During the last two months as I am getting ready to go to work, I’ve been watching the commercials of non-lawyer legal service providers advertising in South Florida, where I live. This, of course, is of great concern to me and perhaps to every business lawyer who generates revenue through a transactional practice. Without going into a product-by-product analysis, let’s say that these companies are offering the same legal services for a fraction of the price charged by a law firm. This threatens our business and, unfortunately, the state bars have not done much to protect us from the dilution of legal services by non-law firms. The reality is that we can’t compete at the same level since we are prohibited, among other things, from raising funds from private investors and sharing profits with non-lawyers. The impact of this unfair method of competition would be another article. My article today is about three things we can do to claim our turf and survive in this new economy: brand our law firms, acquire more market share and increase referrals.
In Florida, there are close to 100,000 lawyers, and in South Florida alone, there are over 15,000. Unless you are a celebrity lawyer with significant name recognition, using your name as the name of the law firm is unlikely to get the attention of a prospective client who is searching for an attorney for the first time. I believe that a branded name, such as The Ticket Clinic, Divorce Law for Men, My Trademark Attorney or Florida Small Business Legal Center, is a more effective way of utilizing the brand to convey to potential clients that the firm provides the legal services they are looking for. Your goal as the marketer of legal services is to differentiate yourself from the competition.
To quote my friend Stephen Fairley of The Rainmaker Institute, “the biggest list wins!” To have a long-term sustainable legal practice, you must have a customer relationship management system, or CRM, and a database of every person who comes in contact with your firm to receive legal services. This list should include clients and prospective clients, and you should stay in contact frequently through the use of e-newsletters and other methods. How will this increase your market share? As it continues to grow, your list will become your source for future business since the individuals on that list have already done business with you or expressed an interest in the past. For instance, I send an e-newsletter to my list on a monthly basis. Without fail, every time I send the newsletter, I get some business from former clients within a few days. This is my market share. It is very likely that these contacts will think of me first when a legal need arises. Try it. It works!
Client referrals are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity to sustain a law practice. A percentage of your firm’s revenue should come from referrals from clients and other colleagues. As most of you already know, a client referral is more likely to become a client than a “cold” prospect who finds you on the Web. Your marketing plan should include methods of generating client and attorney referrals. When times are slow, referrals will make a difference in your practice.
These strategies—branding, market share and referrals—involve “going local” and developing a relationship-based marketing strategy as opposed to a transactional one-sale strategy that only works if you deal in volume in a large, unrestricted market, which is what some of these companies appear to be pursuing. We, as the attorneys who live in the local communities, have the competitive advantage of making connections and building relationships with our community. This is something that non-lawyer legal service companies would not be able achieve in the short term. Good luck!