In addition to sometimes being late to the technology party, lawyers have generally done a poor job marketing themselves to the public and potential clients. Admittedly, lawyers also traditionally face some institutional challenges to marketing and advertisement.
In the age of outsourcing legal work, mass-market online legal services, and limited license legal technicians (in some states), lawyers need to communicate more than ever what it is they do for clients. In essence, lawyers have failed to educate the public about the complexity of their services. To combat the online purveyors of legal documents, my suggestion would be a commercial that shows a terrified individual, crumpled DUI paperwork from one of the online legal document companies in hand, shuddering as the courtroom doors slam behind the accused individual–and ask the simple question, “Where is the online legal document company now?” We know that lawyers do a lot more than process a document or state black letter law for a clients—lawyers counsel, negotiate, advocate and lawyers apply those basic pieces, including black letter law, to the client’s unique circumstances. Advertising, however, is only one aspect of marketing and most solos do not have the budgets, resources, or inclination for a major commercial.
Communicating What Lawyers Do, and Educating the Public
Many lawyers complain about the task of communicating with clients (likewise, clients often complain their attorneys fail to communicate with them). Perhaps because of the reluctance to communicate (lawyers get busy, focus on the technical aspects of a case, etc.), lawyers have largely failed to educate the public about what they do. Instead, television, popular culture, and representations of greed have educated the public about what lawyers do. As Michele Colucci of MyLawsuit.com (which pairs clients with attorneys in a transparent way) notes, “People really don’t know what a lawyer does and doesn’t know,” and, I would argue, they really don’t know what a lawyer does.
One way of educating the public and potential clients is through a website, social media, or blog. Most lawyers today, including solos and younger or new lawyers, have some type of online presence. Many have a website or a business page on Facebook, a Twitter account, a blog or other place to share thoughts. Lawyers can provide value to clients by, for instance, providing short how-to-get-started guides in topic areas that the lawyer practices in and that clients might be interested in. Then the lawyer can direct the client to information on the lawyer’s website, Facebook page, etc.
Utilizing Networks and Opinion Leaders
In-person communication offers opportunities for lawyers to market themselves, as we are all aware of the value of networking. This type of communication can also be effective to educate and demonstrate value. Outward communication, as opposed to communication within the profession or professional network, is extremely important. It may include a major commercial but it can also include focused interaction and education within the community the lawyer has targeted. Colucci reflected that, “Law firms have traditionally marketed themselves in a relatively inefficient manner via personal connections, word of mouth, sponsorships, presentations to companies—even the Yellow Pages.” It seems lawyers have largely failed to educate the public about their relevance and worth on a broader scale, even as the word-of-mouth approach is still valuable.
One way to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water is to increase the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing. This can be done by identifying opinion leaders in the community a lawyer already services or wishes to service. Opinion leaders can be people who come into contact with large numbers of your potential clients. I am not talking about referrals necessarily but, rather, influencers in the community. An important first step is to ask clients who they talk to about legal needs and who they listen to about the same. With an understanding of who is influencing a lawyer’s potential clients, the lawyer can better focus on the peers influencing the word-of-mouth discussion.
By defining our own image, educating the public, and communicating with potential clients, lawyers may be able to more effectively market and grow their business–regardless of how small or large they are.