Go to law school. Work hard. Get a job at a big firm. The road map for becoming a successful lawyer used to be fairly predictable. But these days, many talented lawyers, uninspired by the BigLaw hierarchy, are striking out on their own. We’re seeing more lawyers with an entrepreneurial spirit start boutique firms or solo practices, finding new ways to deliver excellent legal services on their own terms.
You’re on Your Own!
Carving out a distinct space for a new law practice and attracting the right kinds of clients is no easy feat. One big challenge: Without an existing big firm brand attached to your work, it’s up to you to establish yourself as a thought leader and stand out in front of peers and potential referral sources. But what does that mean? How do you find your target audience? And what makes for a true thought leader?
Here are five tips for becoming a thought leader in your field.
1. Hone your voice. Be sure your voice and message are clear. You want to be the authority on a narrow subject area, so choose your niche carefully. Consider how it meshes with your background, education and current practice. You need the “goods” to back up what you say — otherwise your audience will search for answers elsewhere.
2. Share your knowledge freely. More and more lawyers are realizing how valuable it can be to share their expertise broadly, not just privately with clients. According to ABA research, an estimated 10 percent of attorneys have legal blogs, with nearly 40 percent of the law firms reporting that blogging resulted in new clients or referrals (as high as 60 percent for solo practitioners). These blogs are often full of substantive legal insights geared toward a broader audience, lawyers and laypeople alike. If you aren’t blogging, consider it — or start slowly by guest posting on other blogs in your field.
3. Connect with the right audience. Finding easy ways to reach your target audience is key to your success. After all, what good is researching and writing a high-quality article if it doesn’t reach the right people? Look for platforms where you can get in touch with your target audience. Comment on other blogs and websites, answer questions on Q&A sites, use social media (joining the appropriate groups) and offer to write for trade or industry publications to find your community. Refer to and link back to your own blog, if you have one, whenever you post content on these types of platforms. Since referrals are among the most important ways to find and retain clients, developing a network of peers who recognize you based on the substance of your work is essential.
4. Networking is key. While this may sound obvious, it takes real diligence. One great way to start is professional association events and conferences. Local bar association events provide a good outlet both to network and provide substantive remarks to peers. Also, the ABA and other national CLE providers often tap local attorneys to share insights at conferences throughout the year. Develop a presentation or pitch and respond to the calls for speakers early for a better chance at getting your voice heard.
5. Meet the press. Once you’ve established yourself as a credible authority in your field, talking to the press can be a great way to increase your name recognition. Members of the business media and other journalists regularly call on known experts for quotes when their expertise is relevant to a story. Build relationships with the media, either directly or by becoming a prominent contributor on industry platforms. Eventually, they will learn you are a good resource and will call on you when they need legal expertise in your area.
Thought leadership can be an invaluable tool for building your reputation and practice. If you are strategic about the type of information you choose to share, and the tools you choose to use, you can get wide exposure based on the substance of your work. Plan and craft your message carefully — and then start sharing with the world.
Jake Heller is CEO of CaseText, a free legal research platform where attorneys share legal commentary with a rapidly growing community, linked to relevant cases and statutes. A former Stanford Law Review president, Jake clerked for the Honorable Michael Boudin, U.S. Court of Appeals and was an associate at Ropes & Gray before leaving to start up CaseText. He was named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for Law and Policy in 2014. Follow him on Twitter @CaseText.