By David Baugher, Deborah Elkins
and Peter Vieth
Dolan Media Newswires
RICHMOND, VA — Ah, Autumn! The summer heat abates, school children head for the bus stops and Virginia lawyers scramble to finish their required CLE credits. It’s the fourth quarter of the year, and a good time for lawyers to take stock. Lawyers in private practice may want to reflect on how the year has gone so far and what they can do now to boost business. We’re here to help, with a handy calendar countdown of tips from your colleagues at the bar and legal marketing experts.
It’s what you know.
Arlington lawyer David Oblon has been surprised that teaching continuing legal education courses has been “very effective in generating business. It seems I’m teaching people who want to be my competitors,” but every time he’s taught one, he’s come away with a referral. When he did a CLE on employment law, he was approached by a GC from a publicly traded company to take on a new matter.
And who you know.
Networking with other lawyers can be the best bet for building business. Richard E. Garriott Jr., a Hampton Roads family law practitioner, says active work through local and statewide bar groups naturally gets you talking with lawyers from all over. “Show up,” then do more, through committee and project work. You can share your substantive knowledge about your practice specialties without cracking client confidences. Garriott said he’s “gotten more referrals from lawyers on the other side of the state” through work with the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association, than through other sources.
Arlington lawyer Raighne C. Delaney says he never lets a research project for a case go to waste. If he writes a brief on a new point of law that carries the day, he makes it a point to turn that brief into an article and then into a presentation. Non-lawyer groups will jump at the chance to hear from an expert. Speaking to non-lawyers “always generates something. You never know what,” Delaney said.
Assess how you are different.
Allison Yurman, chief marketing officer with Kansas City law firm Polsinelli Shughart, says good marketers understand what they can offer clients and why it is different than what everyone else is peddling. Attorneys should look for their “competitive differentiator,” she says. Otherwise, the only way to stand out from the crowd is by dropping your price lower than the other guy.
Make it personal.
It’s important for lawyers to learn to manage a practice as a business, but remember it’s a “personal services” business, says Richmond lawyer Colleen M. Quinn. She uses different approaches to reach out to potential clients in her areas of practice – with “pinpointed network” marketing to adoption agencies and infertility support groups for her adoption and surrogacy practice, and a more generalized “broadcast network” approach for her personal injury practice.
Chocolate-covered peanut brittle at holiday time is just one of the ways Quinn nurtures relationships with clients. Like many lawyers, she counts on former clients for most of her referrals. Software tracks clients’ special occasions and events, so she can send thank-you notes, congratulatory notes and those all-important birthday cards for her baby-based clientele.
Show up in a search.
A press release about a great result for a client may not get picked up by media outlets, but that doesn’t mean it won’t raise your profile, according to Oblon. If you work through a distributor such as PR Newswire, the press release yields “searchable terms” – including kinds of cases – that potential clients can find online. Oblon’s firm won a civil spam case filed by AOL, and “when someone was indicted for the crime of sending spam,” they called Oblon’s firm for representation after seeing a report of the case. When you’re doing good work and getting good results, make sure people know the particulars.
Frequent updates to your LinkedIn profile will get your name in front of your network on a regular basis. Emily Krause, marketing director for the Allen & Allen firm in Richmond, urges lawyers to plan updates for the coming month and put reminders on their calendars. “If you’re going to have a presence, you need to participate,” she said. Mike Griffin, who handles marketing for Tucker Griffin Barnes in Charlottesville, reminds lawyers not to let dust settle on their Internet presence. “You have to be doing something nearly every day, not once every two weeks,” he said.
Mark Powers, co-author of “How Good Attorneys Become Great Rainmakers,” says lawyers who are shy about asking for referrals are passing up golden opportunities. Every day, you should ask for at least one, and the more directly the better. “The really good ones do it two, three, four times a day, asking their clients and their referral network for new business,” says Powers, a consultant based in Mt. Dora, Fla. “I’ve seen high-level attorneys double or triple their business just by reinforcing asking for referrals.”
Cut the deadwood.
With some clients, less truly is more. Don’t fear dumping low-paying clients so you can spend that time searching for more robust revenue sources, Powers says. Letting go of clients who create more work for fewer dollars is the right move. “It becomes a critical marketing element because their law office gets filled up with so many files, and they’re working weekends, they’re working nights and they are working with low-end business,” he says. “They get beat up and say: ‘I don’t have any time to market. I don’t even like the clients I’m working with.’”
Hire a paramarketer.
You may already have a paralegal. How about a paramarketer? Powers says many options exist, from designating part of a support staffer’s time to taking on an intern to bringing in a “virtual marketer,” a type of freelancer who works from home. “Most marketing efforts don’t get off the ground because [attorneys] don’t have the initiative or the time to do it, and they have no one to delegate it to,” he says. “It’s everything from having ‘thank you’ notes in the office and sending out gifts to referral sources, to setting up speaking engagements to putting information into the database.”
Build a network with law students.
Quinn regularly has several law students working for her as interns or externs, from various law schools. They get to see substantive law applied and get real-world experience working on cases, sometimes for academic credit. Her law firm is not in a position to regularly hire new associates, but law students who have been a part of Quinn’s “posse” add to the ranks of her network of contacts.
Create some discomfort.
It’s easy for attorneys to fall into a rut. Instead, set an ambitious and concrete goal like doubling your business over a given period of time. It will get you out of complacency. “They get comfortable with their level of referral sources,” Powers says. “They get comfortable with their fees, with the type of business they are doing. They really don’t have a bigger game to play.”
Make a Top 20 list.
Compile a database of your best referral sources and make it a point to interact with them regularly. Knowing who produces most of your business is key to understanding with whom you should confer regularly. “Not that you don’t pay attention to everyone with newsletters and things like that, but these 20 people are what you need to have sustainable referrals,” Powers says.
Manage your time.
Properly using your day is one of the most important things you can do. Spend a few moments to catch your breath and study how you use your office hours and how you can cut out inefficiency. “We can teach them everything they need to know about marketing, but if they can’t manage their day, they can’t market,” Powers says.
If you open it, they will come.
Establishing a physical presence in a new location is one way to “create more chances for someone to come across you,” Oblon said. His firm, Albo & Oblon, had “never had a client in Staunton” when they opened an office in the picturesque town, but plenty of clients have found their way there. “Hiring more people” literally increases the firm’s presence and each new hire can bring a new network to the business.
Give it away, or not.
Lawyer and legal marketing guru Ben Glass holds seminars and has a website that tells lawyers which freebies work and which ones don’t – whether it’s law-related content or branded promotional merchandise such as tote bags, logo utility key chains, magnet frames or mirrors, pocket calendars and Frisbees (good) or pens and bumper stickers (don’t bother). But when it comes to your time, some experts advise against offering “free” initial appointments, which are likely to draw lawyer-shoppers instead of serious prospects.
Send targeted updates.
Put out a brief update to interested parties when something of use to them comes along, even if you are not working on active matters with them at the moment. Kansas City environmental and appellate lawyer Chris Wendelbo says his firm often deals with municipal clients, and a recent case affected that area. “That case had particular importance to municipalities, so we sent a two-paragraph blurb about it to them via email,” he says.
Ask if you can do more.
Finding new clients is one way to broaden your book of business, but you might consider deepening it as well. Jeff Coburn, a legal management consultant in Boston, says you should take the time to let existing clients know that you can provide other services for them that they may not be using now. At the very least, it might provoke an important discussion. “They’ll tell you why they don’t use you or why they do use somebody else,” he says. “These conversations can be very valuable. While you are at it, you can ask them, by the way, how would you rate our services? You could even start with that because that’s often a good trigger for a discussion about the relationship.”
Don’t be a salesman.
Instead, be yourself. You are a professional providing a service. Act like one, and potential clients will respond more positively than if you are giving them a pitch. Don’t sell them. Be direct and tell them how you can help them. “It’s not jamming Fuller Brushes down people’s throats,” Coburn says. “You are representing your intelligence, your skill set and your experience and expertise by looking someone in the eye and saying, ‘Here’s what we do. … Here are the people that we have, and here’s what we’ve accomplished with matters that we’ve handled.’ ”
Take a coffee break.
Lunching with a client may be the traditional way to do face time. But Wendelbo says lunch can be an imposing prospect for busy clients. Instead, try something less demanding. “People are more likely to meet you for 30 minutes at the end of the day for coffee. We do that a lot.”
Learn how to introduce yourself.
Often when lawyers introduce themselves in a social setting, they simply say they are an attorney with a given firm and leave it at that, says Wendy Werner, a St. Louis legal management consultant. “This does nothing to convey what you do,” she says. “Instead, tell people what kinds of problems that you solve. Better yet, find out what the other person does first, and tailor your response to how you could potentially help them or their business.”
Ditch the speakerphone.
Speakerphones are wonderful for conference calls or dictation, but for client conversations, the receiver should be on your ear. A speakerphone interaction with a new client can lend the impression that you aren’t focused on them.
Follow your heart.
Because you are a lawyer, you may be solicited regularly to serve on charitable or nonprofit boards. Such service has its rewards, but they may not include a bigger client base. You need to undertake the service for its own sake, Oblon said, because you may even wind up sacrificing potential clients. He has been conflicted out of cases he would have taken because of his service, in one instance, on the Virginia State Bar Council, and in another matter, on the board of the Legal Services of Northern Virginia Inc.
Be a careful joiner.
Delaney also warns about signing up for too many community groups without any real enthusiasm for what they do. “You have to be interested in what you’re doing. If you’re not interested, I think people can tell,” he said.
Check your mouthpiece.
If a marketing professional says he can deliver more clients by improving your Internet presence, check it out, suggests Richmond’s Bob Battle. Ask for the names of the marketer’s top four or five clients and do your own Google search. If those lawyers show up high on the search results, you may have a winner.
Find cheap video production.
Interested in doing a YouTube video to promote your practice? Battle says you can find competent video production talent at a local college, community college or high school. Lots of students know how to shoot and edit video nowadays. Battle cautions, however, to know your own limitations. If you’re not a show biz pro, rehearse your script in advance and plan on doing a lot of takes before you get a clip that is worth putting on the Internet.
Roll your own video.
If you like gadgets, follow the lead of David C. Johnson of Virginia Beach. He made his own TV studio on the cheap for doing YouTube videos. He uses a video camera and a wireless microphone he bought on eBay, work lights from a yard sale, and free teleprompter software. The wireless mic is important, Johnson said. “It sounds homemade” if you have to use the camera’s built-in microphone. His video rig may be a “Rube Goldberg-looking set up,” but he says none of that shows in the finished product.
Schedule email blasts.
Every two months, Roanoke’s Daniel T. Frith and his office mates get together to plan material for an email newsletter to clients and colleagues. They use a professional service to make it look and work right, but the content is written by the lawyers, discussing issues in their practice.
Never give up. Never surrender.
Be persistent, Garriott says. Recognize that it’s a long-term investment. The contacts you make today, and keep cultivating, may not yield new clients for months, or even years.
Love is all you need.
To get more clients, take care of the clients you have. That’s the universal, one-size-fits-all tip lawyers offer for building business. “It’s all about the personal relationships you build, with clients, with the bench and with the bar,” Garriott said.