General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

The Business of Law ® / Edward Poll

"Productizing" Your Practice

Most lawyers think of themselves only as practitioners providing a professional service—and with not enough hours in the day to do even that! But I have found that there is a way to leverage what you’re already doing to grow your practice and increase your revenue. It’s called "productizing your practice."

Simply defined, "productizing" means creating tangible items or products based on the service that you already provide, and using them to help your whole practice grow. Products serve a double function. They promote your core practice, and they take on a life of their own by providing additional satisfaction and/or revenue.

1. Products are great marketing tools. In today’s competitive legal environment, you may need all of the marketing help that you can get; creating and selling products provides that by promoting you and your services.

2. Products increase your credibility and solidify your position as an expert. When I started consulting, my vision was to have a national presence within five years. I wanted to be able to compete with the major consulting firms, such as Hildebrandt, Arthur Andersen Consulting, and Price Waterhouse. I reached my goal.

3. By creating products, you expand your clients’ knowledge and promote the concept of teamwork. When clients read your books or articles, listen to your tapes, or attend your seminars, they are exposed to more ideas and, as a result, they have more questions to ask.

4. Selling products can increase your revenue. The phrase "passive income" comes alive when orders for your products are waiting for you when you arrive for work in the morning. But in addition to product sales themselves, the process can also bring more legal work to you.

5. With products, you create a tangible legacy for your family and children. Products can be seen and touched; there’s something more there than just the intangible result of doing good work for a client.

But aren’t products a distraction? No doubt about it, creating products can take time away from a lawyer’s primary activity. But so does every other form of marketing and business development. The question is whether the activity will produce positive results. There are many examples—mine included—of lawyers who have successfully increased their legal practice and ancillary project revenues. Who knows? If you’re really successful, practicing law might become your second business.

Types of Products

The range of products is limited only by imagination, although the bulk of items produced by lawyers tends to fall into only a few categories. Specific products being successfully produced by lawyers around the country right now include articles in publications, newsletters (both hard copy and electronic), books, and audiotapes.

Articles. Publishing articles is a great way to get yourself known, and it’s fairly easy to do. The approach is basic. Brainstorm a legal issue that people are concerned about and in which you have (or can develop) expertise. Determine which publications might be interested in this subject. Then, contact them and offer to write an article that their readers will want to read.

Trade, business, and consumer publications are constantly looking for new articles to fill their pages. Consumer publications will pay you for an article, while many trade publications will not. But don’t let that stop you—even those who want your article for free will frequently offer other services, such as free ad placement. If you have a book or other product, that is what you advertise. If you don’t yet have products to promote, you can barter for an ad highlighting your practice. Either way, you come out ahead.

But the benefits don’t end there, because you can often recycle your writings after publication. Take that article (if you are the copyright holder; otherwise, make sure you get permission to reprint) and publish it in your own newsletter (a new product). Or reproduce the published clipping for your press kit or client mailings (adding appropriate publishing credit).

Newsletters. Printed newsletters can be simple one-page, two-sided, black-and-white versions; or they can be far more complex and costly. They can also be electronic, which is the simplest and least expensive to create and distribute.

Keep in mind that newsletters should do more than puff up the ego of the firm owner. They should contain real information or news about substantive legal issues that could affect clients.

Newsletters are usually distributed free to a list of clients or prospects, although if the information is unique or extremely valuable, you might be able to charge for it. One example of such a subscription newsletter was created by Thomas Hudson, a former partner in the Maryland law firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard, LLP. Targeting legal compliance experts in the automobile industry, he started producing the monthly "CARLAW" report. Today, Mr. Hudson is editor-in-chief of the publication, and he is better known and more successful because of it.

Books. A book with your name on it as author is the ultimate in credibility, and one of the easiest products to sell on its own merits. There is more than one way to create a book. You can take your new idea to a book publisher, who will either love it or send you on your way to try again with the next publisher. Some publishers—especially the large ones—deal only with literary agents as intermediaries. In that case, simply take one step back and send your proposal out to prospective agents, who will then go to the publishers.

A second option is to self-publish your book. Although publishing industry insiders often look down on self-publishing, I don’t. I’ve sold enough of my own books that I can now proudly say that I am a published writer and a publisher.

Audiotapes. You can produce stand-alone audiotapes that focus on a specific topic, or you can have a periodic series, such as my "Law Practice Management Review: The Audio Magazine for Busy Attorneys." Each tape in this monthly audio magazine series lasts one hour and focuses on interviews with people from all over the country about issues of managing a law practice.

The audience for your tapes can be other lawyers or clients. Whether you can charge for the tapes will depend on their perceived value.

How to Create Products

All you need to create a product is the desire. Here, too, you can leverage your efforts by creating one product from the effort involved in creating another. For example, an interview from an audiotape can be edited to provide an article for a magazine.

Most of the products I’ve mentioned can be created entirely by you. Obviously, that takes more time and energy on your part, and some money (both directly and indirectly, in time taken away from other activities). Or, you can hire independent contractors to help you. Did you know that many well-known books are written by ghost writers? Alternatively, you can create a concept, do most of the work, and then hire people to do the things you either don’t want to or can’t do. I’m not a graphic designer, so I hire one when necessary. A public relations firm or ad agency can provide marketing expertise. And so on.

Marketing "You"

When you create products, you are really marketing "you." By reaching target clients with your products, you are increasing your credibility and your own revenue. Think of each product as a new division of your overall business. CL

Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a certified management consultant in Los Angeles who advises lawyers and law firms on how to deliver their services more effectively while increasing profits. He is the author of Secrets of the Business of Law: Successful Practices for Increasing Your Profits. To comment on this column, or send e-mail to edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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