T 31 days 31 ways How to Build

Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com
How to Build
and Strengthen
Your Solo/Small Firm
31 days,
31 ways
By Anna Vitale • [email protected]
his whitepaper focuses on building your business.
You have as many as 31 days in a month, and we have 31 tips we hope you’ll give a
whirl. The tips will encourage you: to introduce yourself properly on your Web site so
you attract the right clients; to take advantage of a lull in business; to market yourself
in ways that make sense for you; to acknowledge you have so much more to offer
than, say, reduced rates; and, well,
to confront yourself in a full-length mirror. Impressions do matter!
So does substance, thankfully. We encourage you to spend time with this whitepaper. Work your way
through it step by step, or treat it like a buffet and try ideas that appeal to you. Good luck, and enjoy.
Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent.
How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm
Think about your firm’s name
Does it say what it should? It’s tempting to think your
firm’s name is a no-brainer. It isn’t. Something like “The
Law Office of Smith and Doe” pushes the most important information — your name — to the back of the title,
says legal management consultant John Olmstead of Olmstead
& Associates in St. Louis. Instead, opt for “Smith
and Doe Law Firm.”
Additionally, cut the “the.” “The Smith & Doe
Law Offices” thus becomes “Smith and Doe Law
Offices.” You want a name that can accommodate new partners’ names, if need be, and is as
straightforward and concise as possible.
After you’ve nailed down a name, you may
want to consider developing a tag line.
“That becomes the call to walk the talk,” Olmstead says.
Set one or two goals you want your tag line to convey and
brainstorm from there. For example, Olmstead cites this tag line:
“We listen to our clients.” That message, he says, instantly rebuts
the notion of lawyers being arrogant and unfeeling.
Choose your focus
Today’s the day to realize that being a jack-of-alltrades in the legal profession can have a negative effect
on your marketing — and on attracting new business.
If you specialize in everything, how do you direct your
networking efforts, read up on industry happenings, or focus your
Web site content?
If the thought of choosing a practice area seems constricting
rather than business-savvy, consider focusing in on the three
practice areas you most enjoy and want to do the most of, Olmstead says.
“That doesn’t mean you’re not going to take cases in other areas,
but that you’ll then begin to write about, speak about, talk about
three things,” Olmstead says.
By beginning to establish expertise, you’re taking a step toward
branding yourself, which ultimately results in more clients calling
Say hello on your Web site
Today, take a look at your Web site. Have you properly
introduced yourself? Do you explain to visitors what
you and your firm are about? If not, start writing. With
the right introduction, you will succeed on two fronts:
weeding out individuals who aren’t right for you before spending
precious face time with them; and attracting
clients who are more likely to commit once
you do meet.
Web sites offer a popular, low-commitment avenue for interested people to explore a business and the individuals behind
it. People use law firms’ Web sites just as
they would those of restaurants, doctors’
offices, or other services — to help them
choose one.
“Most of the people who make an initial appointment with me
hire me,” says Kansas City divorce attorney M. Corinne Corley of
Corley Law Firm. She attributes this directly to the in-depth bio
and explanation of her approach to cases on her Web site. “I have
found that people tell me when they get on the Internet and read
my pages that they like what they read.”
When determining what information to publish, consider and
address questions you typically get asked during a first-time
Join an online community
How’s your network working? For small, specialized
practices, a referral network with other similarly sized
practices enhances business. So jump in. Members of
forums such as the Small Firm Internet Group on The Missouri Bar’s site share advice and recommendations, post queries for
specific expertise and set up real-time social events.
“It’s really a community,” Corley says. In addition to being a great
vehicle for meeting and conversing with other attorneys, the forum
is source of business and a way to build one’s reputation. She considers herself pretty active on the forum but emphasizes you can be
as involved as you like.
Whether you post once a week or just check in monthly, think
of an online community as a sounding board for questions you
may have as you build your business and as a potential source for
new work.
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Tap into a lawyer referral service
Referral services such as The Missouri Bar Lawyer
Referral Service screen potential clients and refer them
to area attorneys. Besides agreeing to a free 30-minute
consultation with clients that have been referred to you,
there is no cost to attorneys to be part of the service. Plus, you
can designate what type of cases you’d be
interested in taking on. Think of it as a way
to spice things up in your practice while
gaining experience in an area you might be
interested in.
“It gives you the opportunity to take cases
you may not have taken,” says Jefferson
City’s Tina Crow Halcomb, chair of the Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service Committee.
“You can sign up for specific cases, and they
usually have really interesting fact patterns.”
Since 2005, The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service has connected more than 900 clients with attorneys in areas outside of St.
Louis, Kansas City and Springfield. If you’re in one of those cities,
however, you’re not left out. Each has referral services through
local bar associations.
Identify organizations you are passionate about
Today, get real about where you invest your time
away from the office. Multiple empty or lackluster commitments have a tendency of speaking for themselves.
It’s important to dig deep and recognize organizations
about which you can be genuinely passionate.
Belonging to organizations and doing
community service ideally meets two needs:
your desire to serve the public and your desire to put yourself in the position to attract
new business.
“Just joining the organization and being
one of the throngs” isn’t going to cut it, says
Kansas City Bryan Cave veteran attorney Herb Kohn. “Choose
what you like doing and get very involved.”
Get feedback
Start laying the groundwork today for receiving regular, honest feedback from your clients.
You may decide to hire a marketing company to
conduct phone surveys for you, or you may come up
with your own strategy. Either way, it’s important to know that
feedback is critical to improving the way you interact with and
serve your clients.
“You’ll get more candor with an outside person,” Olmstead
If hiring out is not an option, however, consider swapping client
calls with another attorney in your practice. Objectivity is the goal
You want to know things such as how your fees compare,
how many law firms your client currently uses, if your client has
referred you to other individuals and if they would in the future.
Olmstead says it also helps to score the feedback you receive on
some sort of scale. Say 1 to 5 with 5 being the best.
“What gets measured is what gets done,” he says.
Don’t rule out the person across the table
OK, so maybe you won’t sit across from anyone at a table today. Work with us here. The point: Although attorney/client relationships can be very personal, at the end of the day clients also want an attorney who achieves favorable outcomes.
With that in mind, never write off the person on the other side of the transaction at hand as a potential client.
Kohn has been known to receive calls from individuals who were on the other side of a transaction and been told they were
impressed by how he handled the matter and wanted to hire him.
By keeping your composure and executing a standout strategy, you might win over a seemingly unlikely person for future legal needs.
Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent.
How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm
Identify the right people
Sit down today and really consider what type of
people might offer you potential referrals.
Then have a think on who those people talk to,
where they work and play, what they read.
Finally, come up with a plan to put yourself in those individuals’ paths.
“If I want an estate planning business, I
talk with bankers, financial planners, CPAs
— people who talk to people who have
money to take care of,” says Dustin Cole,
founder of the Longwood, Fla., legal business consulting company Attorneys Master
Your clients’ problems are your problems
Focus on your clients’ needs today. It’s
important. If a client gets the sense that you’re
distracted or don’t take him or her seriously, it
can irreparably damage your business relationship. It’s critical to show those you’re
representing that what’s happening in their
lives or business takes top priority.
“Treat each client as if their problems are
the most important ones you are facing,
because to the client they are,” says St. Louis
attorney Steven Goldstein of Goldstein &
Pressman. This means when you’re with a
client, you don’t take phone calls, you close
the door, your desk is clear, Goldstein says.
And when you’re on the phone with a client, you’re not interrupted by visitors or distracted by incoming e-mails.
Study up on industries of your specialty areas
Take some time today to learn more about
your clients’ industries.
What difference does it make if you understand medical jargon or technology speak? A
lot — to your client.
“Even if that industry doesn’t have
anything unique about their legal issues, it
makes them understand that you’re one of
them,” says Kansas City construction attorney Susan McGreevy.
So read articles in industry publications,
and think about writing for those publications. Basically, start becoming an expert.
The payoff will be clients who trust you and
know that you’re committed to their cause.
Reduce price uncertainty
Today, reflect on this fact: Money is tight
right now for many people, and many are
hesitant to pay traditional per-hour fees.
If you want to get someone off the fence,
consider moving to flat rates, commercial
contingence or success fees on some of your services.
Most businesses have to have more than a rough estimate of
what legal fees will cost so they can fit them into the budget, Cole
And attorneys who insist on per-hour billing may inadvertently tap into a potential client’s fear of being taken advantage
of. People are more likely to go with an attorney who can quote
them a price even if there’s a chance it would have been cheaper
somewhere else, Cole says.
“Certainty is a powerful closer,” he says.
Practice being realistic
Miracle worker you are not. And nothing will
sour a client faster than a promise made that you
couldn’t keep.
Most people — if you are honest upfront
about what you believe is or isn’t attainable in a particular case
—will understand if the outcome isn’t exactly what they hope,
Goldstein says. The key is outlining a game plan of sorts and then
following through on each step of the plan.
“If you gave them a realistic assessment of their situation before you
implement and agree upon a game plan, they will accept the lessthan-stellar result because you’ve been open and honest,” he says.
Most understanding people will also understand that an attorney on the other side of the case is working just as hard to obtain
a decision that will please his or her client.
Market yourself in ways you enjoy
Today, think about what you like to do. Maybe
you find you excel at writing articles, or you enjoy your local chamber of commerce meetings.
Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s something that brings you energy and makes you feel good about
spending your time on it.
“You’ve got to do something that you enjoy,” McGreevy says.
Attending networking events and doing community service
might be well and good for some attorneys, but if you dread
business luncheons or just can’t spend another hour at the local
animal shelter, there’s no point in pressing on.
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Be prompt
Check in with yourself today about how prompt you are to respond to clients. Cleanliness
may be next to godliness, but in the legal profession promptness trumps all.
Say it’s another run-of-the-mill divorce case for you; for your client, it can be the one of
life’s greatest trials. Returning phone calls and e-mails within a reasonable timeframe shows
clients your concern for their case and person.
If you don’t have time at the moment you receive a call or an e-mail to adequately address the issue at hand,
take a moment to find and establish a better time to reconnect, Goldstein says.
“Give the client an estimate as to when you can respond,” he says. “Of course, meet your own
self-imposed deadline, or you will be deemed unreliable.”
Check out the competition
Study the way other lawyers market themselves and start planning to borrow some of
their ideas. Look at lawyers who practice in areas
beyond your specialization. Chances are a marketing technique that works in one realm of
law will work in another.
Forge Communications strategist Daryl
Clemmens of Pittsburgh says to ask some
basic questions when evaluating another
firm’s marketing strategies: What seems to
be working for them? Is it their logo? Do they
have a comprehensive and user-friendly Web
site? Are their attorneys regularly published?
“Take lessons from people who are already successful,” Clemmens says. There’s no point in reinventing
the wheel — or the business card, whichever the case may be.
Get to know your chamber
Contact your chamber today to learn about
networking events and decide what interests
you. If you go to an event, you’re sure to meet
someone who knows someone who at some
point might just need an attorney. For Kansas City, St. Louis City
and County and Springfield, the contact information is as follows:
Greater Kansas City Chamber-Commerce
(816) 221-2424
St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA)
(314) 231-5555
Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce
(417) 862-5567
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How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm
Go gender neutral
OK, so you’re not one of the guys. Or you’re
not one of the gals, perhaps. Today, think about
gender-neutral ways to expand your client base.
McGreevy remembers the days when lawyers
won clients by taking them golfing, fishing, or camping — all
arenas in which she wasn’t quite comfortable or interested.
Her success in representing members of the male-dominated
construction industry came with successfully marketing herself in
gender-neutral ways.
“I am certain that I have never gotten a client because I am a
woman,” McGreevy says, “and I am certain there are many clients
who have had to get over the fact that I am a woman.”
She markets herself by belonging to organizations within her
practice area, such as the Construction Finance Management Association, and by writing for publications, such as Building Profits,
which is published by the Construction Finance Management
Take advantage of a lull
What’s more depressing for a solo practitioner
or a partner at a small firm than a lull in business?
You can, however, make free time work for you.
“If I only have 20 billable hours of work this
week, how do I use the other 20 hours?” Cole urges you to ask
yourself. His company consults with attorneys to streamline work
habits and increase revenue. “If I don’t have billable work to do,
my next priority is marketing.”
It’s easy to let the billable work you have to do creep in and expand to fit a full week’s worth of hours, Cole says. If you can fight
that urge and redirect your energy into productive client-gaining
activities, however, you’re likely to prevent future lulls in business.
Be conscious in your dress
Take a good look at yourself in a
full-length mirror today. Think no one
notices that pasta stain on your blouse
or that your trousers are just a bit too
short? Well, they just might, and
they probably do. How you present
yourself while at the office, in trial or
at marketing events counts for a lot
in the message you’re sending about
your capabilities.
“Clothing is much more than just
vanity,” says San Diego-area attorney
and Puris Image & Style strategist
Katy Goshtasbi. “It’s being at the
optimal level of performance.”
Goshtasbi says that creating an image goes beyond
wearing well-fitting, clean clothes. It means taking time to
consider which clients you’ll be meeting with and dressing
in a way that will make them comfortable and will mesh
with their impression of how an attorney should dress. A
couple of tips from Goshtasbi: Harsh lines, angles and patterns say unapproachable; soft colors downplay the lawyer
intimidation factor.
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Carry yourself with care
Today, think about what kind of impression
you make and whether you can do better. Everything from your stance to the tone in your voice
has the ability to make or break a first impression with a potential client.
Even if a client is assigned to you from the get-go, winning him
or her over can be an important first step in winning a case or
gaining a recommendation from them in the future.
By leaning forward, putting your elbows on the table and maintaining eye contact, you’re saying in a nonverbal way that what
the person in front of you is communicating is your top priority in
the moment, Goshtasbi says. Knowing when to raise or lower the
tone of your voice softly communicates empathy.
“It’s not just how you look,” she says. “How I perceive you as a
lawyer and a person is in how you act.”
Pursue hot topics
Spend more time today than usual reading
and thinking about cases in the news. It could
pay off. Oftentimes a major national case will
spawn a series of smaller-scale cases in the
same vein.
Clemmens says to look at cases such as the Bernie Madoff
scheme. In the wake of his massive investment fraud, public
attention has been focused more critically on Ponzi schemes in
“There is no reason that an issue on the level of national magnitude isn’t of issue to a local attorney,” Clemmens says.
And if you can present yourself as a competent attorney on
a hot-button issue and put it on top of your must-market list,
you have positioned yourself to gain both media attention and
Know you are more than your rates
Do you know what makes your practice
different from your competitors’? Make time
today to clarify what your practice is. This will
help shape your marketing tools and help you
promote a cohesive message. Marla McCutcheon, president of Synergy Media &
Consulting Inc. in Irvine, Calif., says many
firms believe that rates and rates alone will
set them apart.
“Oftentimes I hear things like, ‘We have
lower rates than the big firms,’” McCutcheon says. “This is not a marketing program.
Everyone in this economy is dropping rates
— from the big firms to the small ones.”
A better option, she says, is to focus on your actual work for
Focus on cases with which you’ve had particular success, whether you helped two big local companies write up a contract or won
an exceptionally high personal injury suit. Bring attention to recent
books — consumer or industry — you’ve published or contributed
to. Promote a case that is within a hot news area.
McCutcheon stresses the importance of getting this information to the media.
Plan a planning session
Sit back with your calendar and take a deep
breath. Today, set a date to spend a day with
a large client or one with ongoing issues. It’s
important to check in at least yearly with such
clients to make sure you’re on the right track
to helping them achieve their legal and
business goals.
“You’re a lawyer, but you’re also a business adviser and business partner,” says
Jennifer Manton, of New York, president of the Legal Marketing Association.
“Through the information you’re gaining
you can help them achieve their goals or
overcome challenges.”
At your meeting, make sure to ask them about current challenges, future business dealings and what’s worked in the past 12
Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent.
How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm
Gain credibility through the media
Granted, this isn’t something you can do in a day. But you can devote some energy today toward devising a plan to
increase your visibility.
Whether it’s being quoted for a larger article or writing an article on a specific topic, gaining a positive media presence
achieves two goals, Clemmens says.
First, it gives you credibility. Say your name is not part of your firm’s name. Being quoted in an article with your firm’s name in the local
business journal or bar association publication attaches you in the reader’s eye to the larger organization. Second, it presents you with a
piece of marketing material you can post on your Web site, send out in mailers or hang in your office.
Getting the article to a larger audience is key, Clemmens says.
“You need to do more than just have the article there,” she says. “You need to repurpose it.”
Be smart about direct mail
Ask yourself if you could benefit from launching a direct
mail campaign.
While advertising remains a controversial topic in the
legal world, attorney Nader Anise, president of Nader
Anise Lawyer Marketing in Boca Raton, Fla.,
swears by highly targeted direct mail.
“Direct mail is hands down the best
marketing method because it is the most
targeted, one-on-one marketing avenue
you will ever get,” Anise says.
Direct mail works best for bankruptcy,
personal injury and criminal defense
lawyers — those with access to lists
provided by the courts,
he says. The trick is in not sounding like a
lawyer and in throwing the whole “less
is more” mentality out the window.
Instead, keep it conversational and give
details about exactly what you can do
for the person to whom it’s directed.
Think broadly
Most attorneys want to know exactly how they need to put themselves out there in order to get a certain result (like
more business). But gaining referrals often requires less linear thinking, says Heinz Marketing principal Matt Heinz of
Kirkland, Wash.
“If you’re a lawyer and you think about the areas of opportunities and areas of expertise you offer, think about the
broader context of what you represent,” he says.
For example, say you’re a family law attorney who wants to begin compiling a monthly or bimonthly newsletter
to send to past clients. Instead of focusing on trends in family law or recent case highlights, consider writing more
broadly about families in general, varying life stages or seasonal family events.
“It’s most important to stay in front of them [your clients],” Heinz says. “What you send them has to be relevant,
but it may not be directly what you do.”
Infuse your correspondence with value outside of what’s going on at your practice, and it will build trust and
familiarity while avoiding becoming spam or junk mail.
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If you can’t, know who can
Today, treat other attorneys the way you’d
like to be treated. If you want referrals, you
must learn how to give referrals. Brush up on
who’s a pro at particular cases both inside
and outside of your office. Being able to make a smart recommendation can speak volumes about your self-awareness.
“We don’t know all things,” Manton says. “You need to know
what partner to go down the hall to and have a conversation with.”
If you’re the type of attorney who’s known for giving good recommendations, chances are others will want to be in touch with
you and feel inclined to return the favor.
Make a no-risk offer
Today, compose an offer. It could be a free
15-minute phone call or free answers to basic
questions by e-mail. Such offers can go a long
way in gaining new clientele. And not necessarily because the client commits then and there.
“If someone doesn’t know you, taking the leap from unknown
to buying is often too high,” Heinz says.
By providing no-risk ways to get to know you better, you’re
helping bridge that gap by building familiarity with a potential
client or referral.
Start your own networking group
It’s a common occurrence: You show up to an
industry networking function only to find that
everyone is looking for the exact same opportunities as you.
Well, today you can take the lead and start building your very
own networking group.
“Come up with a name for the group and look to recruit one
professional in each specialty,” Anise says. “It could be other attorneys in fields he doesn’t practice in. So let’s say he’s a divorce
lawyer: Pick up one business attorney, one bankruptcy attorney,
one CPA, one financial planner, one printer, one florist, any number of different noncompeting businesses.”
Being the organizer of the group, Anise says, offers you exposure and ensures your interaction with every member.
Practice patience
Today’s the day to ponder this virtue. As you
grow your business, keep in mind that building
relationships with clients often takes longer than
you might expect. And because not every potential client needs your services at any given time, it’s often hard to
tell when or how the investments you’ve made will pay off, says
Kansas City Bryan Cave attorney Kohn. Trust that they will, and be
Seasoned attorneys will tell you that individuals sometimes call
long after meeting them because of the good impression they’d
made. While you may not remember the particular conversation,
potential clients will if you seemed trustworthy and competent.
Kohn says his favorite client gains are just this type, when
someone calls him years down the road and says: “You talked to
me several years ago about something. I realized that’s what I
needed and that’s why I’m calling you.” MO
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