*This article is a redacted, adapted and updated version of a
longer piece that first appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of
The Elder Law Report, a product of Aspen Publishers.
Competition for clients is keenest during hard times, amplifying
the need for better marketing and outreach precisely when resources
are most scarce. For small-firm practitioners, who lack a
mega-firm's marketing arsenal, the challenge is particularly
But small-firm lawyers don't need expensive advertising to market
their services effectively. They can utilize seven "do-it-yourself"
tips based on effective marketing programs conducted at larger
1. Define what you do and for whom you do it. You
don't have a marketing strategy until you decide what you don't do
and who you don't serve. This means taking a hard look at who your
core clients are (or should be) and knowing what they want.
To focus your practice on high-end clients, you must abandon the
distractions of commoditized work, and develop your reputation and
skills in a sophisticated niche that is in demand. To target a
broader clientele, you can develop low-cost, fixed fee products for
pedestrian needs and budgets.
2. Think like a client. Whatever your products
and services are, you need to understand how they are viewed by
clients. They want to know: Why should I buy this product or
service? What value does it offer to me? Why should I buy it
instead of something else? Think about the client's frame of
reference and you will be better able to sell your products and
3. Promote your products and services. Every large law
firm has a marketing plan for promotion, and every small firm
should have one too.
Your plan might include enhancing the descriptions of your
products and services on your website, or posting effective
descriptions on free professional networking sites, such as
With just a little more investment of time, you can link your law
firm site to your own blog (which can dramatically raise your
search engine ranking). There are free blogging sites (like Blogger
and Wordpress) that are intuitive to operate, and will allow you to
post expert analyses and commentary on practical and topical issues
of interest to clients (more than half of whom report searching
blogs for topical expertise).
You might also consider pitching your skills as a commentator to
local radio stations or newspapers, or pitching yourself as a
speaker to local trade or service organizations.
4. Build trust with clients and prospects.
Extensive marketing studies have shown that buyers of professional
services make their buying decisions based on trust. The average
client has no idea what school you attended, and generally does not
care. They typically don't know if you are perceived as a great
lawyer or a relative unknown. What they do know is whether or not
they trust you and believe you care.
So try to find ways of making more intimate connections with
clients and prospects through community outreach, charitable
service or other "connecting" activities. Remember the marketing
maxim: No trust means no sale.
5. Do client surveys. Many large firms now follow
the example set by successful corporations, doing surveys of
customer-clients to discover what they buy, why they buy it, who
they buy it from, what they pay for it, and what they like and
don't like about a specific firm's products or services.
Surveys not only show clients that you care about their opinion,
they demonstrate that you trust them to provide honest feedback.
They can deepen a client relationship perhaps more than any other
action you can take, and they often result in more business when
done professionally and thoughtfully.
6. Do service training. Many large firms
understand that nothing sells like good service. Consistency of
service is critical to building trust, and staff members are just
as crucial to the client's service experience as lawyers.
If the receptionist does not answer the phone, you have a problem.
If your legal assistant treats staff or clients differently than
you, then you have a problem. If the client is greeted, treated and
serviced differently by different members of your firm, you have a
A down economy can provide the perfect time to adopt standards for
service so that valuable clients and prospects are not lost due to
service imperfections, and there are many independent marketing
pros with legal experience that can provide you with service
measurement, consulting and/or training.
7. Involve your entire staff. Many practice
leaders and managing partners have told me that they have learned
how marketing initiatives can bring people together as a team. Not
every employee can contribute to or rally around a long legal
document, but they can all participate in projects centered on
marketing and promotions, which can be fun, as well as
John O. Cunningham is a freelance writer, marketing and
communications consultant who practiced law for nearly 17 years,
including several years as general counsel to a publicly held
international company and a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company. He
can be reached at [e-mail C3cunningham].