At a time when the supply of good, qualified lawyers exceeds the demand—and with so many options for finding legal advice or representation online—it is critical to differentiate your practice. To be found and hired, you need to speak clearly about the solutions and skills you will offer clients. How? Here are 12 ways to stand out from your competition.
- Decide what to focus your practice on, and be an expert. Go deep, not wide. Have two to three niche areas of expertise—do not “be all things to all people.” Perhaps you are a trusts and estates lawyer who specializes in assisting families who have children with special needs, or a family lawyer who represents clients in the LGBT community.
- Stay ahead of the curve in your niche. Be sure you stay up on trends that will affect your practice, as well as trends that will affect your clients and prospects. Stay up on the news: Who are the new employers and businesses in the area, and who is leaving your area? Also track competitors. Who are they? What services or products are they offering? What are they doing differently? How are they pricing their services?
- Get away from hourly billing. If you aren’t already using flat fees or value pricing models, reconsider. Your clients want predictability so they can budget their legal expenses. Find ways to break your fee into manageable chunks.
- Be exceptional in service. Solve problems in the fastest, least-expensive way for clients. Communicate effectively, and often. Return emails and phone calls within four to six hours. If you are unable to do this, use your voice-mail message and your email’s “out of office” feature to let clients know when you will be available. Or, have an assistant check your email and voice mail while you are tied up in court or closings. Be timely in what you need to deliver for clients. Don’t wait until the last minute. Try to beat deadlines.
- Be approachable—learn to listen and empathize. Many people perceive lawyers as arrogant. Talk to clients in layperson’s language and leave the legalese behind.
- Ask clients for feedback, including ways to improve your service. Use written surveys at the completion of a matter and keep the communication lines open for ongoing feedback. Clients will be your best referral sources—as much as 70 percent of your business may come via referrals from really satisfied clients. But clients can also do damage if they are detractors. Ask really satisfied clients for testimonials to weave into your website.
- Be efficient. Use technology tools and online resources to get things done faster and cheaper for clients.
- Get found by your targets. First, use good old-fashioned networks: friends, former college or law school classmates, family, accountants, bankers and doctors. Make sure they know what you do and who your “ideal” client is. Second, use the big three social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) and explore “branded networks” like Avvo. Join groups that will reach your targets, including referral sources and prospective clients. Third, make sure your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) is sound.
- Network strategically. Figure out your best sources of business. In addition to really satisfied clients, this might include doctors, accountants, bankers, real estate agents or financial advisers. Another good source may be other lawyers who don’t do what you do. Social media can provide an additional platform for selective networking—just be clear on who you want to network with for business. Be sure you are always thinking of ways to help others first.
- Promote your expertise in your field. Thought leadership is an opportunity to differentiate. Once you identify your best referral sources, find out how to best reach them with helpful information. Write short articles for your local paper, the local business journal or, if there is a large employer in your area, offer to conduct short programs for the company’s employees.
- Add value. Offer free webinars, give away some information, do a free initial consultation. Provide a connection or introduction to someone the client needs, such as a banker, doctor or local legislator.
- Stay ahead and stay with it. Figure out how to offer the services and benefits clients cannot get from the Internet or from other providers. Embrace change. Continue to develop your legal and technology skills. Look for new needs, new services, new client groups and keep changing your services to reflect the needs of the market, always being careful to distinguish yourself in important ways from all the other lawyers and new service providers that are competing with you for clients.
Susan Saltonstall Duncan is President of RainMaking Oasis, Inc., a business development and management consulting firm. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an inductee in the LMA’s Hall of Fame and a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. In her blog, InFocus – Insights on Legal Practice Strategies and Innovations, Susan considers challenges facing the legal profession and offers remedies and approaches to address them.
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