Have you ever wondered why a client chooses your firm over others? As student of legal marketing it is a question that I often ask. What makes a client hire my firm over others? As lawyers, we compete for business in a very crowded field. In South Florida alone there are over 25,000 lawyers representing a wide range of practice areas. In my practice area and the market that I serve (business law in Broward, West Palm Beach, Miami-Dade County), my real competition can be narrowed down to perhaps 25 to 30 law firms ranging from large firms to solo practitioners in Coral Springs, Florida.
To know why a client retains you over other firms, you must understand the competitive environment that you are operating within.
For instance, my practice focuses on handling business matters for small business owners or individuals with business disputes. When a prospective client calls my office to speak with me, they have likely already reviewed the firm’s website and also called two or three other lawyers to discuss their legal issue. We receive over 50 calls per month from new client inquiries. After various calls and interviews, we end up acquiring between five and six new clients per month. Based on the size of my practice, that number works for us. When you have an understanding of who your competition is in your local community, you are able to adjust your marketing message to increase your probability of retaining clients. For instance, if the prospective client is considering a larger firm, it is likely that the fee structure would be higher (and less flexible) than that of a smaller firm. From my experience, a client chooses a firm for other factors other than fees alone.
I believe that another key element in client acquisition is understanding the client’s legal issue, and to be on the same page with the client for a possible resolution. When a client retains my firm, we are hired to solve a problem, period; lawsuits, pleadings, motions, mediations, etc. are tools that we have in our arsenal to bring the legal issue to its conclusion. As a lawyer, it is my job to bring the client’s legal issue to a successful conclusion carefully utilizing the client’s resources. When I have a clear picture of how the client would like to solve the problem, it allows me to stay focused and handle the matter on my terms and not on the opposing counsel’s terms.
Lastly, clients are looking for value and customer service.
We are in a very competitive service business and most of our customers have limited resources to retain our services. In fact, I believe that the small business community is very underserved, and due to the high cost of legal services, they often resort to “Do It Yourself” sites or use forms from an office supply store—and in many cases end up seeking an attorney when it is too late.
When evaluating our “value,” I believe clients are looking for us to make our best effort to use our legal skills to solve the issue to the client’s satisfaction relative to the fee paid for our services. Second, clients are expecting us to be responsive and to keep them informed on the status of their case. This is not much to ask for. A short email or a phone call could be enough for the client to get sleep that night instead of thinking about the legal dispute.
In closing, I believe there is no magic formula for client acquisition. It is a combination of hard work and dedication; understanding what you have to offer, your target audience, your competition, and your client’s legal issue; knowing your client’s expectations for possible resolutions; and finding the right fee/value combination. Finally, it boils down to your ability to sell (yes, sell) yourself to the prospective client and ask for the retainer. (I will discuss selling legal services in my next blog).