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The Friday Five

Get Real About Marketing

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Ready to ratchet up your marketing? Perhaps business is slower than you’d like, or you just don’t like the direction your practice is taking—too much repetition, not enough challenge? Maybe it’s time to refocus your practice. Or maybe you need to stop waiting for others to “do something,” and start bringing in your own clients. Regardless, first let’s get clear on the realities of marketing legal services today.

1. Size doesn’t matter. Well, OK, there are those international corporate types approaching merger who need a mega brand-name firm to bolster the board’s confidence and protect their own tender necks should things go sideways. Beyond those few odd twists, though, any ingenious and determined lawyer can provide what’s needed, regardless of how many workstations are plugged in at their firm, or who buys the paper clips. And there’s every reason to expect any lawyer in any size firm to offer the kind of personal service previously associated with small and solo practices. Let’s repeat: No one cares about size. So it’s no way to compete.

2. It’s value, not price. If you’re still trying to compete based on price … well, that’s another thing we need to talk about. There are so many wrong ways to think about your fees. The right way? Focus on the actual value of your service to your client. That means you’ll need to think more often than once or twice a year at compensation time about your fees. And if you’ve been living in a firm where bespoke pricing was forbidden, now is a good time to get over that and refocus. Clients will love this! Heck, you’ll love it.

3. Look at me when you say that. Speaking of love … it’s not just the love of your life who needs attention. Everyone is drawn to that person who bothers to see things from their point of view. Try this experiment: Pull up your last RFP response or firm website, and read a bit of text. Start counting personal pronouns. Does it go something like this: “I, we, us, us, we, we, our, me”? As a potential client, that tells me all you want to talk about is you. I’m looking for someone to help solve my legal problem. Once I know you’re qualified (and that takes 30 seconds), I want evidence that you know how to talk—and care—about me. Next time you speak to potential clients, try asking about them instead of telling about you. It works!

4. Learn to work the Internet. Welcome to the 21st century, where at least half our communications occur via the Internet. No longer do we argue for 30 minutes over dinner about the name of “Oh … that guy in the Italian movie who … you know … he’s blond and dated Penelope Cruz?” Smartphones slide out of purses and pockets and the controversy is quickly laid to rest. Every day begins and ends with email. We learn what’s up with family members by reading Facebook. We “go to school” in our pajamas. Professionals demonstrate competence by being first to share or retweet hot news. And clients find lawyers via online legal networks. Accept that this is the world you live in. If you’ve avoided LinkedIn because “I just don’t want people to know that much about me,” or Facebook because “I don’t trust those security settings,” then rethink your assumptions. It’s simple: You need to fish where the fish are. You’d better learn to find the joy in the internet.

5. Be nice! Okay, you’re probably not to blame. Law school taught you to fly like an arrow to the heart of anything wrong, incorrect, misguided or inappropriate. And if you view the world negatively for long enough—in the company of others with a similar outlook—that cynical and competitive way of being just feels like home. It’s all those positive, “glass half-full” people who really make your eye twitch, right? But here’s the thing: People hire lawyers they feel comfortable with—the ones they can trust. Sure, some clients may share your cynical worldview, but most want to know that while you can be a bad-ass when they need you to be, the rest of the time you are a good and kind person, interested in solving their problems.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Friday Five, Managing a Law Firm, Rainmaking
Originally published January 11, 2013
Last updated March 12, 2021
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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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