting them get to know him by providing, along with the traditional compliance work, non-traditional highly specialized services that bring significant value to the client's bottom line. Dave's motto is, "Specialize, specialize, specialize - do one thing very well and become known as the expert in that field."

Dave borrowed a page from the lawyers' own playbook by becoming not only a service provider, but a trusted advisor and referral channel. Simply put, he knows every lawyer in town and has leveraged those relationships to win considerable business for RBZ. Dave has little need for the usual networking breakfasts and lunches that other CPAs rely on. Instead, he matches up lawyers he knows with other RBZ partners according to their interests and specialties. His relationships have developed into a solid channel of business development and referrals for his partners and his clients.

 

HE WROTE THE BOOK

But Dave's most effective strategy for business building, and perhaps his legacy, is the high-value content delivered between the covers of a very detailed 400-page annual law firm benchmarking survey that he has compiled for almost 20 years.

The RBZ Law Firm Report is an annual survey of some 200-plus Southern California law firms. It provides detailed compensation data by size of firm, location, practice area and position - from a first-year associate to a senior partner, from a receptionist to a CFO.

"The Bible," as the survey is referred to by participating firms, also provides detailed information on billing rates, billable hours, employee benefits, costs per lawyer and other industry metrics. Proudly logoed, trademarked and copyrighted, the report is a unique publication that graces the credenzas of law firm managers and lawyers all across Southern California and beyond. It has helped position Dave and RBZ as the

region's premier financial experts in the legal marketplace.

 

VALUE PROPOSITION

The highly specific niche has permitted RBZ to win against many of the area's most respected CPA firms that offer the usual accounting and tax services. Certainly, RBZ can provide these, and does, at the highest level. But Dave and his colleagues offer up a package that's hard to resist - a top-notch CPA firm that can provide the usual suite of accounting and tax services and, in addition, knows the industry backward and forward, providing the experience and expertise to help the client become more successful.

At the end of the day, specializing for RBZ boils down to offering a value proposition, rather than a reduced-price commodity. Under Dave's stewardship, RBZ has added a sizable layer of value to traditional accounting and tax services by tailoring offerings to keenly understood market segments.

Beyond reputation, Dave Roberts has developed a brand. It may be less well-known than, say Coca-Cola or NASCAR, but it's characterized by the consistent quality and customer loyalty that have made these into household names.

Within the Southern California legal community, Dave and RBZ have become household names. AT

Currently the managing partner of RBZ in Los Angeles, Roberts has ridden the specialization express train to considerable success. Over the past 25 years, he's built and grown one of the most successful and well-known practices serving law firms on the West Coast.

I met Dave while we were both participating in a conference on practice growth. At a break I started talking with him, and thought to myself, "This guy knows his stuff - we need to talk further."

 

PAYING 'THE PRICE'

Dave was employed by PwC (then known as Price Waterhouse) in the 1980s when the large CPA firms were starting to move into vertical markets. The firm had targeted the legal industry and Dave, who also had previous experience working inside law firms, dove enthusiastically into that pool of specialization. Years later, priorities changed at PwC, and by 1990, they were less interested in evolving their national law firm practice. Dave, on the other hand, was just warming up to the potential of this unique specialty.

Undeterred by a non-compete agreement that prevented him from taking clients with him, Dave opened his own firm, working mostly with mid-market law firms in the Southern California area. In that way he stayed below the PwC radar of the very large law firms and found a comfortable space. With virtually no competitors that could offer these types of specialized consulting services, Dave could easily differentiate himself as an "expert" and grow his practice. I often espouse, "Find your market hole," and Dave certainly found his!

For several years he continued to deliver specialized services exclusively to law firms, such as partner compensation consulting, strategic planning, partner retreats, organizational restructuring and profit enhancement.

But by 1998, Roberts had identified a need for greater depth in support of his rapidly growing client base and joined the Los Angeles accounting firm of RBZ. At that point in time, RBZ had approximately $6 million in gross revenue and six partners, and was just realizing the enormous potential of growing the firm with highly specialized niche practices. Twelve years later, RBZ is approaching $28 million in gross revenue, and has 14 partners and a staff of over 100 people with many highly trained specialists.

 

EARNING TRUST

For the past dozen years, Dave has championed RBZ's impressive leadership in the law firm services sector and earned the firm, and himself, a highly regarded reputation. He's done it by embracing his specialized niche - getting to know lawyers, law firms and the legal industry - and letting them get to know him by providing, along with the traditional compliance work, non-traditional highly specialized services that bring significant value to the client's bottom line. Dave's motto is, "Specialize, specialize, specialize - do one thing very well and become known as the expert in that field."

Dave borrowed a page from the lawyers' own playbook by becoming not only a service provider, but a trusted advisor and referral channel. Simply put, he knows every lawyer in town and has leveraged those relationships to win considerable business for RBZ. Dave has little need for the usual networking breakfasts and lunches that other CPAs rely on. Instead, he matches up lawyers he knows with other RBZ partners according to their interests and specialties. His relationships have developed into a solid channel of business development and referrals for his partners and his clients.

 

HE WROTE THE BOOK

But Dave's most effective strategy for business building, and perhaps his legacy, is the high-value content delivered between the covers of a very detailed 400-page annual law firm benchmarking survey that he has compiled for almost 20 years.

The RBZ Law Firm Report is an annual survey of some 200-plus Southern California law firms. It provides detailed compensation data by size of firm, location, practice area and position - from a first-year associate to a senior partner, from a receptionist to a CFO.

"The Bible," as the survey is referred to by participating firms, also provides detailed information on billing rates, billable hours, employee benefits, costs per lawyer and other industry metrics. Proudly logoed, trademarked and copyrighted, the report is a unique publication that graces the credenzas of law firm managers and lawyers all across Southern California and beyond. It has helped position Dave and RBZ as the region's premier financial experts in the legal marketplace.

 

VALUE PROPOSITION

The highly specific niche has permitted RBZ to win against many of the area's most respected CPA firms that offer the usual accounting and tax services. Certainly, RBZ can provide these, and does, at the highest level. But Dave and his colleagues offer up a package that's hard to resist - a top-notch CPA firm that can provide the usual suite of accounting and tax services and, in addition, knows the industry backward and forward, providing the experience and expertise to help the client become more successful.

At the end of the day, specializing for RBZ boils down to offering a value proposition, rather than a reduced-price commodity. Under Dave's stewardship, RBZ has added a sizable layer of value to traditional accounting and tax services by tailoring offerings to keenly understood market segments.

Beyond reputation, Dave Roberts has developed a brand. It may be less well-known than, say, Coca-Cola or NASCAR, but it's characterized by the consistent quality and customer loyalty that have made these into household names.

Within the Southern California legal community, Dave and RBZ have become household names.

 

Gale Crosley, CPA is founder and principal of Crosley+Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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