The vast majority of new legal work for lawyers comes from referrals, whether they be from clients, former clients, or other people who, know like and trust you. Often called word-of-mouth marketing, primarily new work comes because of what other people say about you. (One exception obviously is plaintiff’s work, which is basically garnered through advertising).

I have written many posts over this blog’s 10 years on the subject of referrals. And I have included links to 10 below, and invite you to breeze through them for tidbits you might find helpful.

But today I will list, with no further explanation needed IMHO, seven tips I am convinced will guarantee you referrals. So here goes:

  1. Do excellent legal work
  2. Dress professionally
  3. Beat deadlines
  4. Respect clients
  5. Never (unfavorably) surprise a client about anything
  6. Charge reasonable fees
  7. Be a nice person

That’s all folks.

….

Except for other of my posts on referrals (I apologize in advance for broken links, as some no longer are available):

 

What should you consider before deciding whether to attend a conference? The weather? Exotic location? Nah! Although one should not discard those entirely. But seriously, there are things you should consider before deciding whether to attend a conference.

Roy Ginsberg has a helpful post on Attorney at Work today that may help you decide whether to attend a particular conference or not. Here are few:

  • Who will attend? If it is a conference that your desirable clients will attend, then without a doubt you should plan on it. This will offer the opportunity to enhance your relationships with existing clients, and possibly provide the opportunity for them to introduce you to new ones. If you are not sure what conferences your clients attend, ask them and/or do research on past conferences;
  • Will there be networking opportunities? With most conferences that’s a given. But be selective in those activities where there will be greater opportunities for one-on-one discussions, such as sightseeing tours and other casual events. At meals, plan to identify and sit, when possible, with potential clients;
  • Be selective on breakout sessions. Not only consider the educational benefits, but again where potential targets will be. These sessions may offer smaller, more intimate opportunities to network; and
  • Most importantly, follow-up. The single most common reason that lawyers fail to gain work from attending conferences is the lack of follow-up. Have a game plan to contact by letter, email, telephone call etc. people of interest you meet at a conference.

Now, back to the point about where the conference is located. As Ginsberg notes “All things being equal, San Diego during January sure sounds a helluva lot better to me than Washington, D.C. in the summer.” Or Boston in the winter. As it turns out, San Diego is the site for the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in April, which is also a great time of year in that beautiful city.

Much of the advice given above is applicable to LMA’s conference depending on your goals. If you still haven’t decided whether you are attending and you’re a legal marketer take a look at my earlier posts (here and here) about the upcoming conference. What I have gained most from these conferences over the years are the contacts made, and the marketing and business development ideas acquired.

Since we are in the personal services business, I remain skeptical of social media as an effective tool of legal marketing. Clients hire lawyers they know, like or trust (or are referred by someone they do). I think that social media is too impersonal, remote and time-consuming as a business development tool to cross that bridge.  I know, I know there are those who would strongly disagree with me, but I believe the jury is still out on whether social media provides a reasonable ROI for time spent.

One could argue that a recent survey would bear that out. Attorney at Work reported today on its Social Media Survey conducted with its readers, of whom 450 responded (includes 340 lawyers). The results were interesting to say the least and informative. They are:

  • 91% use social media, but only 60% said it was a part of their marketing strategy;
  • LinkedIn was the top choice at 91% use, 73% use Facebook and 45% are also using twitter (Google+ only garnered 21% use);
  • 39% claim LinkedIn “is the most effective client-getter.” HOWEVER, as to ROI, only 4% said that “social media is ‘very responsible’ for getting them new clients.” In fact, “31% said no social media platform is effective at bringing in new clients;” and
  • 56% of lawyers in the survey think that “using social media for marketing is ‘more hype than reality.’”

Personally, I am not saying that social media cannot help bring in clients. It can be one instrument in the toolbox, but not a significant one in my opinion for all the noise and traffic it garners. Sorry, but I believe face-to-face meetings are far more effective. So, my suggestion is that lawyers spend less time playing with social media, get off their duffs, and get out and about meeting with clients, referral sources, and networking for prospects.

P.S.  CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Legal Marketing Blog, I have decided to ask my readers for suggestions on marketing and business development tips that they would like me to cover. So, SUGGEST AWAY!

 

Effective networking is more important as the legal marketplace becomes more competitive. A lot of lawyers do not embrace networking and wish they didn’t have to do it. It is not why we went to law school after all. Notwithstanding one’s aversion to networking, it is necessary! So you might as well make networking work the best you can.

The following are some steps recommended by attorney Anabella Bonfa on Law Practice Advisor:

  1. Develop a lawyer network. Make a point of meeting and developing relationships with non-competing lawyers for mutual referrals. Both may have clients who could use the other’s services;
  2. Connect with other professionals. Obviously, this could also result in mutual referrals that will expand your client base as well as theirs. Such connections could also benefit your clients’ businesses;
  3. Help others reach their goals. Don’t look at a networking event as one where you have to sell yourself. Rather, consider it an opportunity to make friends, and help them achieve their goals. As Zig Ziglar wisely stated “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Look for ways to be helpful to those you meet at networking events, rather than looking for what they can do for you;
  4. Always keep your word. If you say to someone you meet that you will check on something or send information or provide a link or an introduction, NEVER fail to do so. If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, you put your reputation in jeopardy;
  5. Always follow up. Not only on what you say you will do, but with the contacts made. Even if there may be no need for your services by them nor opportunities for referrals from them, add the contact to what I refer to as a Quarterly Contact List, and then contact each person at least four times a year. Such contact could take the form of an email, telephone call, or in-person meetings, where possible.  You could provide a link to an article of interest based on your conversation or reference information picked up on Google Alerts;
  6. Network via social media. Post an article on a blog, participate in discussions on LinkedIn or Google+ to raise your profile and to make contacts with whom you want to develop relationships; and
  7. Be yourself. In all networking events you should avoid coming across as someone you are not. You need to be your true self – honest and sincere. Don’t be afraid to share some personal information which can help build a relationship, particularly if the other person does the same.

Networking should not be feared or avoided. So get out and about to improve your networking in order to grow your practice.

It amazes me that so many law firm websites say the same thing. Like we “are client focused”, “care about our clients”, “efficient”, “responsive”, “client’s interest comes first”, etc., etc.  Your firm may actually do and emphasize all these attributes. Problem is, how will prospects know that before hiring you.

One way is to truly differentiate your firm from others when pitching a prospect or client for work. Sally Schmidt in a post this week on Attorney at Work has suggestions on how to do that; including:

Offer more than promises:

  • If you claim a team approach, include a group picture and bios;
  • Demonstrate your experience on a matter by laying out the strategy and process (consider a Gantt chart or spreadsheet);
  • Provide an organizational chart with each person’s role and contact information; and
  • If you offer an alternative fee arrangement, indicate how you arrived at the figure to show it didn’t come out of thin air.

Give a service guarantee:

  • Lawyers cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of a matter, so provide a service guarantee.  It might include returning calls and emails within a specified period of time (as I have preached in the past, empowered other lawyers or staff to respond to inquiries, if for no other purpose than to let the client know when you will get back to them); when and how you will provide status reports (ask the client for their preferences); and communications in general; and
  • Offer to visit the client (off the clock) to better understand their business issues (a big client complaint about outside law firms), plans and how the issue relates to the business.

Back up your claims:

  • If you claim a particular expertise, back up the claims with the types and number of matters handled.
  • List representative matters handled, without naming clients without their permission even if it is a matter of public record; and
  • Provide a list of references happy with your services.

Your behavior matters, not your words:

  • If you say you are accessible, mean it by giving out your direct dial and cell numbers;
  • Send a welcome letter that sets forth how the process will proceed, who will handle their matter, and how to reach members of the team; and
  • Show how responsive you are likely to be by getting the proposal to them ahead of the deadline.

If you want to show that your firm is really different from the competition, prove it from your very first contact.

As the holidays approach, there will be many opportunities to meet and greet, and collect business cards. One might think the more the merrier.  But not so fast, there are reasons to not start a variation on a baseball card collection (some of you may remember when such a collection was a big thing).

What got me thinking about business cards was the marketing meditation of last Friday in 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals by my friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick strategic communications. It states:

“Always have an excuse to collect a bunch of business cards. During a speech, mentioned some great article you can send them. ‘Please leave me your business cards and I’ll see to it that you get the article.’”

Over the years I’ve given similar advice at my marketing seminars.  I go one step further and invite participants to come up and, in case they are out of business cards, put their name on a pad of paper placed up front.

The reason I agree with the tactic mentioned for speeches, is that it is more difficult to come away with contact information in order to follow up with a large audience. So, I see no reason for not gathering as many business cards as possible in that setting.  At a minimum it will help you build up your database.

However, I have a different view about gathering as many business cards as you can in a networking situation. At a networking event, presumably you have more face time, and can determine more readily the persons you would like to follow up with. Further, you don’t want to be seen as a gadfly who walks around the room asking for business cards with no purpose in mind.

After either event, following up is often the biggest problem for lawyers.  Grabbing a bunch of cards really means little, because often lawyers merely throw them in a drawer when they get back to the office.  I suggest that you focus on coming away with a half dozen or so cards from people you want to follow up with.

Then make sure you follow up with those people you obtain cards from.  Suggestions might include sending a handwritten (preferably) “nice to meet you” note, or at least an email, to continue the dialogue and possible set up a lunch, if the person is local.  The goal is to build on the relationship and your network.

Collecting business cards from strangers is a good business development tactic, but not if you don’t follow up, or have no strategy on how to capitalize on them.

If you get work from other lawyers, you need to market L2L just like you would B2B or in any other manner.  I work with lawyers whose source of business – whether litigation, appellate practice, PI, or other niche practices –depends in part on referrals from other lawyers.  It is often their life blood for legal work.

If other lawyers are a meaningful source of legal work for your practice, you need to focus your business development activities with them in mind, as you would with any other of your prospects.  Sally Schmidt’s recent post on Attorney at Work provides helpful tips on marketing lawyer-to-lawyer:

  • Identify your lawyer-targets.  Quite simply, they are the lawyers who don’t do what you do.  They could even be lawyers in your firm (yes, look at marketing your service to your partners), or toward other firms that don’t provide your legal services;
  • Educate them about your practice. Let other lawyers know that their clients might be at risk, and how you might help them.  Find ways to not only educate the other lawyers, who could refer work, about your practice; but offer ways to educate their clients as well;
  • Network with lawyers. Just like clients hire lawyers they know, like and trust, lawyers who would refer their clients to you are no different. So, build relationships with other lawyers by networking where they hang out – at bar meetings (specifically committees/sections not full of competitors), and entertain at lunch or in other settings; and
  • Add value to their practice and clients.  This tip runs with educating your audience:
    • Look for opportunities to write for their blog, journal, newsletter or other venues;
    • Pull together a brief but informative piece about your practice for others to give to their clients; and
    • Offer to consult with their clients at no charge.

Remember, risks are involved for lawyers to refer you to their clients.   It is vital that you build solid relationships so they will know, like and trust that you will take VERY good care of THEIR clients.

Your success in landing new clients, or retaining existing clients for that matter, can relate directly to how they are treated when they contact your firm. I have commented in the past on this blog about the role of the receptionist and how important he or she is in terms of the impact it makes on visitors or those who call. For a couple of my posts on the topic, see links below. 

In a recent post by Noble McIntyre on Attorney at Work, he addresses telephone etiquette. Why should you care you may ask?  Because the telephone is probably your main source of contact with the outside world.

First, McIntyre talks about automated phone answering systems and other impersonal ways people are sometimes treated when calling law firms.  I actually know of law firms (albeit small ones) that had no human answer the phone.  Rather, they had automated systems requiring several prompts to get to an individual lawyer or a human.  I totally agree with his comment that such systems “can raise time barriers, frustrate callers and make your practice seem impersonal.”  Crazy, in a personal service business!

Here are a few of McIntyre’s common sense telephone tips:

  • Answer promptly before the third ring.  We live in an impatient world, and although three or more rings are not the end of it, punctuality when it comes to answering the phone is a VERY good idea;
  • Whoever answers needs to do so in a most professional manner, and in a most “pleasant tone of voice”;
  • Don’t have someone else (like the phone company’s computer) record your outgoing message;
  • Don’t give the person the runaround or make them go through a bunch of hoops to just learn that your are not available and they can leave a voicemail; and,
  • Train your receptionist as to who is who, especially when it comes to important clients.  The second time I called my son’s law firm, the receptionist recognized my voice immediately.  Granted some might say I have the voice of a rhinoceros, and maybe that wasn’t so tough for her.  But, I was blown away.  Think how your clients and contacts will feel.

I’ve often made the comment that the receptionist should be the highest-paid marketing person in a law firm, just as a cashier should be in a bank. Ridiculous I know, but think about how important they are.  They are first and foremost the front line of contact with prospects and most clients. And you need to have one that has the proper etiquette and demeanor to handle those calls.

Don’t Fire Your Receptionist…

Receptionist Tells Client to Get Lost

 

I’m not much of a fisherman but I do understand some of the basics around those who take this sport seriously. They know that you must have the right equipment, learn as much as possible as to where the fish are hanging out, and be patient.

There is a very entertaining article by Sue Bramall that appears in the UK’s The Law Society Gazette. Bramall relates good fly fishing techniques to effective business development.

Her tips include:

  • Not the right time.  Basically, this refers to clients that do not have a need for your services.  Timing just isn’t right, and thus is similar to a fisherman trying to catch fish when they’re not feeding;
  • Nor the right place. Obviously if the fish are not where you are fishing, you will not be very successful. Nor would you be effective in marketing, if your clients don’t hang out where you spend your business development dollars and efforts;
  • The right lure. Fisherman use different lures for different fish.  Clients too respond to different marketing activities.  A shotgun approach is more likely to work for plaintiffs’ attorneys, where a more focused rifle shot would not.  Know your marketplace;
  • Planning ahead.  By paying attention to activities by location, season, etc., you can better estimate where the fish will be and possibly in a feeding frenzy.  So too when it comes to specific legislative activity, or high profile cases, or changes in public policy.  Anticipating and preparing in advance can put you in a better position to provide the needed advice when things start happening;
  • Fly on the water. Like having the right fly on the water to snare fish, it is important for lawyers to have the right marketing tools ready and to USE them.  Doesn’t help to know what needs to be done, but continue to sit behind your desk when you should be out and about;
  • Respond to opportunities quickly.  Fishermen know that when there is a tug on the line, they need to react quickly.  No different when your firm receives an inquiry about its services;
  • Be patient. Patience is synonymous with fishing, which was not one of my assets in my youth.  A pal and I after a night of “partying” would often go fishing at the Cape Cod Canal after midnight.  We would give it 15 minutes and if we didn’t get a bite, we’d pack it in.  If you make a presentation at a conference, and then you don’t get immediate work out of it, do you no longer seek speaking opportunities?    Patience is truly a virtue we can learn from fisherman;
  • Don’t give up. Developing business is part of the profession.  More today than ever.  If something doesn’t work (and you’ve given it the old college try), then try something else.  Try to enjoy the moment.

Like good fisherman and rainmakers, both of whom love the sport of it, keep at it.

P.S. Thanks to my LegalBizDev colleague, Gary Richards, for putting me on to Bramall’s article.

There is a lot of hoopla flying around the legal space about the “new normal” and predictions that “law firms will never revisit their prerecession heyday.”  It is hard to disagree with all the evidence out there, including the joint client advisory by Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group and Hildebrandt Consulting, and the joint report by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Rueters Peer Monitor.  Both studies, by credible organizations, point out clearly that the legal profession is experiencing real change.

Those changes are discussed in two posts by Sara Randazzo on The AmLaw Daily (here and here) and include:

  • Lesser demand for legal services currently (although Georgetown- Peer Monitor study had demand  increasing slightly by 0.5%;
  • “Too many lawyers chasing too little work”;
  • Slower increase in billing rates;
  • Client pressure for more discounts and alternative fees;
  • Forty percent of lateral hires (apparently in attempts to increase market share) are unsuccessful;
  • Requirements for increased capital contributions as bank LOCs are less available; and
  • “Historic lows” in realization rates (82.5%) in AmLaw 100 firms.

What does all this have to do with marketing, you may ask?  Everything, actually.

Other than the need to get hungry enough to ensure your law firm gets its fair share of the legal business out there, especially in light of the highly competitive marketplace (not just from other law firms I might add), it is more crucial today than ever that firms do a lot of smart marketing.

So, in light of greater client scrutiny over rates, less overall legal work, too many lawyers, and basically just a mature industry, one highlight from the Georgetown-Peer Monitor study by Randazzo says it all in one bullet point in my mind:  “Competition is increasing among firms, meaning that ‘the only way (short of a merger) for a firm to capture market share is to take it from another firm.’”

That takes marketing, and that’s why it is critical that firms demand greater business development efforts from their partners today.