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Law Firms – Marketing Plan Must Be Unique

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The objective of marketing is to bring desired clients to the firm, and to keep them there. Marketing is both the initial part of the sales job, and the continuing effort required to hold clients. A good marketing program will (1) get the firm known among targeted groups, (2) create the desired image of the firm, and (3) cause consideration of the firm when legal services are needed. Marketing ties the client to the firm in such a way that when there is a later, additional need for services, the firm will again receive consideration.

There is no single marketing plan which is right for all law firms. Techniques and tools which are useful for some services and markets are inappropriate to others. A treatise like this cannot propose a specific plan which will fit the needs of each reader. As pointed out, there are many types of businesses engaged in the practice of law. They provide differing services, and serve very different markets. Consequently, each marketing plan must be unique.

Let's say that as part of its business plan, your firm has defined a market and the services it wishes to provide to that market. For example, you may have decided to concentrate on marriage dissolutions for middle- and upper-income groups in a specific suburban area. How can you establish the firm name as a specialist firm in marriage problems? How can you reach people when they are ready to seek counsel with such problems? What sort of image must be projected as a firm, once contacted, to "close the sale"?

There are some available tools for marketing legal services which we would discard at once. Newspaper advertising, for example, may be great for cut-rate divorces of the uncontested sort, but your target is the more lucrative part of this market, where there is property to be divided. You want to project an image of quality and capability to a sophisticated group of people. You may want to consider the Yellow Pages, but not newspapers.

Direct mail announcements have been sanctioned by the courts of some states but not in others. They have been used effectively to promote legal services in connection with property sales. We question whether one can promote divorce services indiscriminately without offending the happily married. Direct mail may not work to meet your objectives. The same generalization applies to newsletters. In disseminating information about this specialty, you must use indirect, neutral channels.

But that still leaves many avenues of promotion.

Divorces don't happen overnight. In most instances there is cumulative stress and discord between husband and wife. This often leads to preliminary counseling with clergy, social workers, marriage counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Here is a target group for seminars, newsletters and other written communications, lectures and other approaches. A good deal of the type of work you seek will come by referral!

Many established larger law firms would rather not handle dissolutions. Consequently, a part of the promotional effort may be directed to other lawyers. That may include some arrangements for reciprocal referrals. You write wills for our clients-we'll handle dissolutions for yours. Lawyers can also be contacted through their professional associations. Since you are interested only in nearby residents, activities in bar associations outside your area are of little marketing importance, except as they may enhance your credentials as family law specialists to other lawyers. It is quite proper to contact other lawyers directly, to provide them with reprints of articles or brochures, or even to take colleagues out to lunch.

Speeches on the legal aspects of marriage may be of interest to a variety of local groups, such as religious societies, retirement clubs (elderly people may consider late marriages), and community organizations. There is nothing wrong with contacting such groups by phone or mail with an offer to provide expert speakers. Be sure, of course, that you know how to speak effectively to a lay audience.

Perhaps you can write a monthly column for a local newspaper on various legal aspects of marriage and divorce. Such writing can establish you as an expert, recognized as such by the local newspaper. They may even pay you for the copy (but not at lawyers' rates). Once you have a number of columns printed, reprint them into a pamphlet and make it available to prospective clients and other law firms.

Develop a firm brochure which you can give to clients and prospective clients and to contacts in other professions. The brochure should describe you, the services you provide, your professional personnel, and the method of charging for services. Don't use specific rates, because that will make your publication obsolete after a year or so. Instead, talk about the distinction between disbursements and fees, how the amount of the fee is determined, when it must be paid, late payment penalties, etc. Describe the adversarial system and how your loyalty is entirely with your client, but also caution about the expense of fighting a spouse simply out of spite. Tell your client or prospective client the methods of communication you will use to keep the client advised of progress and developments in the case.

Such brochures are valuable not only for informing the client about your firm, but they can also be given by a satisfied client to a friend who has a similar problem. When all is said and done, the premier source of legal work is word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients.

The various techniques we have discussed in our theoretical marketing plan are all concerned with bringing the client into the office. Once the client is there, you still must be retained, then you must perform the service, and finally, you must collect the fee. All of these are, to some extent, part of the marketing program.

Market Research

Market research defines the opportunities that exist for a "product" or "enterprise," and indicates where efforts are best directed to obtain results. There has been a great deal of marketing research done with respect to a large variety of consumer products, but little with respect to legal services. For purposes of illustration, let us continue to use the example from the prior section, a business plan that calls for the development of a specialty firm dealing with marriage dissolutions for higher-income clients.

It will be simple to establish the amount of current activity. The court of jurisdiction accumulates information about the number of marriage dissolutions. You can quickly ascertain your market share and market size. There is nothing you can do to stimulate demand, as there might be in, say, personal bankruptcy or estate planning.

Compiling a list of professionals involved in marriage counseling should not be difficult, either. Start with that major source of information, the Yellow Pages, and put together a list of individuals and agencies who deal with family problems. Contact people in those activities to gain information regarding their professional organizations.

Make a list of general practice law firms that do not do domestic work and whom you may want to contact.

If you want to engage in some real research, you will need professional help. For example, you may want to know how the people who were divorced in the past year found the lawyers who represented them. That's not information you or your colleagues can obtain easily, but it might make an interesting project for an advanced marketing class at a local college.
It may be useful, depending on the type of business plan you want to develop, to put together a profile of the geographic area in which you operate. This profile typically would include the following information:

Description of the population, neighborhoods, age distribution, occupational distribution, voting patterns, and ethnicity --All of this is available from the U.S. Census.

Description and, if pertinent, listing of businesses in the community, names of officers, possible problems each may encounter, approximate dollar volume. Some of this can be obtained from Chambers of Commerce and public utilities or banks. Some of it comes from the Census and state agencies.

Listing and analysis of competitors and their regular clients

This type of information should be updated every few years, and may cause you to rethink your plan, and to set new sights for services.

Market research is nothing more than a systematic pulling-together of the information available about a market segment, so that you can study it, and use the information in devising a specific program for marketing services. Such research generally precedes any activity, and provides the information on which decisions can be based.

One bit of market research was done by a legal administrator for his firm. The firm was considering opening a branch office in a community in a neighboring state. The administrator spent several days in the target area. He interviewed executives of utilities and banks, some real estate and insurance agents, and collected all of the available information from the Chamber of Commerce, including local census information. He prepared a list of the law firms in the area, listing only those with three or more attorneys. Then he evaluated each, and discussed their reputations and capabilities with his various business contacts in the area. The research report concluded that a branch of a major firm was a good possibility for success, because there was a need for more sophisticated legal work in the business community. This set the stage for a decision by the firm. The result was a merger with an established smaller firm in that area.

Elements of Success

Successful lawyers tend to abide by certain common practices which, it may be assumed, have played a part in helping them achieve their success. Among such practices which lawyers trying to build a practice would be wise to emulate are:
  1. Set goals. Think how you will achieve them. Arrange to meet the people you want for clients. Think ahead to the larger office, the better machine, the next associate lawyer, the next partner.
  2. Invest time in building the practice. Planning takes time; so does the careful execution of a plan.
  3. Invest money as needed. It takes money to make money. You must pay a high enough wage to attract a good secretary. Money is needed for modern facilities, law books, good stationery, new technologies and equipment.
  4. Produce a good service. There is no advertisement as good as a job well done. A study made of lawyers' clients by the Missouri Bar some years ago indicated that clients value the lawyer who tries hard even if the case is lost. Make certain that the visible products of your office, the typed pages, are neat and clean and representative of the image you want to convey.
  5. Be on time. Do not promise anybody a draft contract for "next week" unless you can deliver it next week. If you cannot take on more work, either bring in help or do not accept the assignment. Nothing causes greater client frustration than unwarranted delay.
  6. Be considerate of clients. Apply the Golden Rule. For example, if a client is in your office, stay off the telephone. Give him your undivided attention. (Think of your own reaction if your doctor interrupted your physical examination for a long telephone call.)

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