The practice of law in the service of the people is an honorable profession that comes with a great deal of responsibility. It is a noble calling that requires unique talents and a love of the law. A law practice, however, also is a business and needs to be profitable to remain in business. To achieve that, law firms are continually faced with the challenge of attracting new clients or expanding service to existing clients.
Over the past year, I have written ten columns outlining best practices for law firms’ and solo practitioners’ business development activities. In those articles, I outlined “how to” use your resources to gain name recognition, position your partners/associates as sources for media interviews, various tools to include in your marketing mix, how to handle news interviews, and other topics to help you generate new business for your practice. Hopefully, some implemented the recommendations in those columns and met with success. Most who read them, probably did not.
Here’s why I believe that is the case. Business development, while essential , is on the “cost” side of the ledger. The hours you spend networking, speaking to groups, serving on the board of not-for-profit corporations, and other activities, are not billable. That is just a fact. Billable hours rule and firms monitor and have expectations of how many hours you bill each week, month and year, in order to be considered for partnership or to keep the firm growing and profitable.
Some lawyers will wince at the idea that their profession is a business, which is understandable. As lawyers, you love the law and you develop relationships with your important clients. You are privy to the most intimate details of their lives. You work hard on their behalf to be sure they are satisfied and justice is served.
It is not a transaction, rather it is a relationship.
Some feel that a business approach to marketing their law practice resembles sales, and they are adamant that they are not salespersons. Perhaps they think it is beneath their dignity. When you look closely, however, it is clear that few people are better salespersons than lawyers, especially litigators who have to “sell” their client’s story to a judge or jury. Sometimes they have to sell the idea that a prospect should retain your firm because it is the best.
Existing lawyer/client relationships often result in new business from existing clients through cross selling other practice areas in the firm. Such relationships also depend on how the client has benefitted from your services in the past. Your clients know you and trust your recommendations.
On the other hand, getting a new client who is not familiar with your abilities to retain you is much harder; especially when a new relationship has to be established and maintained. Most new clients, traditionally, come from referrals by other lawyers or recommendation from a happy client, however, many other paths to your door exist if you want to use them.
As I discussed in my last column, the practice of law is changing. Much of it is technology driven. People turn to the Web now to find a lawyer instead of a telephone book. Prospective clients can visit Findlaw http://lawyers.findlaw.com/?DCMP=GOO-DIR_AttorneyGenExp-Rating&HBX_PK=ratings+of+attorneys to compare you with other lawyers. This makes a positive, well-designed Web site critical to attracting new clients. Most mid to large-size firms have attractive, welcome Web pages that outline what their primary practice is, who their clients are, bios of staff lawyers and how to contact the firm.
But, how do you get people to visit your Web page. You don’t have the time to personally spread the word about your practice to the rest of the world or even your specific metropolitan area. One way is to get the groundwork and execution needed to attract new clients is to delegate that function to a junior staff member or a committee to raise awareness and get leads. The problem with that is that staff member was trained to be a lawyer, not a marketer. So, little if any results are likely to be generated.
A better approach would be to contract with someone who knows the metropolitan area, how to incorporate commonly searched words into the content on your Web site, and who has an existing relationship with the media covering the business of law. They also should be conversant with Social media, such as Linkedin and Facebook groups. Such contractors don’t have to “go to school” on your dime. They already have what you need. Of course, they need to learn about your firm and its people to identify opportunities, which is a daunting task. Still, they are not on your payroll and thus actually save you money over delegating the function to a staffer, because they do not have to be provided healthcare, a dental plan, a 401 (k) account and payroll deductions. Caveat emptor: be careful that the consultant is not overpromising results or embellishing their experience.
You might be thinking that I am going to suggest that you hire Grandone Media Strategies. While that would be nice, that is not the purpose of this column. There are several people who can either show you what you need to be doing to get more business, or they pave the road and make all the necessary arrangements for you. It will still require a significant time commitment on your part to attend regular meetings, respond to emails and other electronic communications, and teach them about your firm’s capabilities. The key is that you do not have to learn all about the various outlets and media to get the word out about what your firm does.
There are not many experienced practitioners in legal marketing and even fewer who work with the news media. Some can be found through the Legal Marketing Association http://www.legalmarketing.org/ The Public Relations Society of America www.prsa.org and individuals who have written books on related subjects, such as In the Court of Public Opinion by James F. Haggerty, The End of Lawyers? and its sequel, The Future of Lawyers, both by Richard Susskind. You also can Google Lawdragon www.lawdragon.com/wp-content/uploads/.../100-Legal-Consultants.pdf
Some final thoughts on this matter:
First, Don’t think you can do it yourself. You can. But you won’t because the time commitment and cost of time would be too great.
Second, be prepared for an initial commitment of time at the beginning of your consultant/PR firm’s work to explain what you do, what you have done and what you want to grow for the future. They have to learn everything about you in a very short period of time. (I prefer to interview the senior partners and administrators to get their perspectives on where the firm is and where they want it to go).
Third, only contract with proven experts in the legal PR/marketing field. You don’t need the hassle of teaching those with good credentials but no legal consulting experience.And finally, be certain there are no conflicts of interest, such as a consultant representing another firm that competes with yours, or is in the same primary practice area as your firm.
Jim Grandone is President of Grandone Media Strategies. He can be reached at (618) 692-1892 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/grandone Jim is a member of the Chicago Bar Association and the American Bar Association.