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Getting Clients

Focus, People! Tell Them Precisely What You Do

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Last week while driving to an appointment, I listened to a morning interview show on the local Public Radio affiliate. I live in Colorado where the snow is really starting to pile up in the mountains, so the topic could not have been more timely: “Things Colorado Skiers Should Know About Their Liability and Safety.” The expert was Evan Banker, a personal injury lawyer at Denver’s Chalat Law, which specializes in cases involving collisions at ski resorts.

It was a beautiful example of how lawyers can focus their law practice and use that focus to market their services. After 10 minutes of listening to the discussion — what to do if someone skis into you on the slopes, how lawyers decide whether to take a skiing personal injury case, the role of homeowners insurance in covering liability when someone makes a stupid skiing mistake — I had memorized Banker’s name as well as his firm’s. And I knew exactly who to recommend whenever someone I know needs help with a skiing injury legal question. (It didn’t hurt that Banker was articulate, prepared and personable.)

Yesterday, listening to the same station, I heard a sponsor announcement from a law
firm that underwrites Public Radio content. You’ve heard similar announcements: “Support comes from the [your name here] Law Firm, specializing in divorce, custody, personal injury, mining, maritime and local tax law.”

getting-clients-buy-nowHmm. Not only did I have no clue why I would ever refer or use that law firm, I had no idea what they really do, and I am led to believe they don’t either. Best-case scenario, that firm is very large and consists of many, many lawyers with widely different practice focuses. Worst-case scenario? These lawyers will do just about anything for a paying client, whether it is something they are actually good at or not.

I know, it’s hard to say you just do one single thing. The very natural feeling is that some of those other things might be interesting and popular, too. Why limit yourself, right?

This comes up in strategic planning exercises all the time and can be the source of endless struggle. There is always someone in the room who wants it to be about all the many things she can do or has done … just in case one of those is something someone, anyone, wants to pay her for. But the time is long past when consumers looked for a lawyer who could do everything. Today’s client wants an expert. The lawyer with experience and obvious knowledge.

Ask for What You Want

So try this: Ask yourself what kind of law you really, really want to practice. Then figure out who it is that would engage and pay a lawyer to do that kind of work. Assuming you have all of the experience and training to do that work (and if you don’t, go get it!), find ways and places to speak with those people about what you do and how you do it. Take a page from Evan Banker’s book: Focus!

Do it well and maybe, someday, someone will write a post like this about you.

Illustration ©

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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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