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From Fantasy To Reality: A Time For Awakening

TASA ID: 2156

Once upon a time, those who dispensed legal counsel and services were able to build successful businesses because they worked hard, served their clients well, had good reputations and were reasonably visible in the community.  They found work through people they knew, referrals by other professionals or through people they met in organizations.

Unfortunately, times have changed.  Attorneys are realizing that these days, business is increasingly difficult to find.  One reason is that attorneys are pouring out of California law schools and other lawyers are increasingly moving to Southern California from other parts of the country.  

In addition to increased competition, the age of specialization arrived.  Instead of being generalists, lawyers emphasized only one legal practice area, thus narrowing the options for obtaining business in multiple practice areas.  

For many lawyers, getting business has been much tougher in this environment, though for many, new opportunities arrived in the Bates vs. Arizona decision in 1978, which allows attorneys to market themselves proactively.

Lawyers soon learned that an ongoing, comprehensive communications and marketing program is essential to competing in the 21st century.  Once a decision has been made to plan and implement such a program, it is vital to first define one’s objectives.  There are three basic reasons why professionals enter into such programs: to increase business; to build awareness, the image and/or reputation of the law firm or practitioner; and to disseminate important information about the firm and its personnel, services, accomplishments, etc.

Once your objectives are defined, the next step is to put together a marketing and/or communications plan, much as one would put together a business plan.  Toward that end, decisions must be made on the following items:

  • Who are your target audiences?  Consider potential clients, referral sources, opinion leaders.
  • What messages do you want to communicate?  Do you want to inform or persuade, or both?
  • What are your timetables, and do you have any limitations?
  • What’s your budget and how might that affect the scope of your program?
  • Who is responsible for implementing the program – an attorney, internal staff, outside consulting firm, or some combination?

Once these decisions have been made, it is time to determine the program strategy and plan.  The most critical element here is the target audience.  This will determine the strategy.  If you can identify your audience, a “rifle shot” or direct approach will be used; if not, a “shotgun” style program will be needed that relies on indirect communications.

The following are some examples of common, “tried and true” actions, direct and indirect, that have proven to be effective.

“Direct” is that form of communication in which the communicator makes a direct connection to the target audience, either verbally, visually or in writing.  Some examples of direct marketing or communications are as follows:

  • One-on-one communications, which can take the form of a meeting, telephone call, writing a letter, etc.
  • Forum presentation, where attorneys can market their capabilities by putting on an event (e.g. conference, seminar, symposium) that attracts the target audience.
  • Forum participation (e.g. speaker, panelist, workshop presenter) in events that will give exposure and demonstrate expertise.
  • Speaking engagements, which are an excellent way to obtain direct exposure, demonstrate expertise and build credibility.
  • Nonbusiness involvement – there are many business, civic, community, youth, cultural, educational, charity and nonprofit organizations to join which will afford direct contact with potential clients and referral sources.
  • Direct mail, in which a letter could be sent by itself or along with enclosures
    such as brochures, fliers, newsletters, etc.

“Indirect” marketing or communications is used to get the message out in ways that will communicate to the target audience.  Some common methods of this are as follows:

  • Referral sources may be the single, most effective method of indirect marketing. Reach out to referral sources and have them act as a surrogate to get the message to the intended audience.
  • Advertising can encompass every form known to man, from billboards to Yellow Page ads to the traditional media advertising.  (Note: many in the legal profession generally disapprove of advertising, but some practice areas us it.)
  • Non Paid media exposure, whether targeted to general, business or trade media, provides credibility, broad exposure, and enhances the image/reputation of the communicator.  This comes in many forms: news articles, interviews, features, bylined articles, guest commentaries, etc. 

Finally, there is one other indirect method for attorneys to market themselves, and it is one of the most effective means of building one’s name, visibility and reputation.  This involves playing the “media card” during the litigation process.  Often, using the media to inform and educate the “court of public opinion” during various stages of litigation – from the filing of a lawsuit through a settlement or jury verdict – can not only have a positive impact on the client’s case, but also reflects well on the professionalism and competence of the attorney.  Many careers have flourished this way.

The most critical aspect of a marketing and communications program is to have one.

TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA ID: 2156). Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.

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