Well, the summer months are quickly coming to an end. We will conduct our annual meeting on Sept. 17 at 12:30 p.m. at the Dearborn Hyatt in conjunction with the State Bar annual meetings. At that meeting, we will be filling five vacancies on the Law Practice Management Council as well as the office of Secretary. Typically for the office of Secretary, we are looking for someone who has participated in the Council and has experience on it for at least one year.
If you wish to serve on the Council and are willing to give at least one-half day a month and be an active participant in the governance of this Section, we would be interested in hearing from you. We would be interested in your background and a short explanation of why you feel you would be well-suited to fill that council seat. We are looking for individuals from all aspects of practice. Any responses I receive, I will forward to the rest of the Council for consideration. We will then place those nominations before the Council for a vote at the annual meeting.
We are also in the process of determining how we might merge with the Legal Administrator Section of the State Bar. We have been meeting with one of the representatives of that Section to determine common areas of interest and the feasibility of such a merger. We will attempt to place that matter on the agenda for our annual meeting if we can meet the technical requirements established under the rules set forth under the State Bar administrative procedures. More on that as events unfold.
Gary P. Bauer
The Law Practice Management Section's Annual Business Meeting and Educational Program is Wednesday, September 17, 2008, from 12:00 to 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn.
The Business Meeting will take place from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. to elect officers, including nominations for the position of Secretary, which is a very important office. Once elected to the Secretary position, a person automatically moves up the leadership ladder to first vice chair, then chair elect, and then chair. The annual meeting will also include the nomination and election of council members to fill open seats on the council. Please let me know if you are interested in serving on the council or running for Secretary.
The Educational Program this year is quite timely as we all struggle to deal with the economic challenges facing the practice of law. Please join us at the Annual Meeting's Educational Program, "How to Keep Your Law Firm Going in These Tough Economic Times."
Billing and Collection
Preparing for the Worst
Go to the Annual Meeting website. When you click regstration at the top of the page it will display a page that lists only those events that have a fee. There is no charge for all other events and section meetings. You would register for your section meeting as you move through the online registration process or by marking the check box on the printed registration form.
In the last LPM Section newsletter, I wrote about the importance of creating a brand if the lawyer is going to rise above the competition and avoid the commoditization of legal services. By building a brand you influence customers in their purchase decision, by creating a belief of what they are going to buy and receive even before they actually make the purchase.
Good brands deliver what I call the Three Big Things. The first is confidence in the business. For instance, if you go to any McDonalds, you have confidence that the food is going to be the same quality every time you go, the place will be reasonably clean, and a Big Mac is going to cost about the same as you paid the last time you went.
Second, a good brand delivers an emotional feeling that you get when you purchase that particular brand. Clothing manufacturers learned this lesson years ago. Consider a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt. Most likely the Ralph Lauren Polo shirt you buy is made somewhere in Asia. It may even be made by the same worker who makes similar polo shirts that are sold in Wal-Mart. But when they sew on that that little logo with the guy riding the horse, it suddenly adds $40 to the price. Why? Because the person who wears the shirt believes he is buying more quality and feels it reflects something about themselves to his peers.
Finally, good brands deliver this confidence and this emotional feeling consistently. There is never a let down. If you buy a new BMW you know it will be fun to drive, it will be a quality product, and when stopped at a light, the person in the next lane will check you out, probably consider you successful and ascribe characteristics to you that may or may not be true. And as someone who has owned three BMWs, I can attest to the fact that indeed the BMW does this and does it consistently. So how does a lawyer go about creating a brand that reflects your brand to a client with these Three Big Things?
Before you develop your brand identity, you need to assess your business, how it operates, and determine the message that you want and are able to deliver consistently to your clients. This may take a lot of work. First consider your core competencies. Not just what you do but what you do well from you client’s and your employee’s point of view. Look at your current client base. What do they think about you? What do they want? Do they believe you deliver a quality product? Do they believe that they receive value? Talk to your own staff to determine what they feel your business is all about and consider how far you can grow, change, or reposition your present business without alienating the clients you already have. On the other hand, you might want to consider whether you really want to maintain your current client base. Once you have a good idea about your core competencies and what your employees and clients think about your business you can start to define or reposition your brand message.
First, decide what you want your brand identity to say about your business. But remember, your brand message must be consistent with the way your clients and your employees think about your business if you want it to be believable. For instance, if you want your brand identity to reflect sophistication and high quality and your office is on the wrong side of the tracks in a small, dilapidated building and your clients associate you with quick and dirty, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Or if you want your brand identity to convey caring and personal service, and your clients are always subjected to a voice-mail system that requires several “Press 1s” or “Press 2s” before they get to a real person, there may be a disconnect in the brand message.
Once you have determined what you want you want your brand identity to reflect, you must communicate this brand message to your clients in every contact you make. This message must be built into everything your client or potential client sees and hears before they have any direct contact with your business. And once they do contact your business, you must deliver. This includes everything you do, from the type of stationary you use, your office building, the furniture you purchase, the art on your walls, the person who answers the phone, the way you dress, the follow-up you do, the kind of marketing campaigns you initiate, the name of your firm, or a logo that you create. Make sure everyone on your staff is on board and understands what you want to convey and is trained to convey this message. And make certain that you continually reinforce this message to your employees through training and example. If the brand identity you are trying to develop says one thing and you or your staff communicates something different, you might as well give up now. So make sure each and every client contact reflects this brand message and reinforces your identity.
Stick with it and be consistent. Building a brand takes time. It is built one contact at a time delivering the same promised product time after time. That is why it is so important that every contact with a client or potential client delivers on that customer’s perception of your brand. Again think of McDonalds. If sometimes when you bought that Big Mac, it didn’t taste quite right or they forgot to put on the mustard and ketchup, how long would you keep going, knowing that what you were getting was not what you had expected to receive. Consider the American auto manufacturers which saw their market share being carved away because customers, told they were being sold a quality product, found that both the product and the purchase and service experience failed to deliver on that promise. Customers rightfully began to believe that Japan produced and delivered a better product. And even today, when these same American companies finally have begun to put out a product that is probably equal to Honda’s and Toyota’s, that perception still sticks.
The same will be true for your law firm. If you create a brand identity and deliver on that identity in every thing you say and do for a client, you will find them beating a path to your door. Why? Because current clients and potential clients will know what to expect and that you will deliver on those expectations.
James Schmier is a recent Thomas M. Cooley graduate who, for 25 years prior to attending law school, owned and operated his own video production and marketing communications company. E-mail Mr. Schmier with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the many services offered by Google is a service they call Google Local. It provides a free business listing and a map to the business which will appear when a searcher uses a search term which would call up businesses in the local area. For instance if a searcher would use Google to find “Pontiac Michigan attorneys” he will see a small map near the top of the results page with pin markers listing and locating law firms and attorneys in the Pontiac area that have registered with Google Local. The listing includes the phone number and a web page if the lawyer has one as well as a link to a map and address.
To take advantage of this free marketing go to www.google.com/local/add and complete the short registration form.
Sucessfully Marketing Your Practice
Who needs to be concerned about attracting new clients?
Virtually every practicing lawyer must focus on marketing. The exceptions are lawyers who are retiring from the practice and lawyers practicing with medium to large firms who must learn how to be good lawyers before attempting to market their practice. Lawyers practicing with medium to large firms must develop two marketing efforts. They must develop a plan to market their practice to their colleagues in order to have their colleagues refer clients to them. In addition, lawyers practicing with medium to large law firms must engage in efforts to acquire clients who will use their services. An alternative to lawyers practicing in medium to large firms directing their marketing effort only to clients who need their legal services involves securing clients that have a need for other legal services provided by the firm. This effort involves cross-selling legal services within the firm. Successfully carried out, cross-selling enables the client to their legal needs to be served by lawyers practicing with a law firm familiar to them. Lawyers engaging in solo practice have committed to building a practice through effective client development and retention efforts. In order to survive, and then succeed, they must develop and conduct an effective marketing effort.
Successful techniques for attracting new clients
Marketing is simply defined as generating awareness and creating opportunities. The most important steps in marketing a law practice are:
The most common mistakes made by lawyers that hinder their opportunity to secure new clients
Among the most common mistakes made by lawyers that impede their opportunity to gain new clients are:
Types of advertising generate the most client attraction?
Web sites generally generate the most client attraction. Potential clients use web sites to locate lawyers and law firm that can address their legal problems. Web sites are also used by prospective clients to compare the representation made by a lawyer during person-to-person discussions concerning the law firm and the description of the lawyer's practice who initially visited with the prospective client. The web site must be attractive and easily navigated by the user. Yellow pages work well for some types of practices, especially, the listings by specialty for they enable prospective clients to locate a lawyer whose practice will enable them to solve the client's problems.
The most effective marketing tools are speaking engagements and written materials. Speaking engagements enable prospective clients to evaluate the lawyer's knowledge of the subject, their ability as a communicator and the lawyer's perceived recognition by his or her peers having been selected to speak on a subject. Articles and/or copies of materials prepared for a speaking engagement are also effective marketing tools.
Prospective clients tend to hire lawyers based on referrals by friends or acquaintances. If the prospective client does not have a referral source, then they will rely on the written or oral presentation made by the lawyer. Finally, they will relay on web sites and/or yellow page ads. Location of the lawyer or firm's office will also play a part in a prospective client's selection of a lawyer. Convenient location is important to the prospective client.
What associations or groups should a lawyer belong to as part of their marketing effort?
The decision is based in large part on the type of practice that a lawyer or law firm conducts. A trial lawyer, depending on whether he or she engages in plaintiff's personal injury or contingent fee work should belong to a trial lawyer's association. A developing trend has trial lawyers who historically represented plaintiffs in civil or contingent fee cases now seeking to represent businesses. This change will call for them to become active in business-related organizations. A general practice lawyer should be an active member of a community organization.
Similarly, a lawyer with a specialty; family law, elder law, estate planning and real estate may become active in the membership of the church to which they belong.
A lawyer practicing a specialty will benefit from being active in a local, regional, state or national organization where their specialty may lead to referrals from other lawyers not practicing the specialty, but whose clients may need assistance by the specialist.
Membership in an industry or business group will provide the opportunity to develop clients from among the non-lawyer members in the group.
How important are referral relationships?
Referrals are the single best source of work from prospective clients. A referral from a friend, relative or business acquaintance validates the virtues of the lawyer receiving the referral. Referral sources should continually be cultivated. They should be thanked for the referral when the prospect contacts the lawyer. The acknowledgment of the referral should be made regardless of whether the prospect becomes a client or is turned away for failure to meet the lawyer's criteria for client acceptance. If the prospect becomes a client, the lawyer receiving the referral should keep the referral source informed of the progress of the matter the lawyer is handling. Referral sources should be remembered at least annually by the lawyer receiving the referral.
Is it better/more profitable to attract new liens or focus on retaining and getting new business from current clients?
Lawyers with clients should remember the 80/20 rule. 80% of their work comes from 20% of their clients. Further, the 50/30/20 rule must be observed. 50% of new work comes from existing clients, 30% of new work comes from people who are not regular clients, but represent individual with whom the lawyer has significant business contacts, and 20% of new work comes from people who have learned of the lawyer from outside contacts. This means the lawyer with a client base should devote 80% of their time focused on existing clients and 20% on new clients. Marketing plans should be organized to reflect this commitment.
All lawyers must engage in the development of new clients. Depending upon a lawyers practice, individual clients will be lost through death or re-location or a perceived perception of the lawyer failure to adequately represent them. Business clients will be lost through merger, sale, or acquisition by another entity, bankruptcy, and change in management or loss of a firm member.
Annual marketing plans will focus on both client retention and client attraction
Copyrighted, used with permission.