"I was laid off from a large law firm earlier this year. After several failed attempts to find a job with another large firm elsewhere in the country, I have decided to 'hang out my shingle' in my hometown and work out of my home office. Since I think you do pretty much the same thing as I want to do, do you have any good tips for marketing a successful one-person law practice?"
Oh, boy, do I ever ...
When starting a professional practice or indeed any service-oriented business (such as consulting), here are your seven most important marketing tools (in no particular order of importance — they are all must-do's in my book).
1. Your personality (yes, you do have one). Like most professionals, you have tons of competition and no real way to differentiate your service offerings from theirs. Having shopped around for legal services myself, I can tell you that, like most clients, given the choice between a) an attorney with rock-bottom fees and an attitude I cannot relate to and b) an attorney with higher fees whom I feel is trustworthy and will be listening to my needs instead of offering the same cookie-cutter service every other client gets, I opt for attorney B every time. People do not buy your professional services; they buy YOU.
If you really don't have a personality (I feel sorry for you), take a Dale Carnegie course or hire a lifestyle coach.
2. Your online presence. Do not post a webpage on someone else's website. Hire a web developer and create one of your own (preferably at "www.(yourname).com"), along with a LinkedIn profile. Your website should contain a) a list of the services you provide, b) some things you don't do (so you won't waste a prospect's time, nor they yours), c) some free information that's actually useful, d) your hourly rate and any flat fee you offer for certain services (yes, you should offer these), and e) something that humanizes you by sending the signal you can be approached without fear or trepidation.
Your LinkedIn profile and website should not contain exactly the same information. Your website should focus on hard information, such as fees, while your profile should focus on soft information, such as sample case histories, community involvement and rave reviews from satisfied clients.
Next, list your practice on the searchable lawyer directory on your state and local Bar Association websites. Lots of people start here (not the Yellow Pages) when looking for local lawyers.
3. Your personal network. When trolling for clients, focus on referral sources — people who are regularly in contact with your desired clients and could send lots of business your way. If you represent people who are buying franchises (as I do), taking a few franchise brokers to lunch will generate lots more business than taking out a newspaper ad hoping it will be read by someone looking to buy a franchise.
4. Your involvement in (nonlegal) organizations. By all means, join a Bar Association or two for educational opportunities and the chance to find like-minded peers you can use as a sounding board when you have tough client-handling questions. But spend lots more time joining organizations where potential clients will be hanging out. Look for organizations that a) have lots of members who may be potential clients, b) have few or no other attorneys as members and c) have a low flake ratio (ratio of flaky people to total population). Chambers of commerce are great, but there are lots of other attorneys there.
Ethnic and religious organizations, alumni/ae associations, advocacy groups and political parties can be excellent sources of business (people like to work with professionals they perceive as being like them), but be prepared to get involved, and make sure you really believe in what these groups stand for.
5. Your e-newsletter or blog. Send regular email blasts to clients, prospects and others who have accepted your invitation to receive free, important information about changes in their legal environment.
6. Your involvement in community affairs. You can write articles for local newspapers and trade journals, but it's a lot better (and less time-consuming) if they are writing about you. If your services are local in nature, run for public office (even if you lose), volunteer for a local board or committee, sponsor a charitable cause — do anything that's not illegal, immoral or embarrassing to get publicity. If your services are not local in nature, consider branding them by writing a book, appearing regularly on radio and TV talk shows, or taking on a high-profile pro bono case that generates lots of media attention.
7. Your vocal chords. Lawyers are professional mouthpieces. Start giving talks and speeches for local organizations. Scour every local newspaper and publication for announcements of organization meetings. Call each organization program director and volunteer to speak — for free — at an upcoming meeting. Be sure to speak about something the group members are interested in at that time, not necessarily what you know.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.