During the years that I practiced law as an attorney, I was lucky enough to experience several law firm settings.
- I started at a large firm
- After five years, I moved to a boutique firm
- Five years after that, I started a solo practice
Without a doubt, having a solo practice was my biggest challenge.
For one thing, clients don’t just storm the door because you’ve hung a shingle. Unless you have a significant book of business that will follow you from your last firm, you’re going to have to work hard to find people who want to pay you money to practice law.
Perhaps ironically, it was after I left my solo practice that I learned about marketing. I had just landed my dream in-house gig as the lawyer for an international craft beer brand. I was informed on my first day, however, that my new job title was National Marketing Director. The brewery founder, also a “recovering attorney,” had been one of the early marketing executives at Nike. He learned from Nike co-founder Phil Knight that companies should “hire lawyers and turn ‘em into business people.” And thus, began my intensive, decade-long, study of marketing and branding.
Today, that dualistic experience helps me to consult with small law firms and solo practitioners to market and grow their practices. Below, I’ve outlined some of the fundamental strategies we deploy to get their practices off the ground.
#1: Take the time to build your brand
Many people still seem to believe that a brand consists of a logo and maybe the color scheme on their business cards. It is so much more than that. A brand, at its core, is a reflection of the personalities of the people behind the business. Consequently, your brand should be intrinsically tied to who you are. It should be authentically you. As a small business owner, you have the luxury of sharing this authenticity with the world.
For example, if you’re a Jimmy-Buffet-listening, sailboat aficionado, then build a brand that reflects your laid-back attitude. If you try to portray yourself as a staunch, button-downed conservative for purposes of branding, potential clients will be confused when they meet you in person. Confusion does not breed trust.
The truth is, most people are happiest when they surround themselves with like-minded individuals. This applies whether we’re searching for clients, friends, or romantic partners. So dig deep as you consider branding.
Once you’ve settled on a concept, start communicating your brand to the world. You may be surprised who shows up and how much you enjoy working with them. You may also be pleasantly surprised at how often they refer you to other like-minded people.
#2: Search out the people you want as clients
If there is one common error that I see small law firms make, it is that all their in-person marketing efforts are undertaken in the same places that every other lawyer is going. They’re attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, joining local business-promotion groups, and faithfully eating rubber chicken at bar association lunches.
Instead, try going to the places where your like-minded people hang out. Let’s stick with the example of our sailor. Perhaps she could offer to join the board of directors of her local marina. Maybe she can attend the meetings of the Port Authority and stick around afterward to talk with people who make their living on and around the water. She might also join a couple local sailing clubs – a great potential source for clients.
Who said business development can’t be fun?
#3: Use social media effectively
Let’s face it, there are very few people who tune into social media for updates on legal topics. That stuff really doesn’t interest anyone other than lawyers. To the contrary, people turn to social media to learn about the things that interest them personally. This is one place where your authentic, strategic branding can easily start conversations with potential clients.
Our sailor, for example, could use her firm’s social media presence to share articles on new sailing technologies, local sailboat races, or Sailing Magazine’s “10 Best Sailing Destinations.” The point is just to be interesting to the people you’re interested in. Social media gives you a platform for that.
Hopefully, you’ve seen that the common thread to effective branding/marketing is to simply be you. As a lawyer, part of who you are needs to be smart, confident, prepared, and capable. But if you can combine those innate qualities with your personal passions, the sky is the limit when it comes to developing business for your firm.