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How Personal Planning Can Benefit Attorneys in Their Practice

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Whether partners in a multinational mega firm or sole practitioners in a rural area, attorneys are responsible for their own success. An attorney cannot expect the success of the firm or colleagues to determine to any great degree his or her own individual practice success. It is personal commitment to building the practice, utilizing time-proven marketing skills, which reaps the bounty of success.

As the proverb says, the longest journey begins with the first step. So it is with business development and, more specifically, law practice development. A successful legal marketing program must begin with an initial, however small, effort and a determined commitment to continue.

 
How Personal Planning Can Benefit Attorneys in Their Practice

The successful attorney must be his or her own time manager, personal planner, and evaluator of practice efficiency and effectiveness. Although professionals may be retained, the final outcome is dependent on the attorney's execution.

Because personal planning and time management are not emphasized in law school, the attorney must use his or her own initiative to learn as much as possible to become proficient in these areas. The end result will be greater professional and personal satisfaction as well as a commensurate reward in terms of financial success.

Two large firms, each determined to improve and expand their business practices, decided to implement marketing plans. Their purpose was to achieve the same basic objectives: to increase firm efficiency as well as profitability and to attract more clients in business practice areas. Here are descriptions of two situations that law firms may encounter:

A 15-attorney, general practice firm spent a great deal of partner and attorney time discussing goals and objectives, client profiles, past experience, and expectations. Firm members noticed a distinct improvement in accounts receivable after the marketing plan was completed and implementation had begun. The reason was that one of the plan's goals was to reduce nonpaying work on matters or clients that did not fit their "ideal" client profile. By limiting work to clients of higher value, they eliminated some of the unrecoverable time and financial expenses spent on matters and clients not in line with the firm's vision.

Despite the success in this area, another one of this firm's goals still had not reached fruition. Progress toward recruiting and retaining new clients was not matching expectations. Firm members had expected that by focusing internally on the type of work they wanted, they would logically begin to receive more of its type. They did not realize that more action on their part was necessary to achieve results.

A second, similar firm also decided to draft and implement a marketing plan, but employed a different methodology. They hired a high-profile public relations firm to develop an external marketing communications program. The public relations firm provided news releases, improved media relations, and produced a firm brochure, firm resumes, and similar products all of very high quality.

The partners and associates in this second firm experienced a great deal of pride regarding their organization as a result of their improved external image. They distributed brochures to friends, hosted monthly open houses for key accounting firms and financial institutions, made substantial contributions to local philanthropic organizations, and provided pro bono work for important community projects.

Despite all this, the second firm suffered the same lack of expected results as the first firm: there was no significant number of new clients. Handling clients of dubious potential was still an ongoing problem.

The specific workings of both firms' plans and the nuances of their implementations were different, but the results were the same: they did not provide all of the results expected or desired. The firms had missed a com monly overlooked but nonetheless crucial point: successful legal services marketing requires a personal commitment on the part of each attorney involved.

INDIVIDUAL COMMITMENT

Unique to successful legal services marketing is the personalization of the marketing plan and implementation program. Client engagement and referral source development efforts simply cannot be delegated to the firm as a whole or to an intervening third party, such as a public relations firm. Much of the professional service is based on personal trust and confidence between the client and attorney.

Yet few firms pay attention to this basic principle when dipping their toes into the marketing pool. They make great effort and incur huge expense to study market potential, analyze the competition, and identify areas of law and types of clients without significant individual involvement. Too often associates and even partners feel that marketing is something the firm

should do, not the individual. This demonstrates that they do not clearly understand marketing's potential benefits or do not know how to engage in professional services marketing.

PERSONAL PLANNING

Whether part of a larger, firm wide marketing plan or as a guide for marketing a solo practice, a personal marketing plan must be written for each attorney, partner, or associate. These plans can differ in terms of detail but must include an accurate and complete assessment of the attorney's own practice situation and past and current marketing efforts.

Marketing efforts might be quite general. For instance, an attorney may state as an objective, "To become active in the local downtown business association." They also can be as specific as, "Schedule a lunch meeting with Hazel Williamson, CPA, to discuss referrals." Other marketing efforts might include speaking opportunities or written contributions to trade journals.

PERSONAL PLANNING OBJECTIVES

There are four basic objectives which must be satisfied by the individual attorney's personal marketing plan. The plan must
 
  • be in the best interest of clients.
  • meet firm or practice objectives.
  • be appropriate for the attorney's abilities.
  • provide measurable results.

Why would an individual attorney's marketing plan be in the best interest of that attorney's clients? Because ultimately the clients will deter mine that plan's very success. This goes beyond mere marketing exposure to include efforts at self-education regarding client needs and concerns. It be gins with an active role in client groups and interests. While the attorney is expected to have an extensive knowledge base regarding law, the unique quality of his or her marketing plan will be his or her extensive knowledge regarding client business.

Although the attorney's personal objectives may be different from firm or practice objectives, they must be in line with the general vision. This requires a real understanding by the attorney of the broader objectives. In terms of an appropriate personal plan, the attorney must be capable of achieving the plan's objectives. For instance, an attorney who knows very little about theater and has little interest in this area should not set as an objective an involvement on the local theater  board of directors. Likewise, an attorney who dislikes public speaking should not establish an objective which includes many speeches. Both cases would be contradictory to successful objectives. The attorney, without regard to all the best intentions, should not set objectives which cannot be successfully realized.

Finally, some measurability must accompany the marketing plan. Results are difficult to identify and assess because they are often intangible.

Ways to make the intangible more real, for purposes of measurement, might include an assessment of impact on the attorney's practice. Is the attorney gaining new clients as a result of the plan? Is the attorney able to devote more time to matters and clients of value? Are billable hours with respect to such matters and clients on the increase? The answers to these questions will provide some measurement.


About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

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You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

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