Philadelphia. Credit: mandritoiu/

There’s tremendous competition among Philadelphia lawyers to attract new clients. What separates one litigator from another? What separates one real estate lawyer from another? What separates one matrimonial lawyer from another? How about medical malpractice lawyers, trusts and estates lawyers or criminal defense lawyers. Each of them wants to attract new clients and increase earnings. They may join clubs, donate time to public charities, support political leaders, speak at trade association meetings, and write articles they hope will cause their phones to ring and emails to flow into their computers. Yet, what if all those efforts fall short. What to do?

How to Stand Apart

Too many lawyers run with the herd and are indistinguishable from their colleagues. They don’t position themselves as independent experts. Yet, no one will hire a lawyer who is interchangeable with another lawyer. Every client wants to hire only the best ­lawyers, just as all patients want to be treated by the best doctors. To stand apart from the herd, one must begin by building a reputation, step by step, from the ground up. To begin, one should publish bylined articles in prestigious journals, especially those read by prospective clients. For example, if one is a labor relations lawyer who represents a corporation, one should publish in periodicals read by CEOs and presidents, as well as by senior human resource executives. Those articles should be sent with a cover letter to targeted executives, inviting each of them to contact the lawyer with any questions they may have. The next step is to be the subject of news stories that should also be marketed through email and direct mail. The news stories should position the lawyer as an expert who has just won an important case, or negotiated a valuable deal or offered expert commentary on a topical issue. Those news stories and bylined articles can be reinforced by putting on seminars, webinars and conferences. A series of ongoing press releases are ­essential. Too many attorneys do not effectively market their accomplishments, neither to spheres of influence nor to prospective clients. They may not hide their victories under a barrel, but they don’t sell the sizzle. News stories that are the subject of one’s accomplishments can also highlight one’s overall legal skills and creativity in formulating winning strategies and tactics. In addition, after one is recognized as a leading authority on certain legal issues, one can be called upon to offer commentary on topical legal subjects, even though one may not have direct involvement in the subject under discussion. For example, years ago, one of my clients, a prominent Philadelphia labor relations lawyer appeared on “PBS NewsHour,” where he offered an explanation of management’s position on a UPS strike. He did not represent UPS, but his expertise resulted in his being retained by other trucking companies.

When that attorney originally contacted me, he represented small businesses, such as car dealerships, nursing homes, restaurants and manufacturers in and around Philadelphia. He wanted to represent Fortune 1,000 companies. I was able to get him a front page story in The Wall Street Journal about how the government would be dealing with strikes by public employees and unions that stifled productivity. We ordered reprints of that story, and I bought a list of the presidents, CEOs and senior HR executives at the Fortune 1,000 companies. I wrote a cover letter describing the talents, skills and experience of my client. I invited recipients to call him and learn what he could do to increase their companies’ productivity and profitability. As a result, he got three of those companies as clients. As new labor issues popped up, I continued to get him coverage in major media, such as on national television news programs and in major business and trade magazines. He appeared several times as a legal expert on “PBS NewsHour,” on “Face the Nation” on ABC News as well as on several nationally syndicated afternoon television talk shows. In addition, he regularly wrote articles that appeared in a wide variety of journals and magazines. All the published articles and news story were compiled and proved to be an impressive assessment of my client when he presented those folders of information to new clients. In addition, he put on a series of seminars for unionized and nonunionized companies in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. Finally, I had him write a book about how companies and unions could work together to achieve a common goal. Once it was published, my client went on a national media tour, and was interviewed by business reporters at daily newspapers and editors at municipal business publications. Over a period of years, the labor relations attorney enlisted numerous major corporations as clients.

Getting the Word Out

A small Philadelphia boutique law firm of exceptional medical malpractice litigators had won numerous cases against hospitals and doctors. Their record of success was extraordinary and the awards they won were substantial. They had learned that prisoners in New Jersey, who had contracted hepatitis C, were not being treated for the disease. They decided to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners. After they were appointed lawyers for the class, I contacted an editor at The New York Times and ­explained the case and its importance. The editor assigned two reporters to cover it, and their story appeared on page one. As a result, various groups representing infected prisoners contacted my client and asked that they be represented by the firm. The principals of the law firm had become leading authorities on medical negligence in prisons.

I was asked several years ago to represent a brilliant real estate litigator; he proved to be a winning courtroom advocate, but his cases were not being reported in the media. One of his clients was a major landlord of numerous commercial and ­residential ­buildings in cities throughout the Northeast. He had over-extended himself and was about to lose a substantial part of real estate holdings. The lawyer devised and executed a plan of action that permitted the landlord to retain the majority of his holdings. I contacted the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times and several real estate trade publications about the case. The attorney explained in detail what he had accomplished. The ensuing stories significantly boosted his reputation, resulting in him attracting a flood of new clients. As a result, his firm had to hire more lawyers and expand the space they occupied. I thought he was so brilliant that I was able to enlist a prominent New York-based publisher to offer him a contract to write a book of advice for landlords and developers. The book was positively reviewed and served as a persuasive marketing tool.

Whether one uses agency or exercises one’s own creativity, it is essential that one develop a blueprint for ongoing success. Not to do so means that one will be a member of a herd, not a distinguished and independent expert.