A reader asks about lawyer marketing for a brand new law practice:
I just started my law firm and don’t yet have any clients. How do I go about notifying people and securing their patronage? What’s the most effective way of establishing initial marketing contact with potential new clients?
Before I get into my answer, let me first say that transitioning from a larger law firm to your own solo law practice requires a shift in mindset. In a larger law firm, other people can help bring in new business so often, you can focus on helping clients.
When you work for yourself, a greater portion of your time needs to be spent attracting – even actively soliciting – new business. The good news is that anyone can learn these business development skills with a little practice.
To get back to your question, without knowing the specific details of your law firm and which types of clients you want to work with, it’s impossible for me to give you specific advice. However, here’s a basic framework for what a lawyer marketing strategy would look like.
Part 1: Create Your Lawyer Marketing Strategy
Your marketing strategy involves thinking about the principles of supply and demand. Supply includes all the legal services you could provide – along with all other attorneys (and other competing options) who provide those services. Demand is how badly people want your services. You might be able to provide several types of legal services, but if no one wants them, you won’t be able to sustain a profitable practice long-term.
Step #1: Choose a specialty practice area. As a one-person shop or a small law firm, it’s best to decide what types of clients you want to work with and which services you will specialize in. What type of legal services do you want clients to associate your firm with? Owning a niche and building a strong reputation as an authority within that specialty area is the first step to positioning yourself as a leader. Clients prefer to work with specialists, not jack-of-all-trades, and will pay more for their services.
Step #2: Identify the types of clients you want to work with. To successfully reach new clients, you have to have a good idea of where and how to reach them. Trying to reach “anyone who might need my services” is like putting on a blindfold, having someone spin you around five times, and then trying to pin the tail on the donkey, so-to-speak. Instead, make a list of the types of people or companies who might have an urgent need for your services, can afford them, and are willing to hire you. You can narrow your list by identifying specific traits about each type of client.
- For individuals: Use demographics like age, gender, marital status, education, job title, income level, and so forth.
- For companies: Use characteristics like industry, sales, number of employees, job position, department, and so forth.
In other words, what would make a prospect an attractive candidate to work with? Then, use qualifiers to help you narrow down your pool so you know where to find them.
Step #3: Identify your key differentiators. Before someone will hire you, they will want to know why they should hire you, rather than all other options out there, to solve their problem. What makes you so unique, different or special that they should hand over their hard-earned money to you? In other words, what are your competitive advantages and strengths – what can you do better than most other attorneys? Now, look at your disadvantages and weaknesses – where do you suffer compared to other options? When talking to prospects, emphasize your strengths so prospects understand how you differ from other lawyers.
Part 2: Develop a Credible Lawyer Marketing Message
Your marketing message essentially explains who your ideal prospects are, what their key problem is, and how you can solve their problems. In Part 1, you identified your ideal prospects. Now, put yourself in their shoes. Why should they hire you?
Step #1: Clearly identify your prospect’s biggest problem. What is the #1 problem you can solve for your prospects? People pay for solutions to their problems, so the bigger and more risky their current problem is, the more they will pay to solve it. How can you prove that your prospect’s problem is serious enough that they should hire you now to solve it? In some cases this is fairly easy (e.g. they’ve been arrested and need a DUI attorney). Other times, it’s up to you to state your case for why this particular problem is urgent and what might happen if they don’t take action now (e.g. They overpay taxes; or are sued because they fail to comply with a new government law; or lose money because of a contract loophole). People are more likely to take action to avoid pain – so focus on what pain their problem is causing.
Step #2: Prove your solutions work. Prospects are skeptical and want to know that if they hire you, they will receive the best value for their money. “Best value” means different things to different clients – so you have to understand what motivates your ideal clients. Then, explain how your solutions work in a simple, non-legalese manner. Build the case for using your services like you might put together a trial argument. What proof can you offer? For instance, your biography, articles written, references, case studies, and so forth. (Disclaimer: Check with your Bar Association to make sure your marketing materials are compliant with their ethics rules. Some don’t allow testimonials or client comments, or have specific requirements for photos used.)
Part 3: Build an In-House Database
Once you know who you are marketing to and what your marketing message should say, the next step is to start building your in-house marketing database. This will include all contacts you’ve made and will make. It should include:
- Prospects – Keep track of anyone who contacts you about your services or requests information about you. Include notes about when you last contacted them, what you spoke about, and when to follow up next. You can also make a list of names of prospects who might not have contacted you but you believe would be ideal to work with. Think of how you might meet them (who do you know that knows them?), what their key problems are and what services you can offer that might interest them.
- Clients – Compile a list of current and past clients. Again, include notes about recent contacts and when to follow up.
- Referral Sources – Who has referred business to you? While sometimes, these are clients, the best referral sources come from business professionals who also work with your ideal prospects before, during or after they work with you. Think about ways you can motivate these people to send you referrals – what’s in it for them if they refer you business? Consider offering referral fees if your ethics board allows.
- Professional Contacts – Compile lists of your professional contacts that may be potential referral sources or can help you promote your services. These might be professionals that also work with your ideal clients, or contacts you meet at trade events, college classes, seminars and so forth. Who could you contact to teach a night class or speak at an industry trade show or seminar?
- Media Contacts – Make a list of journalists from newspapers, magazines and local publications who may be interested in receiving news releases, story ideas, or expert comments from you. Who writes about problems your ideal clients have? What radio, TV or Internet shows could you appear on? Can you offer to write ongoing columns or host your own talk show for any of these channels?
Your marketing program’s success will depend on your ability to add new prospects and active referral partners to this database, and how frequently you follow up with them.
Part 4: Promote Your Legal Services
In the first three steps, we’ve laid the groundwork for a lawyer marketing plan. In this final step, it’s time to start promoting your services. Here are a few ideas:
Step #1: Create a marketing kit – Put together a package that clearly explains your complete marketing message. Ideally, you will want to pick and choose marketing materials based on your prospect’s concerns and problems, so it’s usually better to have a folder you can assemble rather than trying to cram everything into one brochure. Your marketing kit should include your biography and photo, a list of services, your fee schedule, reprints of articles you’ve published, case studies and testimonials (if allowed), your latest newsletter, frequently asked questions, and anything else that helps you make your case as to why prospects should choose you. You can offer this kit in advertisements, on your website, during in-person visits, or when someone requests more information by phone. Add their contact to your database and always set a date to follow up.
Step #2: Develop a website – The Internet is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to reach prospects. It allows you to provide a wealth of information to prospects, clients, media contacts, and referral partners at their convenience. Everyone who is interested in your services, referring business, or learning more about you will check out your website, so consider it your virtual office open 24/7.
Step #3: Start a regular newsletter – Create a newsletter that you send at regular intervals (ideally weekly or twice monthly) to keep in touch with prospects, clients, business partners and the media. The more often you stay in touch, the more business you will attract.
Step #4: Develop educational materials – The best way to attract clients is to create and promote educational materials. These can include published articles, blog posts, speaking engagements, recorded seminars and other materials your prospects would find helpful when they are making a purchasing decision. Most advertising is ignored because it adds little value to consumers’ lives. It’s boring, not relevant and self-serving. Rather than add to the plethora of hype-filled, useless content, why not strive to make your promotions so valuable and content-driven that your prospects want to read and keep them?
Step #5: Develop a publicity campaign – Strive to publish featured articles, send press releases, or be interviewed by the media 4-6 times per year. This will help build your credibility and authority while gaining cheap exposure. The more coverage you receive, the more likely you will receive increased referrals, speaking opportunities, and media mentions.
This may seem overwhelming if you are just starting up a law practice, but unfortunately, unless you are coming from a big firm and have long-term clients to take with you, building a sustainable practice takes work and initial hustle to pitch your services. Start small and implement one step of your marketing plan at a time until you have all the pieces in place.