More on getting legal business. This time: Get your message out. Demonstrate your successes. You’ve got credibility . . . show it.
Most in-house lawyers make buy vs. build decisions all day. Do I use my staff or do I hire outside counsel? You want to be the person that keeps us from getting to “build”. You want to be the person whose attributes we identify with solving the immediate problem. You do not want us to even think about using our current in-house resources or, heaven forbid, another law firm. You need to be the first name that pops into our head when we need the best solution.
This is name recognition. You want us to equate your name with particular expertise. Not so that we’ll think, “Ooops, just spilled some plutonium. Must call super lawyer X” — at least not immediately. Instead, you want us know who you are (and that you are somebody special) when you make your first personal contact with us. This is how you distinguish yourself from the pack who hound us for work.
This takes time, naturally. But probably not as much time as you think. And best of all, it has nothing to do with lunch. Your goal is to get your name in front of us repeatedly, framed by endorsements (implied or actual) and other hallmarks of credibility. Word of mouth is best, but you’ll waste a lot of time figuring out whose mouth we listen to. Doing a great job for your clients who are in the same industry as we are is always helpful. Yes, we do talk to each other and seek referrals from industry peers. But chances are you’re reading this because you don’t have enough (or any) good clients. This is where “making a name for yourself” comes in. It’s up to you to take the first step. Here are a few I-don’t-know-where-to-start suggestions:
- Write articles for publications and websites that we will see (or that or our internal clients will clip and send to us), not articles your fellow lawyers will read. Law review articles and bar association magazine columns have their place, but you’re going to get a lot closer to your target market by writing a “legal tips” column or a “what’s new” column for an industry periodical. Remember, your goal is not journalism. It’s providing value, and creating name recognition. Be sure to always include a description of something you have accomplished for a client who is similar to your target. For example, in an article discussing new export/import regulations: “We were able to secure an import license for one of our large manufacturing clients by . . . .” But don’t write an advertorial. We can smell these a mile away.
Industry publications are always desperate for relevant content, and because you won’t charge them for it, your contributions will be welcomed. Be prepared to make at least a 1-year commitment. You might have to “pitch” your idea a little bit, especially to the more widely-read publications. If you reach an agreement, you will benefit from the repeated exposure, and the publication will enhance its editorial quality. Be sure to secure reprint / re-posting rights so you can reproduce your work on your firm’s website, or in the dead-tree version. (Reminder: Your “firm brochure” is not a publication we subscribe to. It gets the same treatment as other unsolicited mail.)
- Participate in industry conferences. Introduce yourself to those who organize them, and hand them a brief outline of a presentation you would like to make (or a panel discussion you would like to moderate or join) at their next conference. Be sure to commit early, and get your name, photo and 1 sentence bio-blurb describing your expertise to the organizer in time to get in the conference announcement mailers and websites. During the presentation, do a bang-up job on your part. Always introduce something new or provocative (i.e., not in your handouts or outline). Relay specific examples of your expertise in problem solving. Learn how to tell a captivating story. The point: be memorable. After the presentation, mingle with those with whom you made eye contact and as many others as you can. They are there because your panel had something important say. They are buyers, not browsers. Get their business cards. Start a relationship by promising to send them something; then do it. (More on follow-though in a later post).
- Become an always-available “go-to” source to the press for legal commentary. First, identify the business writers/editors for the major newspapers in the markets where your potential clients are located. Identify an appellate case that could be of significant interest to potential clients, obtain the briefs, and write a version of a press release for each possible outcome. Follow the case, and when the decision is announced, distribute the appropriate release immediately. The release should contain short plain-English quotes that can be lifted into an article. The quote will be attributed to you, and the reporter might even call you for an interview. Being cited as an expert in The Wall Street Journal is a good thing.
If you are fortunate to have at least one client who wants to help you (if you’re a good lawyer, they really do), ask him/her to make introductions to intermediaries (trade association professionals, magazine editors, the press) to whom you can offer your assistance through writings and presentations “because I really care about the [insert industry name here] industry, and want to help its members navigate this difficult area.” Or something like that, but be genuine.
A final word on publicists or professional marketers. I’m sure they provide value of some sort, but we’ve never used them, so we can’t comment on their effectiveness. Even if you engage a professional, you will still have to do the heavy lifting. It’s your reputation after all.