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Marketing 101

Your Business Development Marching Orders

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

So you passed the bar. CONGRATULATIONS! Now you are a real lawyer. After the pain and torment of law school and the nerve-jangling business of studying for the bar, you’d think this would be a good time to relax and regroup—and ease slowly into your new career. Yes, that would be nice. But it’s not recommended. Because once you have that job (and aren’t you lucky)—whether as an associate in a sizable firm, as the new guy at the three-lawyer practice over on Main, or as a solo practitioner—there are things to be done now to lay the groundwork for a successful practice later on. Marketing and business development things.

It’s Time to Put a Few Marketing Things in Place

You know by now—or you should—that the ability to get and keep good clients is one of the more important arrows in a lawyer’s quiver. If you’re in a firm, you won’t make partner without it. And the days are long gone when you could wait until you’d been practicing for five or six years before troubling yourself about finding your own clients. If you’re a solo or part of an eat-what-you-kill smaller practice, well, it’s obvious, right?

So here’s the checklist. Set each one of these gears in motion and you will have started up the client-getting machinery that will sustain your whole successful career.

  • Business card. It seems trivial but it isn’t. The card is still your key to connecting with the rest of the business—and client—world. Clean, legible and professional looking without being scary is what we’re going for here. If you have a say in the design, ask for plenty of “white space” in addition to your name, phone number, email address and URL. The open space on the card gives you a chance to write something personal as you hand it to someone. (Maybe your Twitter name or home phone number?) Makes a nice impression.
  • Biography. Get yourself online and read the descriptions of lawyers you admire. Now spend some really good and thoughtful time writing your personal description for your online biography. Spending a lot of time, by the way, doesn’t mean writing a lot. It means writing well. If you have trouble in that department—you’re not writing a brief here—then get help. Tone is important. And don’t overlook all your experience outside of law. If, for example, you worked your way through college as executive assistant to a big real estate developer, your clients may find this useful information.
  • Social network. Yes, you do want to be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Make certain your profile is up to date and includes only information you want a potential client (or employer) to see. (Here’s where all that time you spent honing your biography comes in handy.) Do include a photo (but it better not be you at the frat party winning at Beer Pong, regardless of how charming and approachable you think it makes you look). Post frequently and thoughtfully. You know the drill.
  • Directory listing. You know which ones. And if you don’t, do the research. But do not fool yourself into thinking buying advertising space is the answer to your marketing quandary. Just make sure you are listed.
  • Elevator speech. Learn to answer the following question in 25 comfortable words or less: “What do you do for a living?” Simply saying “I’m a lawyer” doesn’t pass the test. Explain what you do and who you do it for. Something like: “I’m a creditors’ bankruptcy lawyer. I represent groups of businesses who are owed significant amounts of money in big bankruptcy proceedings.” (That’s 21 words!) If you are so brand-new you don’t know what you do, figure it out. If you can’t tell someone what you do, they most certainly won’t be interested in paying you money to do it for them.
  • Join in. Join some sort of organization (preferably one frequented by the kinds of people likely to hire someone who does what you do) and get actively involved. Merely having your name on the membership roster does exactly nothing for you. But attending meetings, volunteering for committees and taking initiative on the business of the group gives people an opportunity to know you through your good and effective work. “Oh, her,” they will say, “she was really effective on the by-laws committee. There is no way we could have waded through all the crap without her. I’d sure hire her to be MY lawyer!”

There. You are launched. But absolutely do not expect that new clients will begin to stumble over each other on their way to your door. Remember, this is groundwork. It’s only the beginning of a lifetime of building connections and helping your clients.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. She blogs about innovation at

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Legal Career Development, Rainmaking
Originally published August 30, 2011
Last updated May 5, 2018
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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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