The Business of Law
For any lawyer venturing out to start their own firm and build a robust business, the world of legal marketing can be overwhelming. There are so many channels to learn and test – traditional marketing, digital marketing, content marketing, SEO, social media and so much more. It can be time-consuming to figure out what works to grow your business. And don’t forget that you still have to manage all the other administrative aspects of running a law firm and – oh yeah – do the lawyering! It’s a lot.
The good news is that you don’t have to manage all of the marketing work on your own. There are countless resources out there to help you when it comes to the many facets of legal marketing. Outsourcing can be a smart solution. Let’s explore.
A great law firm marketing plan really stems from one key foundation: your website. Your law firm’s website is your first opportunity to present yourself to the world and more importantly to potential new clients. You can create a website to show your personality, your expertise, and illustrate for potential clients how you can help add value to their legal issues.
On your website be sure to let potential clients know about all of the ways that you make it easy for them to do business with you and your firm. These could include tools such as video meetings or phone consultations. You could highlight the fact that if they work with you, they will have access 24/7 to a client portal to access key documents about their case or review upcoming deadlines. If you offer electronic payments by credit card you should definitely highlight this on your website because clients have a strong preference to pay their lawyers by credit card rather than mailing a check. And if you offer appointments outside of the so-called “normal business hours,” then you’ll want to let potential clients know about this so they don’t stress about having to miss work to meet with you.
It’s normal for most lawyers to be a little intimidated at the thought of building a website. Most lawyers aren’t particularly tech-savvy or have a background in graphic design. This is one of the best areas where you should delegate this important work and hire a talented professional to help design your website. If there are other law firms’ websites that you like in terms of their design and layout, ask those attorneys who did their website and perhaps you could work with the same professional. And even if you don’t want to hire the exact same company, at least you’ll have examples of sites that you like to show the person that you hire to help you build your website.
One tip I have is to make sure that whoever does the initial design work to set up your law firm website builds in easy-to-use tools to allow you to routinely update and add to the site. There should be some sort of an administrative portal where you can update your biography to add awards and accomplishments. There should be a way to add new team members to the firm as you hire and grow – without a major overhaul to the site. You should also have a way to add relevant articles or blogs that you write to highlight those on the website as well.
Don’t stress about making your website absolutely perfect before you launch it into the world. Strive for progress over perfect because there is no such thing as a “finished” or “perfect” website. The great thing about your website is that you can continually edit and revise the website as your firm evolves. It’s better to get the website live as quickly as possible to help build credibility for you and your business for anyone who may be searching for you on the Internet and is interested in hiring you.
Lastly, don’t just launch your website and forget about it. Add regular reminders to your calendar - perhaps monthly or quarterly - to review the website and make any updates or additions that need to be made.
As you start to take on new clients and build relationships in the community, it’s a great idea to set up a system to help you organize and manage all of these relationships.
You’ll find that when you launch your firm and start to bring on new clients and meet more people in the community, that you’re suddenly going to have a growing stack of business cards sitting on your desk. It’s important to take those contacts and put them into some sort of customer relationship management system, or CRM. This could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, or it could be a more robust professional CRM software.
Whatever CRM system you choose, it will help you manage administrative tasks like conflict checks. It will also help you develop processes to make sure that you are regularly touching base with your existing clients and referral sources in hopes of staying top of mind the next time they need legal services or if they’re looking to refer someone to a lawyer in your practice area.
The CRM will also be a great tool as you start to build email marketing campaigns and newsletters. These types of marketing tools are a great way for you to maintain a relationship with all of these contacts and demonstrate your expertise.
Another powerful marketing tool for any lawyer is to set up a blog on your law firm's website. The blog is an excellent way for you to share resources for existing or potential clients. You can use it to answer frequently asked questions. It’s also a place for you to demonstrate your expertise in legal knowledge. It could also be a great tool to offer timely input and comment on relevant legal issues in the news.
Regularly creating and posting new blog content is also an excellent way to build your SEO or search engine optimization. Search tools like Google or Bing crawl the Internet to look for keywords on topics and the more organic contact you can produce related to your legal practice, the higher ratings you’ll get for SEO which will help you connect with potential clients.
The time and energy that goes into creating blog posts may not be the best use of your time. If you enjoy the creative process to write blogs, then by all means schedule time in your calendar each week or month to create new content. However, if you don’t enjoy this type of creative writing then this is a prime marketing function to outsource.
Busy attorneys can hire freelance lawyers to write on a variety of blog topics either on high profile cases in the news, changes to state laws, or even broader articles intended to help guide clients on pertinent legal issues in your field. You can hire a freelance attorney to write blog articles at very reasonable flat fees rates which makes it feasible and affordable. You can provide as much or as little detail to the freelancer writer in terms of your wishes for about the issues to address, number of words, and any articles that you think the blog should link to.
If you are going to start a blog, you have to commit to it and build a great bank of content to post on the blog regularly.
Social media can be a double edge sword. It can be a phenomenal way to connect with new clients. It can also cause your blood pressure to rise when responding to comments left by trolls.
I know a lot of attorneys that avoid social media like the plague. However, in today’s day and age depending on what practice area you focus on you may have no choice but to engage and become active on social media.
Social media can be a very time-consuming part of your marketing plan. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole once you log onto the Internet and start responding to comments or perusing the feed on your social media platform of choice. Because social media can be so time-consuming, this makes it a prime candidate to be outsourced to a dedicated social media marketing expert. You can work with a variety of different people and marketing services who are experienced in social media at affordable rates. You can find assistance with managing your social media in an outsourced capacity, part-time or even full-time depending on your needs. It’s great that you’re able to customize how much help you need in this area of your business depending on the volume of your practice and the level of your engagement on social media.
Keep in mind that if you’re going to put yourself and your firm out there on social media that you need to be mindful of being responsive to inquiries from potential clients. A lot of clients now are turning to social media to send inquiries and schedule consultations. You’ve got to make sure that either you or someone on your team is responsible for checking those messages and responding promptly.
Social media can also be a creative outlet and a source of quite a bit of fun. I know a number of lawyers who have seen huge success marketing their firms through Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and even Tik Tok and have grown huge followings across all of those platforms.
In the world of online marketing, you have to come up with a plan for how to leverage Google to drive in new leads and ultimately more clients. My friend Mark Homer of GNGF often tells lawyers that they should think of “Google My Business” is one of their top referral partners. I couldn’t agree with him more.
If the thought of setting up digital ads and paying for certain keyword searches makes your head spin, don’t fret. This is another fantastic part of your overall marketing plan to outsource to a professional.
The rules around digital marketing strategies, especially when it comes to Google, seem to be in constant flux. This makes it even more important to work with a dedicated professional who spends their time learning the nuances of the Google algorithm and updates as they come out. Find a trusted partner and delegate this part of your marketing plan. Be sure to monitor and measure results. You won’t regret it.
Don’t overlook the value of some of the more traditional marketing resources. These could be especially valuable as you are meeting with potential clients and trying to exhibit your expertise in your field of law. It’s great to end a consultation and be able to hand the potential client a brochure addressing the main points of their legal issue (or email them a PDF copy).
Client resources such as brochures, FAQs, and newsletters can be incredibly powerful ways for you to help both new and existing clients. As with pretty much everything when it comes to marketing, these documents are also time-consuming to create. If you don’t enjoy this type of creative writing, once again this is the ideal kind of marketing activity to delegate. You could hire a freelance lawyer to draft these documents and then send them to a graphic designer to be professionally designed.
Keep in mind that anything you produce in written form either for your website or for a printed document should be converted to video for use on your social media and/or your YouTube channel. It’s not hard these days to create good quality video thanks to the creation of high-end cameras on smartphones. Don’t be shy. Clients and potential clients love to see you and they want to hear this wisdom from your voice.
There can be tremendous value to building your reputation not only within your own legal community but within the broader legal industry as a whole. This can be accomplished through a variety of marketing efforts aimed at positioning yourself as a thought leader.
How does one become a thought leader? Excellent question. I really don’t know because I don’t consider myself to be one but here are the things that I’ve seen other lawyers do who I do consider to be thought leaders and who I respect because I know they have worked very, very hard along the way.
Writing articles for a variety of legal publications can be an excellent way to build your reputation as a thought leader. Check out your state bar association or local bar associations. They generally provide a publication schedule and tell you many months ahead of time what the topics will be for each of their issues. Then you can submit article proposals and hopefully get approved.
You should also jump at any and all opportunities to speak at CLEs or conferences. This will not only push you to deepen your knowledge in your given practice area but will also provide you with an excellent opportunity to showcase your skills and expertise to your fellow attorneys. Don’t fret about the time-intensive work that goes into preparing to teach a CLE. This is another excellent type of marketing activity that you can easily delegate and outsource to a freelance lawyer to help you with any legal research needs or even with preparing a PowerPoint.
Podcasts continue to grow in popularity and present seemingly endless opportunities for you to grow yourself as a thought leader. Whether you want to speak as a guest on other attorneys’ podcasts or start your own, podcasts are another powerful opportunity avenue for you to spotlight yourself as a thought leader in the legal industry.
Last - but certainly not least - you might even consider engaging in a variety of PR activities. You could either do this either on your own (with a lot of hustle) or you could hire a PR agency or freelance specialist to help connect you with opportunities. These types of PR opportunities could include things like providing input to journalists as they write articles for publications, doing radio interviews, or even making television appearances to chime in on current events.
There’s a saying in the world of princesses and fairy tales that, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” The same could be true in the realm of legal marketing… except there’s no actual kissing required.
One of the most important things you can do when you are marketing and building your business is to cast a really wide net. You need to meet as many different people as you can from a lot of different backgrounds. The goal is to get your name “out there” in your community.
When I was a new attorney, I made it a point to attend as many lunches, happy hours, bar meetings, or other professional networking events as I could. Lunch invite from a Partner? I was there. Happy hour for the women’s attorney group? Sign me up. Golf scramble hosted by a local financial advisor firm? I was absolutely there.
You may at times wish you could clone yourself because the time and energy that goes into this intensive networking and marketing can be exhausting, especially when you keep in mind that you still have to get all your legal work done too.
Set some benchmarks for yourself to hold yourself accountable and make sure that you’re committing enough time each month to getting your name out there. Perhaps for you, this means scheduling and attending one lunch a week with either a current or a potential referral source. Maybe this means attending at least three evening networking functions. It could also include a certain number of phone calls each week just to touch base. Track these efforts and the hours you spend on networking events. This is hard work and time-intensive. The fruits of this labor may not be immediately apparent, but they will most certainly flourish over time. Be patient and persistent.
Now I realize in the current age of the pandemic, you may just be laughing at the thought of getting “out there” and socializing with a whole bunch of strangers and shaking their hands! I totally get it and I don’t envy those of you who are currently trying to do some intense networking and marketing work amidst the challenges of the pandemic.
The good news is that there are many creative, interactive and surprisingly effective ways for groups of people to meet virtually. You can even start hosting your own virtual events with a simple Zoom account. I’d say keep any such virtual events small and intimate so that you can focus on the quality of the time versus the quantity of faces on the screen. Embrace your creativity. Zoom fatigue is real and I think if you can come up with a clever way to connect with other people in a time conscientious way it will make the Zoom session worth everyone’s time. These efforts will require persistence but will go a long way to keep you top-of-the-line and help generate additional referrals down the road.
It would also be a smart move to set up your own CRM of sorts. For those of you who don’t eat and breathe in the world of marketing, a CRM is a “customer relationship management” system to keep track of your contacts, clients and potential clients. This could be a simple as an Excel spreadsheet. Or it could be accomplished via a more robust, professional CRM software platform. When I was doing the bulk of my networking in the mid-2000’s I use an Excel sheet. I kept track of the people I met with along with their contact information and a pretty heavy-duty notes section to keep track of things like favorite sports teams, kids’ names, hobbies, pets, and any other relevant information that could help us connect and build a deeper working relationship I the future.
My marketing guru mentor encouraged me to give each of these contacts a grade over time as I got to know them better. This grading system would reflect if they actively referred me any clients, how well we connected together and the potential for doing business together in the future. Over time trends will emerge that will help you see the contacts that are worth spending more time with than others. You should make a stronger, more frequent effort to follow up with high-value contacts, send holiday gifts or handwritten notes from time to time. More on that later.
As your firm grows and your client base expands, you’ll find that you have less time to get “out there” and have a bunch of lunches or go to a bunch of social events. And that’s when you’re going to need to get much more strategic about how you’re spending your time and who you’re meeting with. Setting up a system to track your contacts and give them a great of sorts is going to help you prioritize your time and hopefully maximize your networking efforts.
When I was starting out to build my own practice, I was very fortunate to have a number of mentors along the way who helped me and were incredibly generous with their time. The top piece of advice I would give any attorney who is in parking to build their own practice would be to find a mentor and two capitalize on any sage advice they can offer you along your path.
One of my early mentors challenged me to continue to further my own knowledge in my area of focus, estate planning. He would challenge me with reading different cases, IRS letter rulings and discussing those to deepen my knowledge coming out of law school and further advance in my career. This was invaluable - and very unique - as I don’t often hear of many other lawyers who had such a mentor along the way to push them to continue to learn very nuanced issues within their chosen area of law.
Another mentor that I had really helped me learn how to navigate the business of law. At the time I was an associate at a midsize regional law firm, and I was very driven to become a partner. This attorney helps me navigate networking internally within the firm as well as externally to build my reputation in my practice. This attorney was generous with his valuable time that he could’ve spent having lunch with his clients or billing. Instead, he generously spent time to mentor me and always made it a point to schedule regular lunches to touch base about my various goals for hours billed, dollars collected, and the number of new clients coming in each month. This gave me accountability and helped me continue to focus on those goals and identify the work I need to put in to achieve them.
A third mentor, and yes, I was very lucky to have numerous very distinct mentors, was thankfully not a lawyer but a marketing guru. I was able to learn from her years of experience to figure out levers I could pull and push to drive business into my practice and get new clients. She taught me the art of always striving to stay top of mind with past clients who could refer work, other attorneys who could refer work, and other sources of influence such as financial advisors. She taught me many of the strategies that I’ve discussed in depth in this article. The focus of my work with her was to continually try new marketing strategies, track how well they performed, and develop systems to maintain regular marketing efforts to continually drive new business.
And last, but perhaps most importantly, the most influential mentor I had in my years as a young associate was the partner that I practiced with at a larger regional firm. He had such a unique perspective on the business and practice of law. He taught me that there is so much work out there in the world for lawyers to do. He saw no point in being cutthroat when competing for business with other attorneys who would technically be considered “competitors” because there’s just simply so much business to go around. Now, granted we live in a larger metropolitan community so this may be easier to say than when you live in a smaller, more rural community. But he taught me to the benefit of building strong collegial relationships with other estate planning attorneys within my specific field of law. With his encouragement I got involved with a number of committees within the trust and probate section of the bar, I wrote a number of articles for various local publications. I took the time to network with and get to know other estate planning attorneys in my community. Those relationships have proved invaluable as we from time to time refer each other business. It's also great to have this network to be able to call to discuss a unique issue or ask a question from time to time. This mentor also helped me formulate my philosophy for how I wanted to operate my practice, which goes as follows:
Most days I get to help a client. Some days I get to make money. On a great day, I get to do both, but I’ll never pass up the opportunity to help a client in need simply because they can’t afford my usual fee or my standard retainer.
You need to keep in mind that all the hard work you pour into your marketing efforts will be for naught if you don’t do good work. You have to strive to provide high-quality legal services to your clients. Your reputation for doing good work will take you just as far if not farther than all of your marketing efforts.
I have already addressed this a few times but one of the most important things you can do is be responsive. Once you’ve set up your intake system and even possibly hired a virtual receptionist to help answer phones or respond to social media inquiries, you need to make sure that these systems work. You should test them regularly and to make sure things aren’t falling through the cracks.
I’ve met a lot of attorneys that suddenly find themselves buried in work, completely drowning, and have no idea how are to get their head back above water. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with new clients and new cases when all of a sudden, the combination of your marketing efforts all click into place and an onslaught of new clients start flowing in your door faster than you anticipated. Granted this is a good problem to have, but it can be incredibly stressful and if you’re too overwhelmed you may not be doing your best work. My best advice here is to hire help before you need it. If the thought of hiring makes you queasy, don’t stress. The good news is that there’s a lot of flexible and affordable ways to get talented legal help and of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the incredible freelance lawyers at LAWCLERK.
A little bit of old-fashioned courtesy can boost your marketing efforts to a whole other level. Invest in a nice set of stationary and actual stamps (not your bulk mailer routine). Take two minutes whenever you get a new referral to thank the referral source and express your gratitude. These notes can also be a great way to write a quick note to a new client letting them know that you are looking forward to working with them.
Another easy idea to boost relationships with your existing clients, potential clients and referral sources it’s to just pick up the phone. Perhaps on social media you see that a long-time client is a new grandparent. An easy way to make their day and boost your connection is to give them a quick call to congratulate them on the grandbaby and hear all about this exciting news in their life.
You should also consider sending out holiday cards. This does not mean an e-card. This means physical, paper cards. Everyone loves “fun mail” rather than more bills or case correspondence. Sending “holiday cards” does not necessarily need to be done in December. Rather, you could pick any holiday you want to be your time of year and make it a point to reach out to all of your clients and trusted referral sources. A few lawyers I know like to send New Year’s cards to wish everyone a happy start to the new year. I think this is such a fantastic idea. Other lawyers I know like to send Thanksgiving greetings, Valentine’s Day cards or Fourth of July cards. Whatever holiday you want to choose, pick one and stick to it. Make it an annual routine and be sure that you’re building your CRM throughout the year with new contacts so that you’ve got your contact list ready to go when cards are ready to be mailed. Of course, the job of mailing out hundreds of holiday cards can be daunting. This is yet another marketing function that you should outsource and delegate.
Yet another way to market yourself and grow your business is to get involved. By this I mean that you should take it upon yourself to become an active member of various legal organizations and professional groups. This could include your state bar. This may include community or county bars. This could also mean practice area specific bars.
It may take some time for you to join different organizations, explore them and see which is the best fit for you as you’re growing your business. Investing the time to be an active member of various professional organizations can be an incredible way to boost your reputation as a leader in the legal community, gain additional knowledge and even lead to referrals.
However, it’s really not enough to just be a member. I encourage you to take on leadership roles when they are presented to you. Do these types of roles take time? Yes. Will they give you back immediate dividends? No. But over time you will get a lot from the experiences of serving with other leaders in your community, learning, networking, and building trust with other like-minded attorneys.
I urge you to also consider taking on pro bono cases. Remember back in law school when you were young, possibly naïve and you were determined to do hundreds of hours of pro bono work every year to give back. Those best-laid intentions often get waylaid by the demands on a young associate launching their legal career. Over the years I have experienced some of the most personal and professional satisfaction from the pro bono cases I have worked. I urge you to take on at least one pro bono case each year. And simply writing off a bad client’s outstanding invoice doesn’t count.
One of the best things about running your own firm is the freedom and flexibility to try new business models and marketing strategies.
Want to start offering flat fees? Give them a try.
Curious about adding new practice areas? Why not!
Confident you can connect with new clients on social media and maybe even become a YouTube star along the way? Go for it!
The beauty of small firms is that they have the ability to try whatever the owners want to help grow the business. When you try new things, don’t get frustrated too fast. Be patient and give any new marketing strategy or tool a reasonable amount of time to determine if it is a success.
On the flip side, don’t wait too long to call it quits if something isn’t working. Another huge advantage to a small firm or solo shop is the ability to “fail fast” and pivot.
When you embark on a massive legal marketing campaign you have to be reasonable about your expectations or you will burnout quickly. At times it may seem like you are spinning your wheels with no immediate results or return on investment. That can get frustrating. You may even be tempted to throw your hands up in the air and abandon the marketing plan.
Don’t do that! It can take months and years to see the true results of an intensive marketing campaign. Relationships take time to nurture. It can take months to build a social media following. You will only see increased SEO growth once your content library expands. Over time, your know-how and your client base will grow.
When I was growing my practice, it took a solid three years for me to see the “fruits of my labor” from 2+ years of intense marketing efforts. Legal marketing is a marathon – perhaps a never-ending marathon – not a sprint.
Be patient. Be persistent. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your firm. Good things come to those who hustle!
Kristin Tyler, Esq. is a founding partner at Garman Turner Gordon LLP, a boutique law firm with a national reputation where she practices in the area of Estate Planning and Probate. Kristin is also a co-founder at LAWCLERK which provides virtual associates and freelance lawyers to growing firms focused on increasing their profits.