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The Friday Five

How to Stay Afloat as a Small Law Firm: Panic Is Not an Option

Take a breath, prepare for LSAT levels of stress — and get to work!

By Conrad Saam

The water might feel like it’s just about up to your chin right now, and it very well might be. A lot of small, local firms are on the edge in the best of circumstances. So, a sudden and dramatic decline in clients could be an existential matter. I’m here to tell you that the time for panic is over.

Take a breath, collect yourself and get to work. Let’s build your firm.

Five Steps to Protect — and Build — Your Local Firm

Step 1: Keep both prospective and current clients in the loop

Check absolutely every place your firm’s hours are listed. Are they still accurate? Correct any that aren’t. If you’re still conducting in-person appointments, please stop. If you’re not, make sure your listings reflect that. A slick way to get this message across to people who are already interested in becoming clients is by placing a banner at the top of your website that immediately clarifies your position.

Step 2: Build local support

Just because everything is shut down doesn’t mean people don’t have the same problems. No matter your area of law, people still need your help and are probably unsure of how to proceed. Not only is your expertise needed now, but putting yourself out there will also benefit you in the long run. Let local papers know that you are available as a legal source. This is a great link-building technique and will grow your local brand.

The other side of building local support is physically helping your community. Don’t feel limited to your practice area or the law: donate to charities, volunteer at food banks, collect and deliver protective equipment to local hospitals.

Remember that you are a citizen like everyone else, and now is the time to be the best you can be.

Step 3: Keep up with local spam

Just because normal businesses aren’t busy doesn’t mean that spammers are taking a break. “Local” spam refers to fake law firms that show up in local listings. They often have fake reviews, locations in empty or already occupied lots, and inconsistent business details. To the trained eye, these fake listings are as obvious as a swimmer at a jockey convention. Unfortunately, most clients don’t have a trained eye. You could be losing business to a firm that doesn’t exist.

So what can you do? You should already be doing regular local spam checks: Go to Google Maps and look for attorneys in your area. If anyone shows up that you don’t recognize, or that seems suspicious, flag them. Google will look into it and will eventually take them down. The other way to fight spam in your area is to make sure your own contact information is as accessible as possible. Clients are more likely to call the firm that has clear business hours and a website than the firm that only has a phone number.

Step 4: Adapt

Things are changing. Fast. Your main practice area might not be in demand right at the moment. Now is the time to get into a different practice area. Maybe look into a temporary (or permanent) rebrand. There are plenty of marketing agencies that can help you with this, from GNGF to Nifty to AttorneySync. They can help you restructure or rebuild your website, ensure NAP consistency, and get you the clients you need. Spend your extra time at home rewriting old content, planning what needs to be on your website, and cleaning up old listings you no longer need.

Step 5: Tighten your belt

I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say that you’ll make it through for the sole reason that you’re a good and honest attorney. That’s not how any of this works. If your firm makes it through this financially, it will be because you knew where to cut back and where to invest more. Maybe you don’t need to outsource that piece of work. Maybe you need to look into better call intake and tracking tools (may I suggest CallRail?). Basically, if it isn’t bringing in or keeping clients, lose it. If you can do it in-house, don’t outsource it. If it’s helping you bring in or keep clients, improve it.

Before I Go …

Running a local firm is a feat of determination and dedication to both the law and your community. If there has ever been a time for your efforts to be seen and put to wider use, it’s now. Take a breath, prepare for LSAT levels of stress, and get going.

You can do this.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Conrad Saam Conrad Saam

Conrad Saam is the founder of Mockingbird Marketing, an online marketing agency focused exclusively on the legal sector. A frequent presenter at bar association and legal marketing conferences from coast to coast, he is the author of the recently released “Own the Map: Marketing Your Law Firm’s Address Online,” and “The FindLaw Jailbreak Guide.” A Google Small Business Advisor, Conrad has held positions for multiple ABA marketing committees. Follow him @ConradSaam.

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