Five Essential Steps for Lawyers to Effective Legal Marketing

This article appeared in Marketing the Law Firm, an ALM/Law Journal Newsletters publication reporting on the latest, and most effective, strategies for Chief Marketing Officers, Managing Partners, Law Firm Marketing Directors, Administrators and Consultants.

If you made it through all three years of law school, passed the bar exam and are now practicing law, you probably already realized that there are plenty of things law school did not teach you. How to market yourself and develop business effectively happen to be at the top of that list of essential skills you did not learn during your 1L, 2L or 3L years.

That being said, just because law school did not teach you these vital skills does not mean that it is too late for you to master them. It isn’t. It also does not mean that you don’t need to know them. Depending on your career goals, you may.

Now, if the thought of learning how to do one more thing starts to overwhelm you, take a deep breath. Learning how to market yourself does not have to be difficult. There are five simple steps you need to follow. Each of them are covered in detail below. Before we dive into learning more about them though, take a minute and ground yourself. Think about the impact of making the time to master this skillset. What will it mean for your future? How will it impact your professional development and growth?

Whether you are a solo practitioner or making a name for yourself in a boutique or Big Law firm, knowing the fundamentals to legal marketing will serve you well. When you are able to develop your own book of business you create job and income security for yourself. You significantly increase your earning potential, and, perhaps most importantly, you gain leverage and autonomy. If you are craving more control over your career trajectory, learning how to market yourself and develop business will provide you with that sense of control.

You can begin cultivating that control as soon as you identify and start to implement your marketing strategy. While you will want to create a marketing plan that is bespoke to your legal practice, the five-step process outlined below will provide you with the framework you need to do exactly that.

The Five Step Process You Need to Follow

In order to market yourself and build a book of business you need to do the following: 1) know your offer; 2) meet potential clients and referral partners; 3) tell the people you meet what you do; 4) add value ahead of time; and 5) make offers to help when it makes sense to do so.

1. Knowing Your Offer

Before you start putting yourself out there in front of people implementing steps two through five of this business development strategy, you need to get clear on what you do and who you help. Simply stated, you need to know your offer.

Why? Because your particular offer will determine how you approach the other four steps. Your offer will determine who you want to meet, what you tell them you do, the kind of value you add ahead of time and the type of offers you make.

So, what is your offer?

The easiest way to identify your offer is to complete this sentence. “I help [insert who you help] [insert what you help them do].”

Here are a few examples. A criminal defense attorney’s offer might go as follows: “I help people charged with misdemeanaors and felonies navigate the criminal justice system.”

A divorce attorney’s offer might look like this: “I help high-net worth spouses get divorced by fiercely protecting their assets and negotiating favorable pre-trial settlements.” Or “I help divorced dads obtain full custody of their children.”

A trusts and estates attorney’s offer might look something like “I help families protect their assets and the transfer of their wealth from one generation to the next.”

A commercial litigator’s offer might go like this: “I help restaurant owners resolve breach of contract disputes.”

In order for people to hire you, they need to know exactly what you do. And in order for them to know what you do, you need to know what you do. So, do you know your offer? If you don’t, take a minute and decide on yours. What will you choose? Pro tip: The more specific and narrow your offer is the easier it will be to market yourself and develop business.

2. Meeting Potential Clients and Referral Partners

Okay, so once you know your offer, you will want to start meeting people. Here are the questions you need to answer to do that effectively.

Who are your people? And where can you meet them? These answers will inform how you go about your networking.

You can and should break this down into two separate categories: 1) potential clients; and 2) referral partners.

Who are your ideal clients? Where can you meet them in person and online? What events do they attend? What social media platforms are they on? How can you connect with them? Formulate a plan — specifically one that does not include sending cold direct messages to potential clients. People hate that, so resist the urge to do it.

Great ways to meet people online include sending connections requests to people you’d like to be connected to or engaging with their social media content by leaving a thoughtful comment.

You also want to identify potential referral partners. Who are those people and where can you find them? They may be other attorneys or professionals in legal adjacent industries/roles. You may be able to meet your ideal referral partners at bar association events or legal conferences. You will also be able to find them online. Just like with potential clients, you can send requests to connect with your ideal referral partners and engage with their content. With referral partners, you can also go a step further and suggest a connection call to learn more about each other’s services.

3. Telling People What You Do

As you begin to meet the people you identified as part of step two, you also want to be sure you are telling those people exactly what you do. This may seem obvious, but before you roll your eyes and think to yourself “I already do that,” pump the breaks for just a second and answer this question: Does everyone you know know what you do?

As in they’d be able to refer your ideal clients to you.

Sure, people know you are an attorney. But do they know what kind? Maybe they know you go to court sometimes. Or that you’re never in court. Or that you do criminal defense stuff. Or that you are “in real estate” or “do tax law.” But do they know your offer?

If the closest people to you do not know exactly what you do, the people that you meet in your networking expeditions probably will not either. So, tell the people you already know what you do. Tell them simply, but tell them specifically.

For example, explain to the people you already know and the new people you meet that you only handle drunk driving cases or that you handle everything from traffic tickets to homicides. Tell them that you specialize in representing working moms who want full custody of their kids. Tell them that you only do wills and trusts for people making over $250k a year. Tell them that you only represent businesses that need to negotiate commercial leases. Tell them that you help small businesses file trademarks.

You want to make sure you are this specific, so when someone you know meets someone who needs your services, they know exactly where to send them — to you.

Your parents should be able to identify your ideal clients and refer them to you. So should your teenage kids or your friends’ teenage kids. Everyone you know should know what you do. And if you think that the people in your life already know exactly what you do, ask a few of them to double check.

4. Adding Value Ahead of Time

Now that you have met your ideal people, in addition to simply telling them what you do you also want to be sure that you are adding value ahead of time. What does this mean? It means showing up and serving your ideal clients before they pay you. Yes, this flies in the face of the billable hour model, and it runs contrary to the belief that “time is money.” But for people to work with you, they need to know, like and trust you.

Giving them value ahead of time is how you establish that trust. It is also how you position yourself as an expert. Because the three martini lunch days are a thing of the past. Wining and dining potential clients will only get you so far. You want to make sure you are demonstrating your know-how to the people you want to work with.

So how can you demonstrate your expertise? It will differ for each lawyer depending on their offer. You want to think about who your people are, where they are, and what they would value learning most.

Here are some examples. If you are a criminal defense attorney, maybe you speak to fraternities, sororities, and sports teams on local college campuses about their 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights.

If you help start-ups with business formation, maybe you have a content series about the legal mistakes new entrepreneurs make and how to avoid them.

If you do trusts and estates work, maybe you have a monthly email that tells people about changes in the law and what they need to know to protect their assets and transfer generational wealth.

If you work with bankers, maybe you host a quarterly happy hour where your banker clients get to mingle with local business owners who might potentially do deals with them.

If you handle data breach responses, maybe you put on a monthly webinar that teaches business owners about cyber security and how to avoid being the victim of a breach.

Ultimately, you want to think about what information your people need to know and then give it to them — for free, ahead of time, and without any expectation that you will get anything in return.

5. Making Offers When It Makes Sense

The fifth step to marketing yourself and developing business is making offers. Before discussing what it means to make an offer, let’s discuss what making an offer is not. Making an offer does not mean uninvitedly sliding into someone’s inbox and making an ask. Instead, let people come to you.

Once you’ve given value ahead of time in a post, a webinar, an email, or in some other manner, you want to make an offer so people have a clear path to working with you, and they can opt in if they want to. It can be as simple as saying: “If you have [insert problem you help people solve], I can help.” Then tell people exactly how they can contact you.

They can send you a direct message you, send you an email, call you, or schedule a call via an electronic scheduler. Pick one avenue for them to take you up on your offer. This helps you simply your client intake and consult process.

If making offers feels off-putting to you, remember you offer a service that some people want. You solve problems that some people need to solve. Make offers for them. Make offers to them. Believe it or not, your ideal clients will be happy you did.

Also, whether you want to admit it or not, making offers is an essential part of building your book of business. It is equivalent to turning on your open sign. It lets people know that you are accepting new clients and informs them as to what exactly they need to do to work with you.

It may be easy to think that this is obvious and that your ideal clients will figure this all out on their own, but they often do not. Clear up the confusion. Make an offer. Let people know how to opt in. Eliminate the friction between you and your next client. By doing that, you will also eliminate the friction between you and the success you are seeking through your marketing and business development efforts.

Those are the five essential steps you need to follow to market yourself effectively. If you tailor them to your legal practice and implement them consistently you will develop business and cultivate the clients, control and success you are looking to achieve.

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Olivia Vizachero, a former BigLaw commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney, runs The Less Stressed Lawyer, a boutique life coaching practice for lawyers. As a Certified Life Coach, she works with lawyers who are over the overwhelm and want to live lives with less stress and far more fulfillment by teaching them how to manage their mindset and make themselves and their well-being their top priority. She’s also the host of The Less Stressed Lawyer Podcast and a co-author of the book #Networked, a pandemic anthology written by 20 women lawyers about networking and building successful businesses during a global public health crisis. Connect with Olivia on LinkedIn @oliviavizachero.


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