A young attorney on the rise, Mathew N. “Mat” Sorensen, knew he needed to find a niche for his practice. Working with real estate and business law firm, Kyler, Kohler Ostermiller & Sorensen, it quickly became apparent that the self-directed IRA field was one with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
“I was working with a lot of real estate investors in 2006,” he said. “Most of these clients were doing well in real estate and were paying plenty in taxes. They had heard of the tax benefits of using a retirement account to invest in real estate and they wanted to know how they could do it.”
With numerous clients seeking guidance on the topic, Sorensen knew he had found his niche and set out to learn everything he could on selfdirected IRAs and how they could be used in the investment field. “My partner, Mark J. Kohler, an attorney and CPA, had been working in the area for a couple of years and taught me everything that he knew.” From there, I was left to figure out client issues as they arose and found an interest in the subject as there were so many un-answered questions that intrigued me.
“There was very little written about it. There were about 20 custodial companies – small banks and trust companies – that could invest retirement funds, typically self-directed IRAs, into real estate or businesses. But these companies couldn’t advise investors on their investment decisions,” he said.
These companies would refer these questions to attorneys, which is where Sorensen enters.
“There’s $24 trillion in U.S. retirement accounts right now,” he said. “People typically have more money in their retirement account than they have in their personal investment accounts.” Recognizing this, a lot of real estate investors and business owners wanted to tap into that wealth. The trouble is that financial advisors – and their own research – often led them in circles.
There are approximately a dozen attorneys in the United States who devote their practice to this area. “It’s a super niche area,” he said. “It’s much more rewarding work. To have people call you – as the expert – for consultations. I consult with a lot of attorneys and CPAs as well and giving them answers to questions they’ve struggled with is very rewarding.”
“If you Google self-directed IRAs, you will get contradictory or incorrect information from website to website,” he said. “I decided to write a book that delved into the details. I wanted to be able to talk to a potential investor through that book. If I had a client with an interesting issue, I would create a folder and that would become a chapter. In my book, if I tell the reader they can or cannot do that with their investment, I will cite the code or the case that confirms that. People are dying for details. They’re overwhelmed with generalities and self-professed gurus who are really selling you something other than good advice. You can find 50 sites on general topics, but you can’t find one on the details, so this book really changed a lot.”
His book, “The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed IRA Investors and Their Advisors” was published in January 2014. “It was the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in its first month and has been an Amazon best-seller since it was first launched. It has a higher Amazon rating than the iPhone 6 right now,” he laughed.
His book is now used by the Retirement Industry Trust Association in their certification programs, an honor that demonstrates the success of the book in the industry. He is also one of four instructors for the certification class and teaches with other well-known industry leaders. Most of the self-directed IRA custodial companies who work in this area send their employees to this organization for training and certification.
Over the years, Sorensen has advised over 1,000 clients who selfdirect their retirement accounts in alternative investments. He also regularly advises hedge funds, trust companies, banks, investment sponsors and third party administrators on self-directed IRA law. “I think this practice is just going to continue to grow. People are going to continue to build their retirement accounts,” he said.
“The best experience I’ve had is being able to solve a problem that has been haunting my clients for awhile. These are the kind of problems they take to their advisors and their CPAs and they aren’t able to get straight answers. In my practice, dealing with self-directed plans, there aren’t that many financial advisors or lawyers involved in this area. Before they come to me they get a lot of half-answers or wrong answers. It’s refreshing for them to find straight-forward advice and solutions to their investment objectives.”
Outside of the office, Sorensen is a partner in a real estate company, a commercial real estate holding company and has owned a title insurance agency. “I’ve always had other business interests, but being a lawyer is something I’ve always loved,” Sorensen said. “My interests in the business world can never steal me away entirely.”
Sorensen is an avid cyclist and was a guitarist in a classic rock cover band, Spilbeedog. He is married to his high school sweetheart and they have three daughters.
Sorensen’s Tips to Establishing a Niche Practice
1 – Find a niche area of law. You need to find a field in which you have a good background. In my practice, I was already meeting with the clients having these problems and I had a background in real estate and business. It was easier for me to focus my practice on this niche because of that background. I had a client base that cared about that subject and who was interested in paying for that expertise. I also knew that many more would come if I could become an authority in the field.
2 – Find a growing or underserved area. Make sure that the niche that you select is one that is going to continue to expand. When I chose to focus on the self-directed IRA field, the data showed that the industry was growing by leaps and bounds. Also, the client base was growing as the typical client is a baby boomer who is retiring with a 401(k) or other plan that they are about to gain control of.
3 – Establish yourself as an expert. You need to be known as one of the “guys” or “gals” in the field. You can start small with a blog and speaking engagements, but I think you need to go a step further. People are starving for details and something that sets you apart from other blogs or speakers makes a big difference. In my field, there wasn’t a well-known book that covered the details so I set out to claim that space. Writing a book has been one of my strongest marketing tools. Everyone who buys my book is a potential client and I make money selling the book in the process. Also, it goes without saying that the book must provide value to readers and must offer information and detail they can’t just get online. It also helps to get industry buy-in on the book. Find the leaders in your industry and ask them to help in the review of your book. That’s what I did and not only did I get some great feedback and advice on the book, I also ended up getting endorsements from all of them, which I use on my site and in marketing my book.
4 – Capitalize on your success. Maybe it was a big case or a big client. Whatever your big success that establishes you as an expert, capitalize on it. I bring my book everywhere with me to give it out to potential readers. I even offer my book in bulk discount to many companies in the industry who buy it and give it out to their customers.