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On Balance

How Tribes Can Power Your Law Practice

By Megan Zavieh

The idea of a “tribe” is powerful. Who would not feel connected in a group of people tied together by common values, traditions or goals? Tribes have two distinct yet equally important roles to play in your law practice — particularly if you are a solo practitioner. First, connecting with the right tribe can help you bring in more clients. Second, a tribe of colleagues who share knowledge and provide much-needed support not only makes you a better lawyer, it can provide ethics safeguards.

Tribes as Audience

Marketing master Seth Godin’s best-selling book, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” focuses on leading, connecting and creating movements. (His TED talk on the subject is here.) One concept that applies directly to business development is the idea that your potential client base is a tribe. If your base has a shared value, a shared problem, or a specific shared demographic that brings them together as a group — as a tribe — you can focus your marketing to address that commonality.

For example, if your firm sues makers of performance-enhancement products for athletes on the grounds that the products are bogus and do not work, your marketing campaign’s target audience will be fitness enthusiasts. If you want to tighten the focus, you could pursue runners as your target audience. The tribe to which those potential clients belong will be even more specific — say, long-distance runners participating in multiple races each year.

Identifying your potential clients’ tribe can significantly enhance your marketing. Now you can hone your message and focus your content marketing directly on the tribe’s concerns. And you can publish that content in a forum most likely to be viewed by the tribe. Most importantly, if your message connects with a couple of members of the tribe, your content will spread throughout the tribe’s internal network — and you will tap into social media and other connections already in place among the tribe’s members.

So, get up close and personal with your ideal client and identify their tribe. Then revisit your marketing strategy to figure out how to break into that tribe. With any luck, you’ll already have an “in” — perhaps the passion or purpose that brings you to serve that tribe already opens the door to their network. For example, perhaps you chose to bring claims on behalf of duped runners because it happened to you — and you are already part of a social network with runners who may become clients.

Find a Tribe of Colleagues

The other way tribes play a role in solo law practice is in cultivating a network of colleagues. Find a tribe of other lawyers who do what you do. If such a tribe has not been formed, then form it yourself. Bringing lawyers together in the same area of law is exceptionally valuable if members are willing to help each other. (This can be a sticking point in starting a new tribe, which makes it very worthwhile to first seek out an existing tribe where the members already share information and assistance.)

Ideally, your tribe of colleagues will be of a reasonably significant size but not unwieldy — perhaps about 50 lawyers.

Tribe members should be of varying levels of experience so that discussions are more likely to be useful to everyone. If all tribe members are too experienced, discussions will be over the heads of novice members attempting to join. If the group is too green, however, the members won’t actually be able to help each other.

To be effective, tribe members must be in regular communication with each other. The best way today is through an online tool such as Slack, Google Hangouts or even an email listserv.

Lastly, the tribe absolutely must be willing to share. Just as most senior lawyers are willing to mentor junior ones if asked, most experienced lawyers are willing to answer the questions of those less experienced in their area of law.

When you become a member of a tribe of colleagues, your ethics and malpractice risk is bound to go down. After all, if you are part of a well-functioning tribe, it can be like sitting down the hall from a knowledgeable senior partner and multiple higher-level associates, all willing to talk to you.

When you find this tribe of colleagues, be sure to become an active participant and use the collective shared knowledge of the group. Pay attention to discussions, even if they do not involve you, and listen and read carefully when your questions are answered.

Be Not Alone

Finding ways to be connected has become more of a focus for legal professionals as the world turns digital and more work is done remotely. It is extra critical as a solo lawyer to get out beyond yourself and connect with a group of like-minded colleagues. You are bound to be a better lawyer by learning from others in your field.

Remember that your potential clients are not alone, either. Tapping into their tribes can do wonders for your business.

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Megan Zavieh Megan Zavieh

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of “The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide.” At Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Her latest book, “The Modern Lawyer: Ethics and Technology in an Evolving World,” (ABA 2021 ) covers how to run a modern practice while staying in line with current ethics rules. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical, blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

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