When I started my law firm, my greatest fear was that I would not be able to get any clients. It turns out that getting clients is not that difficult; it just takes hustle. In the first year of my practice, I worked when I had clients, and tried to get clients when I didn’t have work to do. I did a lot more of the latter.
At the time (five years ago), there wasn’t as much noise from social media gurus. Most of my business came from the tried-and-true “techniques” of networking and teaching. Despite all the noise from the gurus and consultants, I still believe these must be the foundation of any successful law firm marketing plan. But social media and blogs can be an important part.
If you are starting your firm, or if you recently did so, here is what worked for me to get clients during my law firm’s first year.
The best way to get business right away is to tell everyone you know what it is that you are doing, and that you are open for business. You can do this with an e-mail, letter, or postcard; just make it clear what you do, consider offering a package deal, and make sure you ask for business.
Make it clear what you (want to) do. Don’t be a general practitioner, at least not for this letter or e-mail. If you tell a bunch of non-lawyer friends that you have a “general practice” or do “litigation,” you aren’t helping them identify a good client. If you tell them you do wills and estate planning, or that you handle auto accident cases, you make it easy for them to identify a good client. Make it easy for people to hire you or refer business to you by making it clear what you do.
Offer a package deal. If you are an estate planner, offer an “Estate Plan Assessment.” If you handle DUIs, offer a “Jailhouse Consultation.” Or whatever. Be creative, give it a name, and make it a cut-out or print-out coupon. Do it for free if you want to, but don’t be afraid to charge. You want to mimic sales offered by the retail industry, where coupon clippers can show up, present a coupon and some money, and get something for it.
Ask for business. Your letter should not be an announcement. It should be a request to your friends and family to send you clients so you can make money. Tell them what you want them to do. Give the coupon to a friend. Use it yourself. Make copies and hand them out at church. Tell your friends you are in business. Call now. Whatever. Ask for what you want.
Start a blog
I started a blog when I started my firm because I am a compulsive writer, and it seemed like a good way to pull in search engine traffic. That turned out to be the case, but not right away. Starting a blog is a long-term law firm marketing endeavor. Expect that it will take 3–9 months for you to realize any consistent benefit from it. But it will pay off if you keep at it. Now, my online presence—driven by my blog—is a healthy chunk of my referrals.
Post at least weekly for a year. Much less, and it probably isn’t worth blogging. After that, you can slow down a bit, but my goal is still two posts per week, and more when I can.
You’ll notice I’m not giving special attention to social media. That is because, while I enjoy it, I haven’t found it to be particularly effective as a standalone law firm marketing tool. But I have found it to be an effective part of an online marketing strategy. Make sure to pipe your blog posts into Twitter and a Facebook page, but you don’t need to do much more than that, unless you want to.
As for where to start blogging, it doesn’t much matter. I started Caveat Emptor on Blogger, then moved it to WordPress at my own hosting later on. Just grab a cool domain name for your blog, and start writing.
Have a lot of coffee, lunch, and beer
In other words, get to know—or reconnect with—a lot of people. During year one, I focused on networking with two types of people: (1) potential referral sources; and (2) entrepreneurs and business (law firm) owners. It helps to talk to people who have been there, for starters. Learn what software they use, what kind of marketing they have gotten great results from, etc.
But equally important, talk to potential referral sources. If you want estate planning work, talk to every financial advisor, family lawyer, and personal injury lawyer in town. Give them a pamphlet or a stack of business cards for their clients.
And follow up. Days or weeks later, touch base. Keep up the relationships over time. Add them to your Facebook friends and follow them on Twitter. Keep them on your radar so that you stay on theirs, so that when they have someone they could refer to you, they think of you.
Teach lawyers and potential clients
Teaching continuing legal education seminars may be an option. If you have a unique practice like I did—defending debt collectors—you can get a lot of business from teaching people what you do. Or, as I often put it, teaching people how to refer you cases by talking in great detail about the cases you handle.
But before I taught anything substantive, I taught lawyers about blogging, technology, and marketing. The reason is that everything I know about law practice technology takes place in the context of my law practice. So as I talk about being paperless, I necessarily talk about how that works in my consumer rights practice. Even when I presented at seminars on technology, I would get referrals for business.
Or arrange your own seminars. Find groups of potential clients or referral sources, and teach them. Talk to business owners about intellectual property issues, or young parents about estate planning.
Teaching is an incredibly good way to put yourself on the radar of lawyers and others who will refer you cases. Every time I teach a seminar, I get a few referrals over the following weeks.
Above all, hustle
Succeeding with a new firm takes work. I did my share of sitting on the couch watching movies, but usually with my laptop in hand, and blogging. Work hard when you have a client, and work hard on law firm marketing when you don’t (and in your spare time when you do). There is a direct correlation between how hard you work and how much money you make as you get your business up and running.