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High-visibility Business Development Activities Attorneys and Law firms Need to Use

published January 29, 2013

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Speeches, forums, and seminars can be extremely effective devices to maintain existing clients and attract new ones in exactly the areas of law the attorney enjoys. But in spite of their popularity, these activities are often mismanaged by attorneys, and opportunities for business development are missed. Solid advance planning and attention to all the details of the activities are necessary for success.

This article discusses the value to attorneys of high-visibility activities such as speeches, seminars, and forums their role in the total practice development effort suggestions on how to conduct them successfully, and costs and time commitments related to these activities.

Client-focused attorneys who are cautious or skeptical about many business development activities will readily accept and understand the value of speeches, forums, and seminars. These activities usually are undertaken by attorneys who feel uncomfortable with most other forms of marketing activities. Speeches, forums, and seminars are professional; they are controllable; in most cases the attendees can be carefully selected. The activities demonstrate attorney knowledge. But more important, attorneys have been giving speeches, arranging forums, and conducting seminars for years. It is second only in popularity to entertainment as an accepted promotional activity Speeches by attorneys are made every day, not only to courtroom juries but to Rotary Clubs, trade associations, alumni associations, and client groups. By training and inclination, attorneys are generally capable of giving a good speech. Rare is the attorney who will not accept an invitation to speak before a selected group. Speeches have been and no doubt will continue to be a powerful and effective means of gaining both visibility and credibility for attorneys.

Forums are attorney-sponsored meetings featuring one or more outside speakers. A limited number of guests with a strong interest in the subject are invited, and the speakers are usually well-known authorities. Forums generally last two to three hours and include a meal or social activity. They are a relatively new addition to the arsenal of attorney marketing tools. Forums are becoming increasingly developed and used for business development purposes.

Seminars are presentations by attorneys, wherein a selected audience is invited as guests of the attorneys for the purpose of informing or educating them on a topic of interest. Presumably, the attorney has developed a level of expertise in the subject that qualifies him or her to sponsor the activity. Attorney-sponsored seminars are usually no less than one-half day; they are more frequently all day and occasionally longer.

Value to attorney

Several benefits to both attorneys and their clients are readily apparent from these activities.

Clearly, when clients are invited, they show the attorney's interest in the clients' welfare. They provide information that the client can use to avoid future legal problems or help solve current ones. They help maintain and build solid relationships, resulting in long-term retention of clients. In seminars, clients and other attendees get a chance to observe the attorney and colleagues at work and to appraise their communication skills. They help clients evaluate the attorney's ability to speak persuasively. If the seminars are held in-house, they give attendees a chance to see the attorney's offices and equipment,

There can be immediate benefits from speeches and so on by having attendees at the event call the attorney regarding a new matter. If there is a program or synopsis of the event circulated among non-attendees, there can be additional calls from those who did not attend but saw the attorney's name listed as an authority on a subject. Attendees can refer their friends and business associates to the attorney.

There are other indirect benefits that attorneys say they gain from these kinds of activities. They enjoy the information exchange with an audience, alerting them to real-world concerns and potential problems on a given subject. Attorneys in seminars share ideas with their intellectual peers. Attorneys also benefit from their own work to prepare the materials, learning and organizing information in new ways. New research or study may even be needed.

Speeches, seminars, and forums, unless they are terribly mismanaged, will enhance the attorney or firm reputation. They will garner applause not only from those who attended but also from those who did not. In the promotion of the event, the attorneys will have drawn attention to their expertise and interest in a certain area of the law. Their credibility will be enhanced. Another reward, even less tangible but significant, is the feeling of having educated, of having increased the level of legal awareness of others so that they can lead their lives and conduct their business in a more com plete, satisfying manner. It is a feeling of genuine accomplishment.

Role in marketing effort

While they are generally accepted to be an excellent form of maintaining client relations and building new business, speeches, seminars, and forums alone cannot constitute a total marketing effort. They must be considered part of a larger program that includes many of the other process and techniques discussed in this book.

Here is what can happen if the activities take place in isolation, that is, without a larger marketing program wrapped around them:
  • A speech on new tax law changes to a Rotary Club will fall on deaf ears because the audience was not carefully identified.

  • A forum on worker's compensation for a firm hoping to attract work in this area will fail in its purpose when attendees perceive a shallow knowledge of the subject on the part of the firm.

  • A seminar conceived by one or two attorneys will become a logistical nightmare without total internal support from other attorneys and staff.
In each of these situations, a comprehensive approach to marketing was missing, and the effort went awry. A good marketing plan would have identified audiences, indicating to the attorneys that not all Rotary Clubs are composed of business leaders interested in tax issues. A good plan would have avoided the worker's compensation miscue by limiting forums to those subjects on which the firm has a depth of experience. A good plan would have built internal consensus for all external efforts so that attorney marketing efforts would command the full support of internal staff.

In addition, speeches, forums, and seminars must meet these criteria to be successful. They must:
  1. Serve a useful professional purpose, such as explaining tax laws, zoning changes, and so on.

  2. Relate to the attorney's competence.

  3. Be focused on a carefully chosen audience that is a likely source of continued business (such as existing clients).
Cost and time commitment

Each of these activities must be done well or not at all. Each one takes time and costs money, so the return on investment in terms of new and continuing business must be there. Besides a loss of billable time, there are also out-of- pocket costs for collateral materials, travel, room rentals, and so on that can be significant.

Since the time commitment of attorneys and their staff and the costs associated with speeches, forums, and seminars can be huge, there are several steps to minimize this. The first approach is to budget carefully. The activity should fit within the overall marketing plan. Therefore, it should have a budget assigned to it, defining both time and money.

While these activities can consume tremendous amounts of time during a short period, their impact on the attorney's total billable time for the year is relatively small. In a typical marketing plan (see samples in the appendix to this book), an attorney or a firm can budget X hours and X dollars for ten speeches throughout the year. If the hours allocated are 100, and the attorney spends ten hours preparing for, delivering, and following up on one speech, then he or she is within budget. This sort of preplanning enables attorneys at all levels to know they have management support for the activity and will not be penalized for "non-billable" time.

There are two methods to reduce significantly the time required for these activities: (1) limit any speech, seminar, or forum to an area of expertise that is already well established by the attorney and (2) adapt existing internal materials to be used in the presentations.

Value in building business in a new area of the law

Speeches and seminars should not be the primary method used to attract business in a new area of the law. There are other, more effective, methods, such as the hiring of laterals or negotiations with existing clients to expand services to them. The time required for preparation is too lengthy to justify the return. Further, since the opportunity to adapt existing materials is not present, considerable time will be spent in research and writing to develop collateral and supporting handouts.

Forums can be used to help establish an attorney within a new area of the law but this is a slow process. Once a new area of the law is selected, a total marketing program must be developed that involves both short-range and long-range activities to develop the credibility needed for success. Forums are one of those, but certainly not the only one.


Many speeches, seminars, and forums are designed for an attorney's own clients. Therefore, the attorney or firm normally is the sole sponsor of the activity. But in some cases, particularly when non-clients are invited, co-sponsorship of the event with an appropriate group will reduce the attorney's time and cost while at the same time increasing credibility, A good example is co-sponsorship of an event for a special-interest group such as trade associations. If an attorney is heavily involved in real estate law, then a related group is a logical "partner." Many of the attorney's clients will already be members of the trade association.
Also, other members of the group are the most likely potential clients the attorney could identify.

Besides offering the benefit of implied endorsement, cosponsors will take care of many of the logistics of the event. They will supply staff and volunteers to handle invitations, sign-ups, distribution of materials, and so on.

The successful speech

Attorney speeches outside the courtroom generally fall into two categories: those about a specific (and sometimes narrow) aspect of the law and those that are general, usually about "the legal system today" or "the image of attorneys." Speeches on specific topics are more useful for business development; speeches on general topics are of value for building long-term credibility and visibility but usually do not have any immediate impact.

It is helpful for attorneys to be known as experts on a certain subject and to orient all speech-making opportunities around that topic. Audiences can then be selected based on their degree of interest in that topic. This results in the best payback for the attorney. Clearly, if the attorney discusses his or her own area of practice and expertise, then their own clients are most interested and an ideal audience. Speeches on "general topics" get delivered to "general audiences" and the response will probably be disappointing.

For example, a real estate attorney is well advised to speak to associations of realtors, developers, architects, civil engineers, builders, property managers, and others in related fields.
  • Write your own introduction. Send a short but complete resume and a publicity- quality photograph to the sponsors for inclusion in their publicity materials. Carry another resume to be read as your introduction.

  • Select your audience carefully. Find out their knowledge level of your topic and interest in it.

  • Prepare thoroughly. Research your audience to see who they will be, what they want, and what they need to know. Look up pertinent quotes, stories, and statistics. Prepare index cards or an outline.

  • Practice. Give your speech in front of a mirror or video camera, into a tape recorder, to friends or family members.

  • Arrive early to make sure the room is in order, microphone is in working order, and so on.

  • Look impressive. Dress at least as well as your audience. Walk confidently to the podium. The first impression you make will flavor the opinions of those in the audience.

  • Vary the presentation tools. Distribute professional-looking handouts; use videos or slides.

  • Involve the audience. Ask them questions; have them distribute handouts.

  • Tell stories. Anecdotes are interesting and very helpful to illustrate points.

  • Cite cases sparingly. Citations are important in briefs, but they are distracting in speeches. However, you can make reference to the fact that many precedents exist.

  • Use your hands. Gesture naturally, using gestures to underline a point.

  • Avoid jargon. Don't use terms the audience may not know.

  • Use humor. But don't use jokes, especially those that ridicule.

  • Use handouts. Make sure that a summary, a checklist, or some sort of information is distributed to the audience. Make sure the attorney's name and phone number is on the material.

  • Conclude strongly. Offer a summary, memorable point or warm statement. Don't forget a sincere thank you.
Powerful impact of forums

The creation of a forum for discussion of an idea or legal issue has a potentially great value to clients, prospective clients, and others. It is one of the more effective activities an attorney can undertake for business-development purposes. Because of the serious issues they discuss, forums can legitimately make an impact on people's lives.

Forums are different from speeches because there is usually more than one speaker (although this is not always the case), the audience is small, and meaningful dialogue among presenters and audiences is encouraged. Forums differ from seminars in that they discuss ideas and concepts, whereas seminars more often fall into the "how-to" category or get into detail on narrow topics.

Forums are special events where only special people are invited. When they are small, those invited consider it an honor to be there. If the guest speaker has some sort of celebrity status, the invitees will consider it a privilege to have a private meeting with the speaker.

So what exactly is a forum? An example: An attorney or firm practicing in real estate identifies 10 or 12 developers, both clients and potentials, as an ideal audience for a forum on real estate trends. The attorney arranges for a nationally known real estate developer to be brought in to meet with the local developers. The attorney agrees to pay all expenses and an honorarium to the speaker. The subject discussed is an aspect of development of interest to all. Preferably, the issue will have legal ramifications, but it may not.

In another example, an attorney wishes to expand his or her international trade practice. To command the greater attention of both clients and other area businesspeople engaged in import and export, the attorney arranges for a government trade expert from Washington, D.C., to meet with the local businesspeople.

The role of the attorney at the forum is simply to make all the arrangements and to ensure that the speaker addresses the interests of the attendees. The attorney has no role other than to coordinate all logistics and most likely to introduce the speaker. However, after the forum, the attorney can capitalize on relationships established in several ways by sending a summary of remarks at the forum to invited guests and others.

In the following case history, all these elements joined together to create a memorable event with significant impact for the participants.

A large firm in a major metropolitan area battled with a number of other firms for the city's premiere clients. The number of firms and attorneys in this area decidedly outweighed client work, making competition fierce. This firm had a strategic plan and was very proactive in its client relations. However, the firm was not satisfied with solely providing competent work. It went beyond that to making its clients feel a sense of worth in their association with the firm.

An international dignitary was slated to visit the firm's city as part of an unofficial tour. Sophisticated and astute, this dignitary avoided any appearances smacking of profit for private interests. But firm partners saw an opportunity to conduct a forum, using the visiting dignitary as its centerpiece. So several partners made contacts, pulled strings, and managed to arrange a private dinner for the visitor. The dignitary agreed to attend and make a few remarks, providing that the appearance would be devoted to the philosophical and pragmatic discussion of world affairs as related to the city's interests.

The firm had only one month's notice before the dignitary's appearance. En graved invitations were sent to key city and state officials as well as to the firm's more prominent clients and potential clients (who also happened to be top business executives). Arrangements were made and paid for by the firm to accommodate the dignitary and his entourage. The cost of the event was quickly rising, reaching a total close to $16,000.

But the end result was a smashing success. The dignitary's visit to the city was major local news. Publicity also resulted from the forum by inviting the editor of the local newspaper and providing him with a written transcript of the discussion immediately afterward.

As a result of the publicity and subsequent follow-up by the attorneys, the firm won several new clients and received several referrals. Anticipated revenues from new clients and referrals during the first year were expected to be more than ten times the cost of the dignitary's visit. Other law firms in the same city could only watch in awe and vow to leap at similar opportunities. But this law firm's principals were now confident in their lead, realizing that the proper mind-set, rather than any particular opportunity, was the key to their public relations and business-development dividends.

Tips on conducting a successful forum:
  • Begin by carefully identifying common interests of key clients and then looking for a forum topic of interest and value to them.

  • Ensure that the letters of invitation and related materials are of the highest quality.

  • Follow up the invitation with a personal call so that the guest understands the exclusivity of this event.

  • Create a prestige and exclusive atmosphere for the forum by selecting an elegant setting for the event.

  • Use every opportunity to publicize the forum speaker. Announce to the media when and where the speaker will be, allowing time for interviews either before or after the event. Note: Exclude media from the forum.

  • Assist the speaker with handout materials, ensuring that the attorney's name Is imprinted on them.

  • Follow up the event with thank you notes to attendees.
Organizing and presenting seminars

There are few marketing activities that are more warmly embraced by attorneys than seminars. A survey by Professors Caryn Beck-Didley and Paul Buller of Utah State University noted that client clinics and seminars are the second most common form of attorney promotion (the first was loosely labeled "entertainment," presumably luncheons, sporting events, gifts, etc.). The use of clinics and seminars in marketing was consistently used by law firms of all sizes. Just over 43 percent of the large firms used seminars; almost 27 percent of the medium-sized firms and 16 percent of the small firms also used them (the professors defined a large firm as 40 or more attorneys, medium as 16 to 39, and small as fewer than 15 attorneys).

Seminars should not be undertaken by attorneys without a full understanding of the time and costs involved. Seminars are major efforts requiring enormous amounts of time to carry out correctly. That's why many firms seek co-sponsorship of seminars with a trade association or other group. Seminars, like forums, offer the advantage of the attorney controlling the topic and setting the audiences. In addition, the attorney can produce and hand out as much material as desired. Successful seminars, no matter what the topic and how small the audience, take time to prepare. It is not unreasonable for good seminars to require six months from conception to execution. For seminars conducted annually by attorneys and firms, a four- month preparation time is common. Logistical issues must be handled well in advance, such as reservation of a room and planning for meals, travel, equipment, and so on. Along with oral presentations, seminars generally require the development of a workbook of some sort. This takes considerable planning and organization,

The quantity and quality of the audience will vary greatly, depending on the attorney's selection and recruitment process. For the client-focused attorney who invites primarily clients and sponsors a seminar of specific interest to them, a response rate of 50 percent can be expected. This compares to expected 1 percent return of mass mailings to the general public of invitations to a seminar.
  • Keep it small. Unless you have the resources of a large firm and can handle the logistics or 50 or more attendees, small groups are much more effective.

  • Keep It educational. Pick a topic of current interest and present information that will help the attendees in their business.

  • Avoid selling of services. A good seminar should not be a sales presentation. Too many "seminars" are sponsored by financial planners, investment counsel ors, and so on, whose primary motive is to sell a product or service to the attendee.

  • Use existing materials. For handouts, don't try to reinvent the wheel. Use previously developed material whenever possible, such as internal analyses.

  • Pay attention to details. Small things gone awry can disrupt the whole presentation. Extension cords must reach machines, extra bulbs must be present for slide projectors and overheads, sound systems must be "feedback free."

  • Involve other attorneys. Best results can occur for cross-selling if other attorneys are present. Wide office participation brings benefits!

  • Stay on time. Events that run late or compress certain topics to gain time are irritating and demonstrate poor preparations.

  • Work the socials. Ensure that the seminar is wrapped around a social event or meal.

  • Ask for feedback. Hand out some sort of survey to be turned in at the end of the seminar that indicates attendee satisfaction.

  • Follow up. This is expected and mandatory for effectiveness.
Related publicity

One of the easiest methods of obtaining good visibility is to use the speech, seminar, or forum as the basis for publicity. The event itself may be worthy of a news article (as in the case of a celebrity presenter at an attorney- sponsored forum). The attorney can also use materials prepared for the event as the basis of a news article. If the speech or seminar is open to the public, the media will generally run a news item or at least a calendar listing of the event. Any of this publicity will lend credibility and visibility to the attorney and firm and should therefore be sought out with vigor.

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