Kristi Weikel on marketing a general practice, small firm

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Kristi Weikel is on top of things. I am impressed. She has a small, general practice law firm, and sounds like she is running it like a business, partly due to the help she has gotten from Kelli Hoskins, a business coach.

I think a lot of solo lawyers and small firms forget that they are also a business, and the head of any business must keep it pointed in a direction–hopefully the right one. Every business needs an entrepreneur as well as someone to do the work of the business. It sounds like Weikel handles both very well.

Weikel keeps thinking about ways to improve her marketing effort, her practice, and her services.

Read on for the full interview.

How long has your firm been up and running?

Since May 2005

What kind of law do you practice?

The Weikel Law Firm is a general practice firm meaning we practice in wills, trusts, probate, real estate, business, criminal, personal injury and family. We also work with a network of attorneys in the practice areas we don’t cover in-house like bankruptcy, worker’s compensation, and immigration.

Have you ever hired a marketing consultant? If so, describe the experience.

Yes, I have worked with Kelli Hoskins of ActionCoach Business Coaching. It was an eye opening experience for a new business owner. It was important to gain an understanding about the completely different roles of a lawyer and a business owner. I learned to think like a business person and focus on the importance of marketing in multiple different ways—building strategic alliances (those professionals who know the clients I would also work with), networking and print advertising.

Describe your (formal or informal) marketing plan, both online and offline.

Last may I revamped my website and am in the process of doing so again. It is important to me that my clients know who we are, what we do, how they can get a hold of us and how we are distinguished from other law firms they may have had experiences with.

The firm believes it is important to give our potential clients and existing clients all the information and education they need in order to make an informed decision about their legal issue. Our website has proved to be a great way to accomplish this.

Our marketing plan online will evolve substantially from where it is today. We plan to have a “chat feature” where a potential client can chat with a paralegal or attorney to get their legal issue addressed or schedule an appointment. We will have a “client login” feature where a client can access information regarding their legal issue with a unique username and password. Information viewable by the client will include invoices, PDFs of documents created by the firm and received by the firm, and a log of all incoming calls, outgoing calls, incoming faxes and outgoing faxes.

We will have streaming video with informational sessions on particular areas of the law. All forms for payment, intake questionnaires, FAQs, etc. will be available for clients to download.

Aside from our website, we do some directory advertising which does eventually lead the potential client to our website so we want to be sure our website is top notch.

We are attorney providers for the Hyatt Legal Plan and ARAG and thus we are listed in their online directories. We are also listed in the Christian Business Directory and the Minnesota State Bar Associations Directory. We had a paid advertisement on yellowpages.com but that yielded no results for us in terms of new leads.

We also seek to be linked to the websites of other professionals we trust. Offline, we focus on relationship marketing (a.k.a. networking). I am a member of many different networking groups. I believe it is crucial to meet people on a friendly level before they’ll ever feel comfortable doing business with you themselves or referring their friends, family and business contacts to you.

Building relationships has historically been the most successful marketing approach for our firm. We also do some print advertising. The best results we have had is introducing our firm with a friendly letter and a business card sized magnet with our group attorney photo to the resident homeowners in the community where we office. We have lots of things in the works, but we take it one thing at a time here as marketing costs can get extremely out of control.

What unique challenges exist for you in trying to reach your potential clients?

As a new firm, we don’t have the experience to brag about. To some, my young age seems to be a hitch.

Describe your ideal client(s).

My ideal client is someone who lives in my community or in a close-by community that gains trust in our firm to allow us to be their first point of contact for any legal issue they may have—family, criminal, estate planning, business start up, real estate, etc. I want my clients to get to know the firm on a level where they will be completely open and honest with the attorney working on their case. We are looking for the client who has multiple legal issues we can address throughout their lifetime. Loyalty is important to the firm. We aren’t looking for the once-over client.

Did you pay someone to design your website? If so, who designed your website and what did they charge?

We paid Management Specialties in Blaine to design our most recent site. The cost was $3,000.

Have you gotten good results from your advertising?

Best so far has been relationship marketing and the 6,000 letters we sent out to community homeowners.

Do you blog?

No, but that is in the works…

Do you use online social networking services (ex.: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace)?

No.

How do you track the results of (all of) your marketing efforts?

For each inquiry we receive, we ask our clients how they heard of the firm. For each retained client, we can track what made them choose our firm.

Overall, what percentage of your time or how many hours per week would you say you spend on marketing?

My goal is to spend a minimum of five hours of in-person networking which includes a weekly BNI meeting, a weekly networking meeting, a weekly Rotary meeting and a few other groups that meet one time or two times per month. I try to make it to a chamber event every now and then too. Sometimes I meet with potential strategic alliances for coffee or a meal too. So every week at least 5, some weeks up to 10. This would not however include any time I spent on preparing a mailing to go out, or designing a mailer, or an invitation to a seminar I might be hosting.

What do you use for the following (I am asking generally, not just for software titles, so I am interested even if your answer is “piece of crumpled paper I carry around in my back pocket”)?:

  • Calendar. MS Outlook and MS Sharepoint website.
  • Tasks / to-dos. MS Outlook and MS Sharepoint website.
  • Contacts. MS Outlook and MS Sharepoint website.
  • E-mail. MS Outlook.
  • Word processing / document creation. MS Word, and we save it on MS Sharepoint website.
  • PDF creation. pdfonline.com or, depending on the office computer I am on, I print to PaperPort to create the PDF.
  • Timekeeping. A piece of paper, and then I enter the info in QuickBooks Online at the close of each month.
  • Billing. QuickBooks Online.
  • Bookkeeping / accounting. QuickBooks Online.
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  • Sam, I am really enjoying this series. Weikel’s firm is very ambitious. I like the concept of network and creating lifelong relations with clients by offering one stop shopping. However, I think that the firm runs the risk of being overlooked as too general a shop. For instance, if I were looking for an estate lawyer, I’d go to a firm that specializes rather than her practice. However…if I knew that one specific lawyer at the firm would handle my estate work and did have a specialization, that would change my view. Thus, I think that the website should be designed to very clearly affiliate those lawyers with a specialty with the practice area. (E.g., on “criminal practice page,” there should be a photo of the criminal experts, not just all the lawyers). Ideally, each specialist should be doing on a newsletter on her topic and possibly blogging about it also. Once each lawyer’s expertise in a given area is established, then, the networking and synergy between the lawyers in the firms becomes a more effective marketing tool.

  • Sam Glover

    I agree that it is really important to tell clients up front exactly what you do. If you want to cover a variety of different areas of practice, I think it is better to have several different web pages, one for each practice area. That way clients interested in real estate will find a page with relevant information on it, and so will defendants.

    Otherwise, if you are trying to show that you have several practice groups within your firm, I think you are right, and each page should show the lawyers in your firm who focus on that area of law.