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Branding campaigns. Fancy logos. Elaborate PR events. Law firms are marketing their services as never before and often sparing no expense. Big firms nationwide have embraced self-promotion in ways that only a few years ago would have been considered unseemly: advertising on CNN, handing out souvenirs at trade shows and using firm mascots as pitchmen — such as North Carolina-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice’s bulldog “Winston,” who does radio, TV and print ads for the 450-lawyer firm. Though these strut-your-stuff maneuvers are now commonplace, at least among big firms, the paradigm shift has left some solo practitioners and lawyers at small firms wondering how to compete in the high-cost world of marketing. “Small firms often have the notion that this is just big firm stuff,” said consultant John Remsen of The Remsen Group, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based legal marketing business with a national clientele. “But marketing does not have to involve big dollars to be effective.” Marketing is more about one-on-one relationships than glitzy ad campaigns, which may help if you can afford them, but are not crucial to successful promotion, Remsen said. “Referral possibilities are everywhere,” said bankruptcy attorney Shayna M. Steinfeld of Steinfeld & Steinfeld. She frequently lectures on the subject of marketing, and recently got a new client thanks to a referral from her former wallpaper installer. “Everyone you meet should know who you are and what you do.” Remsen and Steinfeld offer comforting words to firms with limited budgets, but what’s the next step for a firm seeking to sell its services? If firms don’t need to advertise during primetime, what do they need to do? EXISTING CLIENTS MEAN BUSINESS It’s simple: Grow your relationships. Across the board, the advice from those in the know focuses on personal connection, particularly with current clients, who are considered the hidden treasure of the marketing business. “Many firms get caught up in the sexiness of marketing to new clients,” said Remsen. But though the client on the horizon might generate a thrill-of-the-hunt excitement, statistics indicate that solid business comes from the tried-and-true. According to Remsen, 80 to 85 percent of next year’s business will come from a firm’s current clients. So it only makes sense to mine this rich ore, he said, instead of digging in unexplored territory. That means staying in touch with current clients and active referral sources, finding out what they want and need — and then delivering. “All marketing is driven by the absolute need to know what your client wants,” said Roberta Montafia, immediate past president and current board member of the Legal Marketing Association and global director of marketing for Baker & McKenzie in Chicago. Meet your clients’ needs, she said, and your business will grow. Chicago-based consultant Larry Bodine, publisher of the “LawMarketing Newsletter” and columnist for FindLaw’s Firm Marketing Center, recommends a two-step approach. “First, put together a list of all the people who have referred business to you in the last year. Meet with them and ask them about their business. Then do the same thing for your five best clients,” he said. “Don’t show up and just push legal services. Instead, ask questions,” Bodine advised. “You contact someone and say the reason you’re calling is that you want to find out more about their business. What keeps them up at night? What problems are they facing? What are the challenges? Pose questions that are designed to get the other person to talk. Your job in selling legal services is to listen, and what you’re listening for is an opportunity to be helpful or to offer or a solution.” MEET AND GREET To increase your client base, the advice is the same: Build relationships. “Marketing is a contact sport,” said Bodine. “You have to get out of your office and meet people. You’re really not going to be successful if you don’t — it’s a people business. In-person marketing, face-to-face contact — that’s where you get the business.” Hollis Weishar, president of Rhode Island-based Hollis Weishar Marketing and author of the American Bar Association’s “Marketing Success Stories” and “The Complete Guide to Marketing Your Law Practice,” recommends spending a minimum of 80 percent of a firm’s total marketing budget, time and resources on relationship-building. That means lunches, phone calls and e-mails, plus seminars, articles and speaking engagements. Everything else follows — brochures, newsletters, Yellow Pages, TV and radio ads, Web pages — and only if there is money left in the coffers. “If I were a small firm with $1,000 to spend on marketing, I would spend it all on relationship-building,” she said. The first step, according to Weishar, is to create a 20-second verbal infomercial about yourself. Practice it and have it ready so that you are prepared to give a polished self-introduction at all times, she said. You need to be ready at all times because you never know when a potential client or marketing opportunity might show up. Bankruptcy lawyer Steinfeld tells how a relaxing day at the pool turned into an opportunity for national press coverage. She was in Tampa with her husband and law partner, Bruce R. Steinfeld, who was there for a family law CLE course at an ABA meeting. “Bruce was building some cardboard boats with our three boys and I was off to the side reading my book. I wandered over to see how the boat building was going and started talking to somebody I didn’t know,” she said. Steinfeld’s new poolside acquaintance turned out to be looking for someone to chair an ABA bankruptcy committee. “So there I was at the family law meeting in the capacity of spouse, in my bathing suit, out with my kids,” recalled Steinfeld. One thing led to another and “Voila! Bruce and I were co-chairs of the bankruptcy committee.” That appointment segued into being quoted in several national publications as a bankruptcy expert. The exposure raised her profile and provided promotional material to send to clients. NOUVEAU NICHE In addition to relationship-building, the concept of creating a niche is key for small firms. “There’s no way a small firm can compete as a full-service firm toe-to-toe with the King & Spaldings, the Troutman Sanders, the Alston & Birds,” said consultant Remsen. For a small firm, it’s crucial to find a niche and specialize. Once you decide what area you want to promote, make sure that your efforts are appropriate. Target relevant professions. “Look for people who are in a position to refer you to your ideal or prototypical client,” said Wade H. Watson III of Caldwell & Watson, and chair of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Sole Practitioner and Small Firm Section. For example, if you specialize in insurance law, get to know insurance agents. “Take them to lunch, make friends,” he said. “If you do two or more of these type of lunches a week, you will get business. The quality of the business will depend on how good you were at finding the best contacts.” Then start networking and joining related professional groups. But don’t join just for the sake of joining. Therese G. Franz�n, of the six-lawyer Atlanta firm Franz�n and Salzano, stresses the need to get involved. “To be effective, you’ve got to be active. It’s the relationships that get the business.” And don’t forget other lawyers. James J. Long of Atlanta’s Long & Holder has found networking to be his firm’s best marketing technique. Following the advice of legal marketing consultant Art Italo, the firm limited its practice to workers’ compensation and then set out to meet as many attorneys as possible in order to foster mutual referrals. Since implementing Italo’s program in 1999, Long said his firm’s revenue from workers’ compensation cases has increased by about 36 percent annually, and he’s saved $40,000 a year by eliminating Yellow Pages advertising expense. Though personnel costs have increased in order to handle the larger volume of cases, Long isn’t complaining. Attorney Watson tells how a small case handled by his partner, Harmon W. Caldwell Jr., led to an ongoing flow of work from a fellow attorney. The case involved a client of a well-known Atlanta lawyer, the late Alex McLennan Jr. According to Watson, his law partner’s performance in the courtroom impressed McLennan, who began referring cases to Caldwell, and later associated Caldwell and Watson on some big cases. One of those cases involved a challenge to George Woodruff’s will. Woodruff, the brother of long-time Coca-Cola chairman Robert Woodruff, left an estate of more than $225 million. Now, about two-thirds of the firm’s practice involves trust and estate or business tort litigation, Watson said. “Harmon [Caldwell] attributes much of his success in developing this practice, and the millions in fees that he has earned, to the fact that he did a good job on a $30,000 … case and happened to impress Alex McLennan.” THANK YOUR SOURCES And don’t forget to thank your referral sources. “Making a referral source look good for having referred the client in the first place will produce exponential results,” said family law attorney Randall M. Kessler. Kessler recalled a client he accepted when he first started his own firm. “[She] was a special and dear client of the referring firm,” he said, but she was unable to pay Kessler in full. Nonetheless, Kessler said that he “was paid tenfold after the client reported back to the referring firm that I had done an outstanding job. That firm has sent me countless divorce cases ever since.” WEB USE CALLED A BARGAIN Solo practitioners and small firms also should consider using a Web site to market their services. “It’s the great equalizer. Everyone gets the same one square foot of space on the computer screen,” said consultant Bodine. But, he advises, get a professional to design it. “An amateurish site is a definite turnoff. You can lose business if you have a bad site.” He said that a good pro design can be had for about $3,000. Small firms don’t need to spend on the costlier items like animation, he added, but should focus on content. Client lists are good, and plaintiffs firms can list big-name defendants they have successfully sued. For small firms with business clients, he recommends including case studies. For example, he said, “What clients want to see is that you represented a closely-held business where there was a dispute transferring the business from the first generation to the second generation and here’s the solution you worked out.” Other recommended online tools include sending e-newsletters and maintaining a Martindale-Hubbell listing. All Martindale-Hubbell subscribers are automatically included in the company’s online publication and its new Lawyers.com site. Sometimes a direct source of business, a Martindale listing is often a secondary source for potential clients researching a lawyer. What about old-fashioned advertising? The consensus seems to be if your practice area is mass market-based — personal injury, divorce, immigration, DUI — Yellow Pages ads make sense. But as Watson points out, they require “a big capital investment in telephones and people to answer and screen calls because you’re casting a big net.” TV and radio ads generally are seen as much less cost-effective. In addition to relatively high cost, “broadcast is an incredibly broad medium,” said Bodine. “You’re reaching an incredibly wide audience, including people without any legal problems, children … there’s a lot of waste in broadcast.” JUST DO IT Despite the benefits of even low-cost marketing, some attorneys don’t market their services. They think it is not necessary, or unbecoming, or say they are too busy. According to Bodine, “The biggest mistake lawyers make is not doing any marketing at all.” Billing all your time and saving none for business development is a mistake, he said. “It’s like flying a jet plane: you may be flying high now, but you’ve got to remember to put fuel in the tank.”
BEST MARKETING TOOL? NETWORKING Marketing consultant Art Italo works one-on-one with lawyers to build their practices and boost revenues. After logging more than 10,000 hours counseling Atlanta-area attorneys, Italo said it’s individual contacts that bring success, especially for small firms. Q.What is the most common marketing mistake that small-firm lawyers make? A.Looking for a silver bullet, a quick fix that’s going to make people appear. They tend to fall into the trap of using referral services or the Yellow Pages, when what they don’t need is the cost of this and the lost time screening calls. They end up eroding their own efforts. Q.What should they be doing? What marketing tool works best? A.Without question, the biggest bang for the buck is personal networking with other professionals — accountants, doctors whatever profession provides the business for their type of practice. Many lawyers realize that networking is a necessary part of marketing, but they shy away from it. They ‘re afraid that people will think they’re not successful — or too mercenary — if they have to be out [pumping] their friends and acquaintances for business. Q.Can you give an example of networking in action? A.I can give many. One client had an estate planning practice, and for him, the plan was to go out and meet more accountants and others in the financial industry. Q.How did he do this? A.By asking every client who [his or her] accountant was. Then he would call the accountant and say, “We share a client in common. I am looking for more accountants to whom I can refer business. Would you like to meet for lunch?” By the end of the lunch, he would ask, “By the way, do you know any financial planners that I could call?” He then would contact the financial planners [saying that the accountant had suggested he call]. [In five years,] his practice went from $60,000 a year [in revenues] to $600,000 a year — and all he did was targeted network marketing. Q.What do you tell those lawyers who feel uncomfortable making calls? A.Why feel uncomfortable? Doesn’t [the person you're calling] want to get referrals, too? There’s not a thing to be embarrassed about when you’re talking to other professionals. They’re glad you called. Now they don’t have to call you. On balance, [my clients] almost never get rejected when they call and invite someone to talk over lunch. To have someone show up on your doorstep when you know you should be out there making those calls yourself — it’s quite convenient.

Laurel-Ann Dooley is an attorney and free-lance writer in Atlanta.

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