published January 28, 2013

By Harrison Barnes, CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

Marketing Primer for Attorneys and Law Firms

Marketing Primer for Attorneys and Law Firms

Because marketing is by definition an effort that takes time, frustration grows and interest often wanes among attorneys. Typical first steps undertaken by attorneys are exactly those that take long and bring few immediate results. There are several marketing activities that require little time and can bring immediate results. If appropriate initial actions are taken, internal support for other longer-range activities grows.

Internal support for business development efforts is essential. But all too often, initial enthusiasm for a significant effort drops as soon as the marketing program begins to consume a lot of time and bring few immediate results. This is a problem that plagues many attorneys and marketing directors who are charged with the responsibility of building a successful program. One method that ensures continued support for the business development effort is to plan and carry out a few activities that produce quick results and bring initial success as a marketing program gets underway. There is no doubt that business development is a lengthy process, with results often less than tangible. Many marketing activities have paybacks that are two or three years down the road or even longer. So even the strongest believer in marketing is hard-pressed to justify six months of time and expense with nothing to show for it.

High-impact marketing is designed to make things happen, quickly. It is not a knee-jerk action to look busy but an approach to marketing that brings some immediate—albeit modest—successes. It mixes activities aimed at both short-term and long-term objectives so that the marketers themselves, as well as their partners and associates, can see that the process does indeed work.


So what must an attorney do to achieve high impact? Here are three methods that have worked for attorneys:

  • An attorney in a small firm scheduled a meeting in a client's office to ask "How am I doing?" The client is gratified to be asked and the attorney receives candid feedback which the attorney shares with his partners.
  • An attorney in a small firm performed an analysis of recent legislation affecting his clients, developers of mobile home parks. Among other things, the analysis informed the industry of future trends in government regulation, allowing individual businesses to plan ahead. He sent a copy of the document to a well-read mobile home industry trade magazine. The magazine editor called, saying he liked the public service angle of the article and intends to publish it in the next month's issue.
  • Another small firm scheduled a private luncheon, inviting several clients to meet with another of the firm's clients, the CEO of an area high-technology firm that just received $7 million in venture capital. The law firm received exceptionally warm thank you notes from the clients, expressing appreciation to learn about the CEO's future plans.

What do all these activities have in common? They are all marketing activities that resulted in attorneys feeling good about themselves and marketing in general. Each activity is client-focused. The attorneys conducting them were not engaged in "selling" and did not ask clients for anything except a little of their time. Each activity fit the criteria important for high impact and effective marketing:

  • It required relatively little attorney time to plan and execute.
  • The out-of-pocket costs to carry out the activity were small (or nonexistent).
  • The results were immediate.


There are three common mistakes made by attorneys and firms at the onset of a marketing program. In their eagerness to "get something going" and to have tangible results, attorneys will eagerly embark on efforts to (1) produce a brochure, (2) start a newsletter, or (3) get some publicity. All three efforts are fraught with problems if attempted as the first activities! The attorneys involved in them are destined for frustration and (perhaps) failure. Brochures are time consuming and costly. Additionally, the process to write and produce them can be internally divisive. Brochures have their place in comprehensive marketing programs, but they are ill suited to be the first activity on the agenda. Law firms have been known to take two years to write, design, and print a brochure, during which time the attorneys have lost enthusiasm for marketing and resorted to individual (and often misdirected) efforts.

Newsletters are also time consuming to produce. An estimated 20 percent of all newsletters, started with enthusiasm and filled with information, never publish a second issue. Sixty-five percent of newsletters never reach the tenth issue. Why? Because the people involved grossly underestimate
the time required to produce one.

Another common mistake is to define marketing as "getting some publicity." While a low-keyed, focused effort to attract attention through the news media can be effective, the results are rarely the "front page news" that some attorneys think they deserve. The news media generally ignore attorneys unless there is a celebrity client, a spectacular lawsuit, or a megamerger. Therefore, it is difficult to make a big splash in the media, and publicity efforts often go unrewarded.


In addition to the examples listed at the beginning of this article here are some examples of high-impact activities that have proven to be of value to attorneys and firms (details on all of these activities are explained elsewhere in this book; see the index for specific pages).


  • Give everyone (attorneys and key staff) a Marketing Binder. This simple act dramatizes to all that they will play a role in the total program. The binder will eventually be filled with the firm plan, attorney plan, marketing update information, general "tips" copied from other sources, etc.

Do a client/services grid: This activity takes only a few hours and quickly demonstrates areas of potential new business. It can also suggest new areas where the attorneys could capture additional fees already being spent on other attorneys by their clients. The services grid quickly focuses attorney attention on actions likely to bring quick returns.

Have the person primarily responsible for marketing do a brief (20-minute) individual interview with attorneys in the firm to determine their general attitude toward marketing. Identify each person in terms of the support they are likely to lend to the efforts. Subsequent marketing efforts can be developed that are in concert with prevailing internal attitudes.

Obtain a data base software program to collect information on the firm's personnel, clients, and new business prospects. This will provide useful marketing information to be presented quickly to attorneys.
If the firm places announcements in bar publications and other magazines, ask a graphic designer to upgrade the firm's tombstone advertisements. Improvement of graphics instantly creates a more contemporary, sophisticated image. This can be done without changing the firm's logotypes and letterhead (redesigning letterhead is a major effort; do not make this an initial effort!).

If one does not exist, prepare a firm fact sheet. Avoid trying to describe the firm in terms of feelings, attitudes, and ideals. Simply state what the firm does, what it has done, and the benefits to the clients. Update an existing fact sheet with improved graphics and laser printing (a graphic designer can do wonders for $500).

Along these same lines, collect resumes of all attorneys and have them formatted consistently and then printed out on a laser printer. The enhancement will be impressive and immediately give everyone a feeling of high-quality professionalism and unity of purpose.

When new clients are obtained, find out the process by which they came to know and hire the firm. Sometimes this can be done casually at a partner's meeting. This question could be asked about each file—the answers would show a trend to everyone in the firm that would be of
Great interest!

Build on success. Every firm has conducted some sort of marketing in the past. Therefore, a "new" program should always begin by building on past successes. Ask senior partners and others what has worked in the past. Then make an effort to do more of it.

Bring in a consultant familiar with business development for attorneys and invite all professional staff to a half-day seminar. Ask the consultant to instruct on trends in legal marketing and "how to get started."



  • Make sure that marketing is a regular agenda item for attorney and staff meetings,
  • If there is an internal newsletter, make sure that some marketing news appears in each issue, even if it is only a "how-to" marketing tip.
  • Identify positive steps forward in a program, no matter how small.
  • If there is an existing marketing program that is not moving forward, analyze what activities should be happening. Then break down these activities into smaller steps (the more the better) and assign specific timetables for the completion of each step.
  • Draft a sample "welcome" letter to new clients and make sure that the appropriate attorneys send it out as necessary.
  • Analyze the firm's community involvement practices and develop a specific program of membership and involvement that is oriented toward business development. Ensure that attorneys become active in the organization (membership by itself is not marketing!).
  • Bring in a training consultant to discuss with the office staff everything from telephone techniques to client confidences. Impress upon staff the importance of "customer service."

In sum, an approach to marketing that gets quick results helps attorneys in two ways. Their clients will be positively affected in ways that result in immediate new business or at minimum good feelings and strengthened relationships. The second benefit is internal support for the attorney's marketing efforts which will ensure that proposals for future efforts are well received.


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