“Disruptive innovation” is a popular term being thrown out in many circles these days. The steel industry, the globalization of law, the shift from manufacturing to service based industries, are just a few examples where changes in technology have forced changes in the way that business is conducted and where traditional models no longer work.
For attorneys, the creation of on-line legal platforms for “do-it-yourself” legal documents, or the end of paper based legal research, or accessing your office or clients through the cloud, have transformed how legal services are provided, priced, and practiced.
With so much fundamental change taking place, at such a rapid pace, you may be wondering how you can stay abreast of those developments without falling behind? Many of the attorneys who have been in practice for a long time are essentially “treading water” until they can retire. They resist change for their practice model has served them well for 20 years or more – why should they change it now?
Students that I send into the field come back after interviewing senior attorneys and recent law grads in solo practice. One big difference that they report is the primary method of marketing. Many of the senior attorneys refer to “word of mouth” as the way that they get new business. The newly “hatched” solos, on the other hand, try many different methods to establish themselves. But, many of them use “court appointments” as a means of getting experience and obtaining a steady stream of income. They also report using networking, web sites, membership in various social, business and fraternal organizations as a means of reaching out and obtaining new clients.
If you attend seminars on marketing, you will find branding, niche practice and even micro-niche practice as some of the more common themes. But the truth is, that there is no one panacea on the road to success. You can try spending a lot of time trying to reinvent yourself in someone else’s image. You can be “coached” into a formula for success by a legal marketing consultant. Or, you can sit back and think about what you feel would be the ideal practice environment for you and your circumstances and create a practice marketing scheme which suits you. It may be quite different from what others say you should be doing.
For example, if you find that sitting by the lake enjoying the summer breeze is your ultimate form of relaxation. And you wish to establish a practice that allows you to do that a much as possible. Then internet marketing and access might be part of the equation to allow you to practice from anywhere. However, you might want to look at multiple ways to establish yourself and build your business which are consistent with your goal of sitting by the shoreline and watching boats drift by. No single approach is guaranteed to get the results you desire, so think of your marketing as a “work in progress” and experiment a little.
Dip your feet into several approaches, a little at a time, and measure your results with each different approach. For instance, a great web-page presence might be the tool that gives you the best results. But hiring a web-page designer who will guarantee search engine optimization can be very expensive and risky when you are starting out. There are many videos on-line giving instructions on how to design a web page. Maybe do-it-yourself might be the best approach. It may be that your first attempt will be less than stellar. But what have you risked? Give it your best shot and see if it produces results. Then, if you find it is productive, you might hire a web page designer to consult with you and give you some suggestions. After implementing those design changes, measure your success and see if it is worth investing more in professional guidance.
The same could be said for networking through professional or social organizations. Don’t over-committ at first. As part of your strategy, one or two organizations might be your focus. One point, not to overlook, is simple membership is usually not enough. You need to be an active participant to get results. Attend their meetings, volunteer for committee participation and volunteer for their scheduled activities. If you find that that bears fruit, then consider becoming an officer in that organization. Again, be careful not to over-commit. To be successful in this venture, you will have to dedicate some time to each organization that you belong to for results.
Be careful not to do what everyone else is doing just because the have found success with a certain approach. Senior lawyers can often depend on word-of-mouth for referrals, but there is a reason why that works for them. You are not a senior lawyer with established contacts developed over years of practice. You need to look inward regarding your characteristics and what will work best for you. Start with that as your foundation to see what direction you may need to go. If you are a person who loves to socialize, maybe social and professional organization membership would be your best approach. If, on the other hand, you hate social events and are not good at massaging other’s egos, it may be that you will need a strong web presence and defined skills that make you indispensable to a certain population of clients.
Above all, remember to consider writing articles in the publications or websites that your target market is likely to read. Don’t worry about a highly footnoted and heavily researched article for a legal publication. Consider writing an article about current developments in technology or the law which have the potential to impact your target audiences’ lives. Drones are in the news more and more. They have the potential to affect business, privacy, criminal prosecutions and investors in so many ways. Write an article for a paper of common circulation about them and focus on your target audience and how this might affect them and why you might be the go-to person to be the solution to their potential problems. You can parlay that into some presentations before some of the groups that you join as well.
Finally, the internet is a great resource to expand your influence; but, in the end, if you cannot establish relationships with your clients through frequent, clear and honest communication, then you are destined to struggle and be relegated to the bottom of the pile. It is first and foremost about establishing relationships with your clients. Getting them in the door is the easiest part. Getting them to believe in you and refer you to others is the difficult part. The senior attorneys who do very little overt advertising and, yet, have all the business they can handle, have figured this out.