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> Marketing Strategy for the Sole or Small-Firm Practice
Editor
post Aug 5 2010, 10:30 AM
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There are nearly 100,000 lawyers and notaries in Canada, according to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) (www.flsc.ca), and small law firms constitute the biggest segment of this legal universe. The latest FLSC numbers show that more than 17,000 Canadian law firms have one to 10 lawyers, compared to fewer than 100 firms with 50 lawyers or more. (It is much the same in the U.S. – the American Bar Foundation says that some 40 percent of the United States’ 1.2 million lawyers are in firms with 10 or fewer practitioners.) All of these solo and small firm practices are inevitably competing to represent individual clients and small businesses in the same types of matters – real estate transactions, estate plans, personal injury lawsuits and so on. The challenge of securing these clients is otherwise known as marketing.

For lawyers the idea of marketing is often daunting because there are so many potential clients, so little time to reach them and so many options for pursuing them. We worry that we’re not doing it right, that other firms are better known, that potential clients have no way of finding us. In Chapter XIV, Commentary 1 of the Code of Professional Conduct (“Advertising, Solicitation and Making Legal Services Available”), the Canadian Bar Association states the small firm marketing challenge succinctly: “As the practice of law becomes increasingly complex, … the reputations of lawyers and their competence or qualifications in particular fields may not be sufficiently well known to enable a person to make an informed choice.”

Marketing Defined

Ultimately, there is no difference between the marketing activities of small and large firm lawyers. To be effective, irrespective of the size of the law firm or the firm's marketing activities as a whole, each lawyer must establish the expertise necessary to convince a prospect to become a client. This is done using many tools, some with more credibility than others. Large firms with 50 or more lawyers inevitably have marketing departments – a staff of people devoted to helping individual lawyers in the firm and individual practice groups; this is absent from most small law firms. But large law firm practitioners must market individually just as small law firm practitioners do. The goal is to create a personal relationship with the prospect.

Too many small firm lawyers believe they are not marketing oriented or skilled. The reality is that there is no one personality type necessary for being a rainmaker and successfully bringing in business to a firm. But, personality aside, marketing does require far more planning than the typical “random acts of golf and lunch” that ultimately have unimpressive payoffs.

A marketing plan doesn’t have to be complicated. The real definition is simple: Identify the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicate with them to let them know who you are, and then develop close relationships with these people to help them achieve their goals. Develop a profile of your ideal client and develop a marketing strategy that focuses on this target, not everyone.

Any lawyer can increase revenue dramatically by focusing on clients who will provide the desired work that fits the firm’s capabilities. Marketing can only be approached practically with this narrow focus. It requires defining the location, demographics, occupation, financial and other characteristics of clients who will give you the work you want.

Marketing Tactics

The key to business development success is building relationships with these targeted potential clients. Relationship development is a marathon, not a sprint, and it starts with getting into the public eye.

There are many ways to do this that involve little if any expense:
• Pick up the phone and call friends, family, business associates, past clients. Tell them that you have some spare time and would be happy to help them with any problems.
• Chat with the sales folk and other people in your office building. Always have a written summary of your services and a business card handy for them.
• Communicate with your law school friends to discuss cases, clients, war stories. Other lawyers are often excellent referral sources.
• Get out into the public eye by writing articles and attending lunch or bar association functions.
• Develop a blawg (legal weblog) that covers topics of interest to your potential clients and that illustrates your capabilities.
• Participate in social networking web sites like LinkedIn.
• Sign up for your local bar referral services; they advertise with a broader reach than you have.

Any of these are viable marketing tactics, but make sure that your tactics are in tune with your target. For example, if your target audience is not focused on using the Internet and searching the web on a regular basis, then blawging is not so meaningful to them and may not be a worthwhile marketing tactic for you. On the other hand, social networking online may be a perfect way to reach your target audience.

For small firm lawyers, LinkedIn, on which you invite other business associates to be part of your contact network, is an excellent option. On LinkedIn, if you have an interest in marketing services to banks, for example, you can look at the users linked to you and to others and readily identify any number of potential contacts. This is networking without boundaries. Online discussion groups of lawyers, such as my own LawBizForum, are also an excellent way to make new contacts.

There is no one tactic that will cover the waterfront of opportunities to communicate with your marketplace. It becomes a question of your comfort zone, your creativity, your time availability and your pocketbook. Social networking on the Internet is effective, but personal contact at meetings, on the phone and through handwritten notes will remain effective outreach tools.

Personal contact is the differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed. And differentiation is often the way to get attention. Getting attention is a cornerstone of marketing. And marketing is the basis of letting your public know that you exist and that you can assist them.

Marketing Contact


Ultimately, no marketing can work without meeting potential clients where they are. That can be in person or virtually, but, it generally means personal contact. Understand the ethics involved. Code Chapter XIV, Commentary 7 says that lawyers can offer their professional services by any means except those that are false or misleading, amount to “coercion, duress or harassment,” or take advantage of someone “who is vulnerable or who has suffered a traumatic experience …” In other words, greedy ambulance chasing is not permitted.

You’ll need an image and message that conveys a substantive assurance that you can handle what is important to your prospective client. Examine your message by asking your current clients to react to it and to suggest other messages they believe would be equally or more effective now that they've actually experienced your services. Be able to articulate a message on what you do and convey it with clarity, brevity and power.

Once you know who you’re talking to and how you want to present yourself, you can decide what you want to provide. A business card and brochure are not enough. You also need to create a bond with your prospect and show them you can provide value.

When you make the first interaction, present research on key stakeholders and pressing industry issues … offer opportunities for training or a business needs assessment … give an open invitation to an entertainment or sporting event. That means an investment in time and expense – but it also means your efforts are more likely to bear fruit.

Marketing Payoff

These are ways to be memorable and differentiated from other lawyers. But the ultimate concern of the client – and legal ethics – is the quality of legal service and not the degree of salesmanship and promotion. Don’t worry that others may seem to be ahead in the marketing game. Stay within yourself and focus on who you are, what you can do and what you want to do.

A marketing plan defines what your practice really is (or should be) and who best can use those services. The key is to let potential clients know that you have what they need. Of course, they first have to know that they need what you have to offer. Your marketing efforts should be designed to make people aware of you and to encourage them to call you. If they know who you are, they will seek to learn whether your skills match their needs.

In the end, it is invariably the buyer who makes the decision to reach out, not the seller. If the buyer is responding to an earlier marketing initiative, you as the seller must be available to close the deal when a call comes in. All the effective marketing in the world won’t make up for calls missed or not promptly returned.

Advice my father gave me still rings true: Stay by the phone! It will ring. Answer it! Service is fundamental. If clients want you, it’s because of the quality service you can provide. If you’re there right from the start, you demonstrate that you will be there for them in the future as well.


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