10 of the Most Common Lawyer Marketing Mistakes and How to Prevent These From the Get-Go! by Pavla Michaela Polcarova, LL.B.

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1 Practice Resources 10 of the Most Common Lawyer Marketing Mistakes and How to Prevent These From the Get-Go! by Pavla Michaela Polcarova, LL.B. Pavla Michaela Polcarova, LL.B., is a business and executive coach-consultant, and focuses on helping clients improve their lives and bottom-line results. Pavla s website is She can be reached at or at There are two main ways to start your law practice. One way is to plan every little detail before opening the doors to the first client. The second way is to just start by hanging up your Lawyer for Hire shingle and adjusting as time goes along. Although your professional association would be horrified to even suggest the latter approach at all, many successful businesses have begun either way. In either case, a typical lawyer will have worked for another firm prior to opening his or her own practice. Unfortunately, most lawyers will have spent 99% of their time learning how to do the work and very precious little time learning how to get the work! Even when a few lawyers combine together to found a new firm, chances are that each of them knows much more about doing their legal work than about managing a practice or getting clients in the door. If you want to learn about some of the most likely marketing mistakes most lawyers make and what you can do to avoid them, read on: 1. Not Understanding the Importance of Marketing Until It s Too Late Client development strategies, quite frankly, tend to be quite puzzling to many lawyers. Sure, any articling student, associate or partner can burn hours at the office and handle the never-ending stream of work in the inbox. But how many of those students, associates or even partners know the first thing about how the client s work arrived on their desk in the first place? There are no marketing courses in law school and there is very little (if any) client development mentorship going on during articling or afterwards. Typically, a few senior rainmakers bring in most of the work. Beyond laughing at how little actual work some of the rainmakers get done, the rest of the lawyers are confused about what the rainmakers really do with their time or about the value of the non-billable work that gets done during that time. This laughter tends to stop upon the opening of a new practice, after the lawyers have run out of friends and past clients to get work from. 2. Copying Marketing Strategies Blindly Large firm strategies may not work for a small or medium practice or vice versa. What may work for one kind of practice or one size of firm, may not necessarily work for you. For example, The Law Society of British Columbia 1 July, 2002

2 a one-page yellow pages ad may be effective for a personal injury legal practice but a waste of money for a corporate finance firm. Why? Simply because a client needing a personal injury lawyer is likely to go about finding a lawyer in very different ways than someone looking to take their company public. Plan before you invest in marketing and advertising strategies. There will be many advertising representatives more than eager to tell you about their latest special offer. Without analyzing your target audience and the best ways to reach them, you may invest in inappropriate strategies and waste a lot of money very quickly. Strategize first, invest second not the other way around. Remember, at your old firm, a mistake like that may have cost the firm. Now, it is your family dinner money and retirement money you are playing with. 3. Not Enough Time Spent on Marketing Activities There are many similarities between marketing skills and legal skills. However, there are also many differences. Some people are naturally more skilled at marketing, but it is a skill that anyone can learn to be more effective with. You may love to spend all of your time on the law but if you don t learn how to market, you will be spending little of your time on the law and most of your time fending off creditors and wondering if you shouldn t have stayed with your previous firm. At the beginning of your practice, you and your partners may expect to spend up to 50% of your time on practice development. As your firm takes hold, you should still spend 10%-30% of your week on business and client development. 4. Me-Focused Marketing Strategies The tough reality of business is that your potential clients are much more interested in what you will do for them than they are in who you are. It is absolutely essential to shape your reputation as a highly credible expert, because this is what potential clients will take as evidence of the great work you will do for them. This being said, nothing about you is relevant by itself. For example, it is less relevant that you have been practicing for 15 years. What is relevant about practicing for 15 years is that you would have seen enough obscure legal situations that were just the same as the situation of the person you are meeting with. What is even more relevant is that this exact expertise will make it more likely for this client to get a favorable outcome to their immediate legal issue. Whenever you communicate with potential clients, always use client-focused words over me-focused words. You may be surprised how much difference this small shift in thinking may make to your practice marketing results. 5. Discomfort With Fee Conversations Feel free to laugh out loud and say, no, not me! Humor me for a moment, though. In my experience, fee issues are still a very touchy subject for lawyers and their clients alike. In the North American culture, there are two major taboos. One is sex, the other is money. The former should not be part of your client conversations, but the latter is a necessary part of your practice The Law Society of British Columbia 2 July, 2002

3 and you will need to learn to deal with it effectively. Fee disputes are uncomfortable for everyone concerned. Even seemingly small fee discrepancies may make the difference between a happy loyal client and an irate client who will not use your services again. Practice your fee conversations in front of the mirror or with your friends and colleagues. You need to be confident in the value of your services but there is no need to sound arrogant about how much you charge, either. I have seen highly experienced practitioners stumble over fee matters and I am convinced you can never over-practice this. You should have a standard fee agreement written in plain English. When you charge contingency or success-based fees, make sure everyone understands their own obligations. Especially when charging by the hour, you will want to develop a method of managing client expectations up front. No matter how sophisticated your clients may be or how used they might be to dealing with lawyers, today s clients don t expect to sign a blank cheque when they retain you. This being said, don t devalue your services. Contrary to popular money-grubbing lawyer images, clients don t expect you to work for free or for low fees. They happily value legal work that they understand. 6. Too Little Client Knowledge This is not just a lawyer marketing mistake many businesses suffer from this as well. Typically, a lawyer is an expert on the intricacies of the legal issues at hand. There are not many lawyers who are incapable of doing a good job for a client. There are, however, many situations when a lawyer does amazing work, but has no idea who to market to in order to get the next round of files. If you already had a thriving practice before starting your own firm, look back at the clients who were most likely to need your services and retain you. Typically, there are many patterns to those clients. Some, such as a common industry, are easy to see. Others, such as client size, years in business or the fact that your best relationships are formed with CEOs with a background in engineering, are often overlooked. Yet some obscure facts may make it far easier for you to network and market to similar groups of prospects when you know who they are. 7. Unclear Marketing Goals I often hear some form of, If I hear of another suggestion to set goals, I will scream out loud! I grew up in a communist country where the government s five-year plans were the laughing stock of the entire country, so I can understand any skepticism about goal setting. This being said, it is tough to hit a target in a dark room and clear goals provide the light so that we know when we hit the target and when we need more practice. To set meaningful marketing goals, you will need to understand the financial reality of your practice. You might have a good idea about your hard costs for overhead and QuickLaw research tools, but you may not have a good idea of what it will cost you to attract and keep clients. If you know, great. If you don t, estimate the highest amount you think it would cost you to attract your client, and then triple it. Do the same with planning the time you will need to market. With that perspective, you are more likely to be prepared financially than if you are under-funded. To set The Law Society of British Columbia 3 July, 2002

4 fees and billing targets, make sure to look at a lifestyle you want to have. This may include more frequent time off than you had before, and you will need to take that into account in your fees. Also, look at the value of your services, not just the hourly cost. Value-based services have been used by consultants for a long time and law firms are beginning to see how to get in on that as well. Set your financial yearly goals accordingly to what you want to accomplish personally and professionally. Your children s university education needs to go into this equation as well, for example. Once you have your financial goals, you will need to figure out the marketing strategies and steps required to support these financial goals. For example, you get $20,000 for an average client. You have ten clients at a time, but you typically need four months of meetings and letters to secure such a client. You know that on average, for every five potential clients, only one will become a client. This means that four months before your tenth client file is done, you need to spend time and money on the activities to land you the next client. Marketing is a numbers game when you think of it that way, it is easier to set goals and to meet them. 8. Vague Marketing Messages Branding is based on specificity and clarity. Don t assume that your potential clients know who you can best serve and what you can do for them! Branding and marketing messages should, directly and/or indirectly, direct a good prospect to your office and direct a bad prospect away from your office. For example, if you are a high-priced criminal lawyer, you don t want your marketing messages to sound interesting to someone arrested for stealing $5 worth of cheese from Safeway. On the other hand, if you want to be the McDonald s of the legal industry and offer low-cost high-volume legal services, your marketing offers will need to reflect that. Armani markets differently than McDonald s does. What is uniquely different about your firm? Specific expertise? Cost? Convenience? Often, lawyers will think that broad advertising is better. Everyone is invited. The trouble is that your potential clients are just as overwhelmed with marketing messages as the rest of us. It may be counterintuitive, but it means that vague messages are likely to go unnoticed and narrow messages get a higher response. Your marketing messages should clearly identify to the potential client that your firm clearly understands their current legal issues, and that your firm is the best firm in the neighbourhood to tackle that type of an issue. In other words, your marketing messages should not try to be all things to all people. Broad approach may work for some of the large firms with huge reputations and huge marketing budgets but it is far less likely to work for a new firm with no track record and small marketing budgets. 9. Discomfort with Closing Again, this is something that is not reserved for lawyers alone. Even many professional salespeople are uncomfortable with asking their prospect to make a buying decision. For lawyers, this problem is probably exacerbated by the fact that most lawyers don t like making buying The Law Society of British Columbia 4 July, 2002

5 decisions themselves. In fact, many businesses will say that their sales closing cycles may be as much as three times as long for law firms as they are for other businesses! With this natural skepticism and sales resistance in the profession, is it a surprise that lawyers are often happy to let a potential client leave with no next steps established so that this client can go to the next firm and negotiate another deal. Or, the potential client may simply get busy with other things and forget to call back to get started. Whenever you have a potential client in front of you, know that you will likely not have a better opportunity to establish a commitment to the next steps. Don t be afraid of objections think of them as objections in court. When you are well prepared and have a good answer to an objection, the judge will overrule the objection. This is the same with a potential client. When you are well prepared to answer questions about matters such as fees, past experience, your strengths, the legal process and the process of how you work with clients, the client will overrule their own objections. This adds to your own credibility. Ask sufficient questions about your prospect s decision-making authority there is nothing as frustrating as when you spend ten months developing a relationship with someone who has no authority to hire you. Ask questions to understand the prospect s buying process. Do they currently have a lawyer? What would it take to change? Is there a committee or a single decisionmaker? The more you know, the easier it is to ask for next steps that will get you the client or, at least, to the next rung up the correct ladder. 10. Insufficient Follow-up Strategies and Systems It is rather sad that many past clients don t even remember who their lawyer was. Unfortunately, often law practices are not systemized or organized enough to allow for business development follow-up. In sales, it is said that it takes anywhere from 8 to 10 exposures for a prospect to make a buying decision. When someone needs immediate legal help because of a pressing legal issue and as you get better at securing commitments to next steps, this may cut down on the number of exposures needed before you are hired. Even so, you need to count on following up with your potential clients even multiple times before they become clients. To do this, you need to be organized. It is far, far less expensive to keep serving clients who already know you and respect your work than it is to find new clients. It is not expensive to leverage your past work by asking clients for referrals and repeat business. It is not annoying to your clients when you ask, either. If they got good value out of your work, they will be thrilled to help you. If you have only a few clients, you can probably easily manage to follow up with paper reminders and diary entries. If you have more than a few clients, you should seriously consider investing in a time and contact management technology solution. Most of these solutions enhance your practice in any case by helping you with billing and time-keeping. The contact management portion will help you stay in touch with your clients. You should plan on contacting your clients at least four times per year to stay on their top-of-mind. You can do this with firm or practice area newsletters, articles of relevance to your clients and just simple saying hi relationship-building connections. The Law Society of British Columbia 5 July, 2002

6 In closing, you will find that marketing is not about doing one single big thing right. It is about doing many small things right, over and over again. In that sense, marketing is very much like practicing law. The more you do it, the better results you will get, the more satisfaction you will get out of the process, and the more satisfaction your clients will get out of dealing with you as well. Whether you learn to pay attention to your marketing from the first day when you open your new practice, or you learn marketing skills after you have been in practice for a while, you will experience fewer ups and downs in your practice. Finally, you will know the secret that many lawyers seem to miss: Marketing is not just a part of your practice; it IS your practice! The Law Society of British Columbia 6 July, 2002

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