A Year in Review: Marketing

In my short experience as a criminal and family lawyer, I have had nearly all of my business come via referrals.
Upon starting out the courts appointed my first clients, with a peppering of family and friends throwing me a bone.
But unfortunately you can’t keep pounding your friends and family for work. That well runs nearly dry. I say nearly because you’ll periodically get business from a close friend who needs help with something, but the main theme here is you have to expand your bubble.
That’s not to say that social networking doesn’t have its place. It amuses me how we keep reading about these ad agencies preaching about this “new” trend in marketing. Truth is my generation has been doing this for years. I can remember my younger roommate at the University of Alabama telling me about this Facebook, but you could only join if you were a current student. Back then I think it required a school email to sign up! He was only a year behind me! We’re talking 2003 folks!
You all know how Facebook works. My 65+ parents get it. Set yourself up a Facebook page about your firm and post a comment about it to your friends. Then be done with it. I use my page to offer will packages, offer free advice (you get what you pay for), and to discreetly brag about what good I did the world that day.
There’s no polite way to put it. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who comes across as mild-mannered or unsure of himself any more than they want a surgeon who doesn’t like to talk about his successful operations! The key is to be discreet. Don’t come off as a jerk. My rule of thumb is to say something about the job I did as if I were saying it to other people in the presence of the subject client. If you think they’d disagree with your opinion of yourself then you need to tone it down. Enough about Facebook.
I’ve tried/am trying advertising with little results on my end. I got suckered into menu ads at some popular restaurants around town and people may mention they’ve seen the ad, but they don’t say that over the phone or while knocking on the door! A colleague and friend whose opinion I trust said that his ads had helped peoples’ perception of him – that it gets his name out there, but he didn’t know if he’d gotten any business from them. I can’t criticize his choice to use ads (the ads in question are video screen ads that are hanging in various restaurants and other businesses around town.) I have a couple myself, but I’m not impressed yet. I just haven’t seen the RTI. But then again when I asked a family member why they chose a particular attorney (I was in school) he said the guy had the biggest ad in the phonebook. Those are expensive so he must be doing something right! That logic seems ridiculous to most attorneys, but it’s a common theme.
One of the most successful attorneys in my town has spent untold amounts on billboards, television, even sponsoring a little league team. If you think that’s a little excessive he was later elected to the bench. Everyone in town knows who he is, even if they’ve never employed his services. It’s a classic example of spending it to make it.
Unfortunately, I’m a solo in the purest sense. I’m typing this on my iPhone and taking calls from the office on it today as I’m watching my baby boys so my wife can have a day. No paralegal. No secretary. Just me! I’m in the “eat what you kill” boat!
So, now that I’ve outlined the various sundry methods of generating business that we all know I will put my advice in the hat.
1) Do it in bulk.
I’m quickly learning that my clients can’t afford an attorney. Shocker I know. But these folks deserve help. I’m not gonna preach. A lot of times these folks have been turned down by several attorneys because the case wasn’t great or they couldn’t afford the fee. Well, they still need help. And your competition just priced themselves out of the game didn’t they?! Do ’em cheaper and the folks will bring you more work.
A prime example is a car wreck case I’m handling right now. Pretty good fender bender. No injuries. Both insured. 4k in repair estimates. My client filed a claim against the defendant’s insurance which was summarily denied. I can handle this case for him and get a settlement, but the problem is that if I take 40% of what we may collect then he won’t be able to get his car fixed. I agreed to a 20% fee, offered it to him, and told him my reasoning. If we settle I’ll probably only make $800 or so, but I can assure my client that he’ll at least be able to repair his car. That’s a happy client.
I’m not promoting the undercutting of every attorney in town, though I’m not above it. I believe if other lawyers were unwilling to cut their fee for some work then why should I follow suit? A little is better than none. Which leads me to my next point:
2) Don’t be afraid of pro-bono!
In Alabama we have the Volunteer Lawyers Program or VLP. I think a lot of states have this. Put simply, this division of the state bar connects local lawyers with clients needing help in their community.
If you don’t do free work from time to time then you’re missing out big time! When you take a hit and help a person out they’ll remember that. They’ll never forget it. I once helped my wife by representing a client of hers (she was a drug rehabilitation counselor) on a ton of bad check charges. The client’s father was in court and took note of how I helped his daughter. He’s now one of my biggest paying clients! I could get into the feeling of being somebody’s hero, but I’ll refrain. Finally:
3) Make sure your clients talk about you.
I have no problem asking former clients to brag on me. Just do it while the iron is hot. I’ll be paying a visit to a barbecue joint next week that a client’s family owns. They’re happy with me so I’m going to capitalize by getting them to introduce me to the customers. I also don’t hesitate to ask clients to take a second to write a favorable opinion of me if they choose to do so after court. Post it on Facebook while respecting their privacy. It says something to potential clients that folks are impressed enough to brag on their lawyer- it creates instant credibility with a potential client.
Still not convinced word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool? I recently got hired to handle a landlord/tenant dispute. How did these folks find me? A former criminal defendant I was able to keep out of prison told them about me. They liked him. He likes me. Therefore, they like me to a lesser degree. It’s dumb logic but the human mind is an illogical machine!
To bring my point full circle those folks who needed landlord help were happy with the fee I quoted them (cheap) so they told another couple in the room about me and their situation. 10 minutes later those folks call needing landlord help!
To draw this rambling mess to a close, although there are other effective methods to generating business, none of them will lend you instant credibility with a potential client like word of mouth. It’s a tough pill to swallow. We want to pay for ads and let them go out and drag in the clients. But they just don’t get it done unless you can afford the guerilla tactics that permeate every second of an ad-viewer’s day. We hate to admit that in this technology-driven society that our profession is so dependent on personal contact, but it’s reality.

  • Jared Vaughn

    Wonderful blog Clark! There is a lot of good advice in here. I absolutely agree with what you had to say! Good advice for anyone in a self employed situation, especially lawyers!