Let's face it: it's not an easy time to enter the legal profession. Recent law school grads have faced unprecedented amounts of unemployment in the field—in some states, like California, as few as one third of law school grads have jobs a year after graduation. If you've decided to hang a shingle in response to the sluggish economy, you already know you're facing an uphill battle. This guide will help you put together a marketing plan that will get you a head start in the law firm game. Plenty of attorneys can be successful at marketing their own firm—if they keep these simple rules in mind, they'll be well ahead of their competition.
#1: Know The Laws About Advertising In Your State
It's critical when you're getting started with a marketing plan to understand how the laws regarding legal marketing and advertising in your state will affect what you can and can't do. You don't want to face a reprimand from the bar association because you've violated the law. Most state bar associations publish guidelines about what kinds of advertising attorneys are allowed to use, and what kinds of statements can appear in those advertisements.
Because state laws can vary significantly, you may face additional issues if your practice straddles a state line and you're licensed to practice in multiple states. If you're ever in doubt about an advertising issue, most bar associations offer free guidance to attorneys who have questions. It's better to ask your bar association than to make a costly mistake that damages your bottom line and your professional reputation.
#2: Understand Your Location And How It Affects Marketing
Not all locations are the same when it comes to law firm marketing strategies. In order to be a successful new attorney, you'll need to give some thought to how the unique features of your location will affect how you should market your practice. For example, if you live in an economically depressed area and your law firm is in a low income neighborhood, you may want to base your marketing materials on price points. In places where there are a lot of technologically inclined young people, online marketing is more important than in areas where the population is largely aging with low levels of computer literacy.
#3: Don't Be Afraid To Go Offline
If you're only working on online marketing, you're losing half the battle already. Don't hinder yourself by staying too much in the virtual world. It's critical to get into your community and actually interact with the people in it. When you start to market in the offline world, whether by talking to people at seminars and in community groups, or by sponsoring local events or teams, you're making the kinds of connections that can lead to trusted referrals.
#4: Watch Court Cases and Successful Attorneys
One of the best things that you can do for your career as a new lawyer is to watch masters at work. If your practice ever involves courtroom work—and if you're hanging your shingle, it should, at least some of the time—you need to understand how to interact with your local judges and who the best attorneys are in your area. This kind of reconnaissance can ensure that you have the best possible chance of winning cases for your clients right off the bat.
There's no substitute for real courtroom experience, but watching trials is really the second best thing. By watching, you can see what to do and what not to do in a way that will stick with you. You may even be able to make connections with people in the legal industry who can advance your career.
#5: Take On Pro Bono Work
If you're not finding a lot of paying clients and you can afford to keep the lights on a while longer, try taking some work for free. This can make it so that you have the kinds of client testimonials and experience that paying clients will take into account when choosing who to hire. Make sure that you're not taking on so much pro bono work that you don't have time for paying clients if they happen to come along. At the same time, don't be too proud to work for free—often, a client who has no money may still be able to give a referral to your firm to people who can pay.
#6: Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Whether you're being paid for your work or not, you should never take a case that you don't actually know how to handle. Learning on the job is one thing, but making mistakes in the law can be incredibly serious for clients and attorneys alike. Make sure that you have a good grasp on the law surrounding your client's case before deciding to take them on. If you don't, you could find yourself overwhelmed and unable to continue representing your client.
#7: Find A Good Partner
While being a lone wolf may sound appealing, many attorneys find that they have more success starting out with one or more partners. Having partners can mean an ability to specialize in a wider range of cases without sacrificing understanding of the law. Make sure that if you find a partner, you clearly discuss your expectations for the partnership ahead of time—a bad partner can be significantly worse than none at all.
#8: Make Customer Service Your Top Priority
Even following every piece of marketing advice won't get you the kind of response that you want—unless you also follow good business practices. Customer service is critical to keeping clients and finding new ones. Make sure that you're putting your all into customer service on a daily basis. Often, the little things, like making yourself available at more hours than your competition, can set you apart in a way that will help you get more clients in the future.