Friday, May 20, 2005

Marketing Your Practice Without Selling Your Soul

I am in Miami Beach at the ABA General Practice/Solo Section Roadshow. The programs focus is on running the small law office. I am going to bring you a few of the tidbits.
Our first speaker was Jim Calloway the Oklahoma Bar Association’s marketing guru. Jim’s full time job is to help solo, small and medium size law firms make a go of it.
In discussing Marketing Jim was quick to point out that

* Marketing is NOT advertising
Ad should only play a small role in your marketing plan. Referrals create your best clients. These people (those referred to you) know you through the referrer and are not as suspicious of you as those that come in cold from… say a yellow page ad. The reference edified you to his contact. The sale so to speak is already complete if you can meet the client’s expectation and price. Edification is an important technique. That type of vouching goes a long way with someone, and is worth cultivating.
Do everything possible to produce satisfied former clients for they will serve as ambassadors and marketers for you for years into the future
How do we make clients SATISFIED?
Write them letters; return their calls the same day; send them newsletters and updates on their case or cases that are like theirs, remember their birthdays and send holiday cards too.
Remember you not only need to do a good job for your client but you need to let them know you have done a good job for them.
No need to brag but regular e-mail about the progress of their case can go a long way as can the snail mail approach. (Moreover, you can bill for it too!)

* Your clients’ perceptions are your reality. Your good work is lost on the client that does not know what you are doing or does not understand it. Cases are complex especially to a neophyte client it is important to be sure he understands the process and the phrases that are about his case. I suggest doing a letter the day after you sign the retainer, outlining how the case will proceed and when you expect to complete each stage enumerated. (Of course, you need to remind the client the schedule is very sketchy and subject to change.)
Like in a very fancy restaurant, the food may be great but bad service will ruin the meal.
Likewise, the sum total of the legal service is affected by your failure to communicate with the client.

* It is important that everyone in the firm be on board with this. To that end, you should give staff a say in the policies you intend to implement. For example if calls are returned within one day, make sure all calls are returned within twenty-four hours. Let staff return calls if you are stuck then instruct them to say “It may take another ‘XX ‘ hours before the lawyer can return your call, is there some way I can help you?”

* Quality is very important. Spell check is great but you need to edit too. Read and reread every document that goes out not only under your name but under the name of others in you office as well. If your name is on the document then it speaks for the quality of your staff, and ultimately of you.

Sometimes the Irrelevant and Immaterial isn't... to the client that is.
Basically, the client needs you to listen… TO THEM! Even though you may think it a waste of your time, they need their advocate to understand what they need from the litigation. Take the matrimonial client for example. A guy is cheating on your client and she comes to your office to vent. She goes into each and every detail of the relationship, from what hotel he took her to and how often, to her favorite color is the same as the color of new Porsche he bought for himself. Now none of that may be important to the ultimate issues in the case. However, it is poor marketing to tell that to the client you may be her only place to vent. You need to build a rapport with her and while you may ultimately not use any of it, it helps the client and makes them feel that you have empathy for them, the case, and others.

Develop a marketing plan, commit it to paper and follow it. The ABA is developing software to help lawyers develop a marketing plan and that should be out this fall but there is no need to wait.
You need a budget, an estimate of how much money and time you expect to expend on the marketing of your business. Without a budget, you have no plan.

A marketing plan will require you do certain things each day week or month. It is not “I will do a good job on my cases.” It is more “I will take three potential referrers of business out to lunch this month, “ Or “I will write three letters to clients or make three phone calls just to show everyone I am thinking about their well being.” I will give a lecture every month.

BTW a good tidbit on booking speaking opportunities is to call a local lunch or dinner group (such as a church, library, or rotary club) and offer to speak about the case of the moment (i.e. ”Would you like me to speak on how courts in NY would have handled the Terry Shiavo case?”)

* You only get one chance to make a good first impression
Have policies in the office on how to handle clients. Be sure your waiting room is neat and bathrooms are in working order. Be sure they have something to do when they come in and if you must make them wait be sure someone from staff checks up on them every 10 minutes or so. Offer coffee and tea or cold drinks. If they are there with children have some children’s books or coloring books with crayons available.
Be sure to return your calls within a reasonable time ( 24 hours or less.)
What about your office? Does your office look like a sty or is it up to there in files. It might scare clients. They may think you are too busy to handle their case or that their "little" matter is too small for a lawyer as busy as you. Clean off the desk and get rid of the coffee cups. Only keep the file on which you are working on your desktop. I might add that I like to keep pictures of my family around. Some lawyers are uncomfortable with that. Ok but whatever you do keep the pictures of your boat, Porsche or other hobbies and toys away. I think it gives clients a reason to question whether you would rather be somewhere else as opposed to listening to them.

*Business cards: it is worth the money to get good ones on the best paper. They are your only reminder after you have left someone with one. Stock matters get a good stock and a big stack of them. Get a lot of them and give them all out… and then get some more and do it again. Give them out at parties, lectures baseball and soccer games, and of course to clients. Changing the practice time of the T-ball game? Write the new time on the back of your card. Need directions? Do the same thing.

Party behaviors: At a party people there meet you and want to know what you do, are you prepared with an action statement that succinctly defines your practice?

Callaway suggests beginning the answer to the inquiry by always saying “I help…” As in “I help people who are accused of a crime by the government” or “ I help People who are whistleblowers protect the government from fraud. Another favorite, “ I help people who are burdened with legal problems find a way to deal with those problems and still have a life afterward.”


Do NOT OVERPROMISE and Keep your promises… If you cannot fulfill a promise then call the client up and admit the fact ASAP.

*Develop repetitive tasks and develop a system you can market. Develop fixed fees for repetitive tasks so that you can offer your client some idea of a budget. Even if you take a small loss on the project, certain types of matters just do not have to be billed hourly. You can even bill the case out based on the case’s stages. ( i.e. “$XXX.xx -to draft a summons and complaint in the matter.”)

Make powerful form letters. This is a neat piece of advice. You put the new information in bold at the top of the letter (Your deposition will be held in the office of the defendant’s counsel on Tuesday May 24, 2005 at 9:30 am.) Thereafter let the rest of letter reinforce the information you already gave the client as to dress demeanor who and when to speak, when not to; what they should do if an objection occurs or they just forget things. Chock filled with stuff they already know you make them less tense you communicated and reminded them of your advice all in one form letter.

*Client closing letter
At the end of a matter send a letter to the client (copy to file) where you review the case and any options the client may have and then write “I think we are done now how about you” In the letter you can then remind them of everything else you all do. You can also send them an anonymous survey that asks them to rate and discuss their feelings about you. This can be a dangerous thing to do especially if it was a rocky relationship but if you want to know what they are thinking it is a good way to find out the truth. Just remember… sometimes the truth hurts.

Yes they should acknowledge changes in the firm and it is not too braggadocio to mention a good result, or another law related accomplishment. However, they can also be informational and friendly, and even include fun things to do or fun facts about the law government even a recipe or two. Remember they are there to build a relationships with your client’s not bore them to death.

The marketing vaults oldie but goodie has received a face-lift. Now it is not just about your firm and how long you’ve been around, but you should put out brochures of interest or on interesting topics such as “10 Things You Need to Know About Divorce”, or “The 5 Things You Should Know About Real Estate Binders BEFORE You Sign One” or “What Happens if I Am Arrested For DWI.”

*Web pages
These babies ought to have information at a minimum of : who you and your firm are; your contact information; a map to the office. That is really just a minimum. I invite any of you to view my website at it was put together by the geniuses at and it is not as expensive as you would think. In fact it makes me a lot more money than I spend on it and in delegating the work to Findlaw I saved thousands of dollars in billable time. The process of putting together a really good site as opposed to an average site is not that great if you are working with developers who understand law and lawyers. Findlaw provided the content after a long interview with my staff and I. They also taught us about branding, SEM, and all kind of other things that do not belong in this particular article.

Like anything else that goes out over your name it your web presence must be flawlessly written. Have content that is practice specific (again referencing our site, Findlaw provided {at a cost}, practice centers for the work we most want to attract and they also put out a monthly e-newsletter for our site).

Put original content (articles) on the site to enhance your credibility… especially if it has been published elsewhere. (Again you are edified by some one other than yourself. That type of stuff goes far with a prospective client.) I use this blog as well as our sister blog That Lawyer Dude ( as my original work but I will be adding some new stuff too.
You should keep the language simple clear and serious.
Do not forget to comply with your state of admission’s rules of professional conduct. Add a disclaimer written in simple English (i.e. you are not my client just be cause you read my site or send me email or think about me. You are only my client after we have signed a retainer AND YOU HAVE PAID ME.)
Jim suggests your site have clear navigation elements. In other words make it user friendly.
I suggest it also have action buttons where the client can click onto an icon or word and send a contact form to your email ( which you should check at least three times a day if not more.)

Finally Jim suggests that you BLOG. I agree! Find something that interests you and set up a blog. It is cheap, and easy to do. Just keep it fresh and you will soon see how clients know enough about you to stop the shopping and come to you to sign a retainer and get started on their cases. Just be ready when they start to show up.

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