Marketing Magic for Lawyers (Part 2)
By Jim Calloway
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part article on marketing for lawyers and law firms. The first part was published in the August 5, 2000 Oklahoma Bar Journal.
In our first installment, we discussed the differences between marketing and advertising, the importance of maintaining and developing good referral sources, the "Golden Rule" of Effective Marketing, first impressions and meeting new people. If you did not read that article, we suggest that you read it first before reading "Part 2."
Now that we have covered some of the basics of marketing and given some thought to the fact that your personal law firm marketing should first focus on good client communications and producing satisfied clients who will serve as ambassadors of good will for you in the future, let’s move on to cover some more specific ideas for your law firm’s marketing plan.
The Rules of Professional Conduct
But first, it is time to consider the relevant Rules of Professional Conduct. The greatest marketing plan in the world is an abject failure if it results in your losing your law license or even in taking time to respond to a complaint.
So as you think about marketing, it is important to carefully read Rules 7.1 through 7.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct along with the Official Comments.
Rule 7.1, for example, prohibits both false and misleading communications. So truth is not a defense. Client testimonials and statements regarding prior cases in advertising are a particularly dangerous area. If you run a completely true statement from a former client saying, "I broke my arm and My Lawyer got me a $200,000 settlement," you have got a potential trouble area. The trouble is that you don’t mention in the advertisement that the client’s arm was broken on purpose with a baseball bat or that the defendant was the son of the richest man in the county or that the client can no longer pursue his chosen profession and life’s dream as a result of this injury. Some readers may find an implication, whether you mean it or not, is that you can get everyone with a broken arm $200,000. Rule 7.1 (a) (2) defines as misleading "a communication which is likely to create an unjustified expectation about the results the lawyer can achieve."
Rule 7.2 has many specific requirements regarding the retention of copies of advertising materials and other requirements regarding direct mail. It is not the purpose of this article to dissect the Rules of Professional Conduct, but certainly each lawyer needs to be familiar with these requirements in the context of developing a marketing plan.
Developing a Marketing Plan
When do you think about developing a marketing plan? Unfortunately, for some lawyers it may be when they are in slow economic times. It is fairly easy to think about marketing on the week when you have noted that the secretaries are taking home more money than the lawyers. Marketing is something that can greatly occupy your thoughts on the way to sign loan documents for operating expenses with the friendly local banker.
Marketing for lawyers is not a matter of instant response or instant gratification. Not everyone needs legal services at the moment. Good marketing does pay off with results, but generally only slowly over the long haul. Therefore is it critical that you spend some time marketing every month, especially when business is good. As we have hope to illustrate, good marketing efforts takes a steady investment of your time.
Large law firms will have marketing committees and marketing budgets. They will have meetings and deadlines. They try to hold the lawyers accountable for making certain marketing efforts.
For the solo practitioner or small firm lawyer, a marketing plan is often as much about making a time commitment as a financial one. What is important is that you spend some time each month developing potential sources of business. The way to accomplish that is to prepare written goals for yourself and your firm. If you do not have a written plan, how will you judge your own success or failure? Your marketing plan need not be lengthy or complex.
For the solo lawyer a six month marketing plan might be as simple as:
I will take at least one person who has referred me cases before or one potential client to lunch.
I will send a letter of appreciation to every client whose file I close. I will include an outline of all my other practice areas and a client satisfaction survey.
I will record on Friday all of my marketing efforts that week so I can see how I am doing.
I will send a thank you note to someone who did something nice or beyond the call of duty for me.
I will attend at least one civic, church or community meeting.
I will try to meet at least five new people.
I will make a telephone call to an old friend I haven’t talked to in a while and just chat.
I will send someone that I know who received some good press, a copy of the newspaper article with a congratulatory note.
I will attend my county bar monthly meeting. and sit with some lawyers that I do not know that well.
During the next four months
I will schedule a public speaking engagement or seminar. (I might even send the local newspaper a press release in advance.)
I will read a book on either marketing or law practice management.
I will schedule a time for myself to review the last four months marketing efforts.
My spouse and I will host a small dinner party for some people that we don’t often see.
I will spend some time touring a client’s place of business at no charge to the client.
I’ll present a CLE program or do some other volunteer work for my local bar association.
At the end of six months
I will sit down and review everything I have done and recorded during the last six months on my marketing plan, note any areas of great success or failure, try to think of new ideas for marketing and revise my old six month marketing plan into a new six month marketing plan.
The above examples just illustrate a few things that you might want to do. They have in common that they are very inexpensive and, also, many of them are just nice. Being nice is a good way to get new business, too.
One thing is absolutely for certain. If you want to improve your firm’s marketing efforts, you must have a written plan, formulated after some thought and reflection, with target dates for completion of the various goals and projects. Your law firm marketing plan should reflect your individual strengths and your unique situation. If you feel you are a great public speaker, then make speaking engagements. If most of your business comes from referrals from other lawyers, local bar meetings, serving on bar committees and attending bar social events can result in business. If you know you will only sit quietly in the corner at county bar meetings and not chat and mingle, they will provide little benefit. If your practice focuses in a narrow area, like entertainment law, you need to be in places where people who may need those legal services congregate.
You should never, repeat never, join a civic or social organization just to make contacts to get new business. If you believe in a group’s mission and goals, then by all means participate, and perhaps you will meet someone who can be a client or business source. But if you do not believe in an organization, then you will more likely fail to complete some assignment you accept or just be an uninvolved, apathetic member. That is more likely to damage your reputation than to enhance it.
Now that all of our readers are hopefully convinced that they need a marketing plan, let’s discuss collecting some data.
Getting Feedback from the Only Ones Who Know: Your Clients
For many lawyers the only feedback that they routinely measure is the bank account balance and number of the open client files. Is your practice growing, remaining static, or declining in terms of numbers of clients and revenues? The answer to that question is very important, but often any declines and the reasons for them are not that apparent until the situation is desperate. In all types of law practices there are methods that will give you an opportunity to review what you are doing and to make any needed changes to improve your approach to client relations.
Particularly in Oklahoma, where we value politeness, your clients may not give you any negative feedback if you do not ask. In fact, many angry clients, when terminating a lawyer’s services will cite incidents happening months previously involving subordinates that were never even known to the lawyer. Most clients with negative views no doubt merely resolve never to darken that lawyer’s door again — an opinion that they may not share with the lawyer, but certainly will share with others.
A story from an excellent legal marketing publication, Through the Client’s Eyes by Henry Ewalt, (1994 ABA Law Practice Management Section) illustrates how important customer/client feedback is in maintaining and improving your business.
The president of a small grocery chain that was represented by a small firm told one of the partners he was providing carry-out service to the customer’s car as an additional benefit to customers. When the partner shopped in the store and saw the part-time, carry-out person trying to avoid eye contact and pretending he didn’t see the partner with his arms loaded down with bags, the partner told the president of his experience. The kid just didn’t want to do what he was being paid to do. The partner didn’t tell the president what time or on what day he was in the store because he didn’t particularly want to get this young person into trouble. The president stated that the would speak with the manager of the store. The next time the partner shopped at the store, two different people were offering to carry his bags and neither had any idea that he was the general counsel for that corporation.
Telling your clients about issues in their places of business or personal situation and how you tell them will greatly influence whether and how clients will tell you about the operation of your law practice. It is essential that we encourage client feedback if we are going to be able to attain greater client satisfaction.
This same president of the grocery chain reported to the partner that he was not satisfied with an associate who was working on some of his legal issues. The dissatisfaction was not based in the legal work itself, but in failing to follow up on things the associate promised to do or not returning phone calls.
The partner was at first defensive. But, he quickly realized that if the client had not cared about the practice as he saw the partner cared about his business, the partner might never have found out about the president’s dissatisfaction until he went to another law firm.
The partner investigated the client’s complaint by determining what work had not been completed and discussing the situation with the associate. After hearing both sides of the story, the partner could tell this relationship would not work. Although the associate did not admit it, he had fallen down by not meeting performance commitments on a number of occasions. Even more grievously, the associate never called to let the client know that the deadline would not be met or when the client might expect to see the work.
The partner then called the client and made a deal that this associate would never work on any of the client’s matters again. The client was fully satisfied even though there was no change in the quality of legal services that were provided.
Simply put, you must ask your clients how you are doing — not every client perhaps, as some would be embarrassed or disarmed by the question. Taking good clients to lunch periodically, stopping by to visit your client’s place of business, remembering spouse’s and children’s names and activities — these are not merely devices to ingratiate yourself with a client and gain his favor. They are the building blocks of a relationship; a relationship that can survive an unexpected court ruling or an adverse jury verdict. Your client should look upon you as a trusted advisor and the one to call in the event of a problem, not another unwanted business expense.
This type of one-to-one feedback is simply invaluable. The main element in this process is that you are hearing about your practice from your practice, your clients.
If you have a employee of your firm who has stated that he or she will improve client relations but does not show marked improvement in a reasonable amount of time, from the client’s point of view, you have no choice but to make a change in the staff person who deals with the client. In the solo or small firm settings this may not be possible without a staff change. Sometimes you may have to make a decision that a particular client cannot be well-served by your firm due to their interaction with your staff.
Service is the key. If you find yourself thinking that your secretary is not good with people, you had better take a closer look. Figure out why you believe that and offer a plan for improvement. There may have been a time when a cranky legal secretary added to the ambiance and character of a law firm. That time is past. Sophisticated consumers demand appropriate treatment, and there is always another lawyer down the street.
Another tool for gathering feedback is the client survey. Much has been written regarding client surveys. Although we believe they have a very important function, they do not take the place of face-to-face communication with the client.
Clients are more likely to fill out and return your surveys, as well as be more honest, if you include them with your billing statement. Your response rate will be higher if the survey accompanies the bill. The added advantage is that it reduces postage costs to mail surveys with bills.
The client survey can also be an excellent behavior modification tool in the law office, whether it is a small or large firm. If your office staff all know that clients are going to be receiving a survey, they may modify their behavior in order to get high marks from the clients. Thus you serve an in-house training function with the survey as well.
As far as the effect on the clients of receiving a survey, we believe that most people are pleased when they are asked for their opinion. Hopefully, this will give the clients a final positive time to reflect both on the good services that they received from your firm and upon how nice it was that you asked them their opinion. A client satisfaction survey for a lawyer who advises mainly large corporations would certainly differ greatly from one who does consumer bankruptcy work, for example.
Some sample questions may include: Was your appointment timely kept by the attorney? Did you feel welcome the first time you walked into our office? Were the client’s immediate needs met (e.g. offered a drink, asked if they needed anything, advised of how long they would have to wait)? Did the attorney take time to listen to everything the client wanted to say? Did the attorney discuss fees with you adequately? Were you clear on the goals of this legal matter? Were you kept adequately informed as the matter progressed? Were your expectations met?
Be sure and give space for clients to write their comments and suggestions. Including stamped pre-addressed reply envelopes will increase your response rate. We believe you will be surprised at the amount of input and feedback you receive.
The staff relationship with the clients can be as important as the attorney/client relationship. All staff members should be held to the same standards as the attorneys when dealing with clients. It is important that the staff understand their responsibilities. A lawyer may make a remark in frustration about some client’s bad choices and give the wrong impression to a staff person about the respect that that particular client is due. It is good to continually stress to all staff that the clients are the ones who fund their paychecks as well as the lawyer’s pay.
High Tech Marketing Tools
You may have heard about attorney web pages, email newsletters, contact management software and all of these other high tech marketing tools. We believe that they are all useful tools, depending on your practice setting.
Your very best high tech marketing tool may be the word processing software you already own. Get the latest version of this software and make sure you and your staff know how to really get the most out of it. You can use your own word processor to do many marketing projects at little, if any, additional cost.
You and Your Word Processor Can Create File Closing Letters
"There is no better chance to remind satisfied clients of the many services you provide than in the file closing letter. If a client is less than satisfied, this may not be as effective. But even in that case you will never have another opportunity to at least attempt the effort. There are far worse statements to make than ‘I helped you once and would be willing to help you again.’ Even the most simple statement can suffice. ‘We appreciated the opportunity to assist you with this legal matter. Our law firm also handles antitrust litigation, complex environmental matters and international law.’ Well, perhaps you do not handle such things, but you know what matters that you do handle. List all of your practice areas." — from my article, "Form Letters You and Your Clients Will Love" (Originally published Oklahoma Bar Journal March 7, 1998 - Vol. 69; No. 10)
You and Your Word Processor Can Create Firm Newsletters
One of the best marketing tools to remind former clients that you still exist is a law firm newsletter. It doesn’t have to be done that often— typically no more than four times a year.
You include some interesting recent developments in the law information, some information about your recent activities ("Mr. Jones attended a Continuing Legal Education seminar sponsored by the Oklahoma Bar Association regarding ‘Guardianship law’. Some of the latest changes in the law were discussed.") and perhaps something of local community interest. Many word processors have pre-designed newsletter form where all that you have to do is fill in the text.
You and Your Word Processor Can Create Brochures and Booklets
Why not give your client the opportunity to read something that you wrote while are in your reception area? Booklets and brochures can be easily prepared using your own computer, word processing software and printer.
Printing brochures is really very simple. You can make them look very professional by purchasing some nice colorful brochure paper that is already scored for ease in folding. This is just too easy and inexpensive to omit from your law firm’s future. Several brochures about the firm or the primary substantive law areas of your firm’s practice could be done very quickly with more being printed as you need them.
Booklets take a bit more time. (I prepared my first ten to twelve page booklet using WordPerfect in less than two hours. I already had most of the text in another file. Once I printed off a couple of booklets, I did determine that it was easier to go to the local copy shop to have them mass-produced.) However, you can be assured that a small booklet entitled "Ten Ways to Keep Your Divorce from Damaging Your Children" by Joe Famlilawyer or "Seven Common Myths about Bankruptcy Law" by D. Ebtor, Attorney will be retained by the client for a lot longer time and passed along to others much more than the same information on plain paper stapled together.
Another Great High Tech Tool Is the Email Newsletter—
When you sign up a new client and take the client’s email address, how difficult is it to ask, "Would you like to receive free copies of our email newsletter? It has news about changes in the law and our firm and only goes out two or three times a year." Most clients will jump at the chance to get something for free from their lawyer.
You simply add their email address to a email group called Newsletter and whenever you do an email Newsletter, you then send it to the group. Your email software package should take care of making sure that every name that you have entered into the group gets the email message.
It is essentially free to do an email newsletter. Assuming you already have Internet access, the only investment is the time typing and sending the newsletter.
Web pages for Lawyers
It sometimes seems like every lawyer has or plans to have a web page now. For some this will be a great marketing tool. For most, it can serve an important component in an overall marketing plan. If you have a limited practice that is somewhat unique a web page can be a great boon for you.
Family law practitioners report generating a good amount of out of state business from web pages, but little, if any local clients. This makes sense as a person who lives in Michigan and is sued for divorce or support in Oklahoma doesn’t have any local Oklahoma telephone directory.
The best attorney web pages provide useful information to clients or the public. If your web page is nothing more than an on-line version of the Yellow Pages ad, it will have limited marketing benefits.
Web pages are fraught with ethical perils. For an article discussing some of these high tech ethical issues see Attorney Advertising in Cyberspace by this writer and (more importantly) OBA General Counsel Dan Murdock. This article was originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal July 18, 1998 - Vol. 69; No. 29.
Web pages are very cost effective, particularly if you or a family member learns to do simple web page design on your own.
There seems little room for doubt that web pages for lawyers will become more and more important and necessary as people rely more and more on online communications. A great web page may not generate large numbers of clients, but not having a web page at all already causes business clients to have questions about a law firm. This trend will only increase. We predict there will be a trend toward smaller attorney print ads that contain the phrase "See our web page at....."
Attorney web pages are a broad and rapidly changing topic. We will be considering them more in the future. But suffice it to say at this point every law firm marketing plan should include some Internet presence.
Previous generations of lawyers could take a laissez faire approach to marketing. Lawyer advertising was prohibited. Clients with legal problems generally sought out lawyers. We still prohibit in-person client solicitations. Most lawyers have a negative view of other lawyers who push the edge of the envelope with advertising of questionable taste. But there is no doubt that both lawyer advertising and other lawyer marketing techniques are here to stay.
We still believe in the old fashioned marketing values. Give clients good service and build a good reputation. However, in an age where more and more information is thrown at people every day, the wise lawyer will devote a few hours each month towards making certain that he or she is doing a good job of representing himself or herself to the public as well as representing his or her clients.
The challenge for you, the lawyer reader, is to create an approach for your business that is appropriate, tasteful and effective for you. Your practice is what you make of it. You must bring your own creativity to the process. You must consider your attitudes, your strengths and weaknesses, your personal values, your community’s views and beliefs and your substantive areas of practice. Your marketing plan may well determine the future direction of your law practice.
In closing, we encourage you to do additional reading and thinking about your business and marketing goals. We offer a brief list of ABA Law Practice Management Section books.
A Marketing Bibliography
How to Start and Build a Law Practice, 4th Edition, (1999) By Jay G. Foonberg. This landmark book has been successfully used by tens of thousands of lawyers as basic primer for planning and growing successful practices.
Through the Client’s Eyes - New Approaches to Get Clients to Hire You Again and Again, (1994) By Henry W. Ewalt. In this book you will get a variety of different approaches to consider, adapt and then use for client retention.
Lawyers’ Guide to Marketing on the Internet, (2007) By Greg Siskind and Timothy J. Moses "A guide on making money and growing your law practice on the electronic frontier."
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal September 9, 2000 - Vol. 71; No. 26