Volume 20, Number 5 July/August 2003
Do You Still Need to Join Kiwanis?
By Lynne J. Stadjuhar
On any given day, most lawyers receive multiple membership opportunities through traditional mail or e-mail. "Don't miss this great opportunity to meet prospective clients and network with other lawyers in your field. Join today for the discount price of . . . ." Sound familiar? While membership in these legal organizations is extremely important to the practice of law, the time spent networking and attending these events will not pay the bills. Most of us hardly leave enough time in our day to complete the required amount of CLE credits necessary to maintain our licenses, let alone attend meetings, luncheons, serve on boards, and make appearances at charity events. Today, lawyers are much more focused on billable time-after all, that's how we make money, right? With the time crunch of the modern-day law practice, is it still imperative that we belong to civic and charitable clubs? The answer is a resounding "yes."
Clubs like Kiwanis have their roots in American business society. The Kiwanis club was founded in 1915 in Detroit, Michigan, by a Moose Lodge organizer and a tailor. The club was started as a networking club for local merchants and salesmen to make contacts with prospective clients. The name Kiwanis is derived from a Native American phrase meaning "to trade or advertise." The Kiwanis club contributes $70 million yearly to charitable organizations, and each year its members donate close to 7 million hours of their time.
Most of us pass up the opportunity to get involved in organizations such as Kiwanis, not because we believe such involvement isn't worthwhile, but simply because we don't have the time. Perhaps in the name of community service, marketing, and client development, we should make the time.
Although the idea of marketing has been widely accepted by most firms and practitioners, how to market is still a mystery to most. Today there is a great amount of emphasis on the firm résumé, direct mail, newspaper, legal publication, and television advertising. However, most lawyers have realized that these traditional forms of business advertising do not necessarily create a windfall of client work. Because of the lack of success through these traditional channels, many firms have given up on marketing or have hired professional marketing consultants to do the job. Have we forgotten that the basis of client development is creating a relationship?
Let's start with the basics. How do clients choose a lawyer? In most cases, when people make the decision to contact a lawyer, most call their friend or a friend of a friend who is a lawyer to discuss their particular legal issue and ask for advice on whom to hire. People feel more comfortable sharing this information with someone they trust. Trust is the basis for creating any type of relationship, and as we propose, the basis for generating business.
Trust cannot be created by simple advertising. Trust is built over time after a person or company feels comfortable with the character, ability, strength, and truth of a person or a firm. Think about it: How do you hire a babysitter, a plumber, a contractor, or any other service provider? Most of us ask people we know and trust to recommend someone they know and trust. Although it is true that some services can develop business from the traditional forms of advertising, most is generated on referrals. Membership in an organization or club creates this type of relationship and often generates business.
Membership here does not mean attending an occasional dinner or cocktail hour; it means attending regular meetings and activities as well as contributing to the cause, not only financially, but also by donating your expertise. You need to show the other members that you are not only trustworthy but that you have an expert knowledge of the law. By participating or perhaps donating your professional time, you will become more than a name on a roster-you will take on a persona.
Historically, each town or community had one general store, one doctor, and one lawyer. All of the residents of the town knew each other and knew whom to contact when they needed these services. Think of these clubs and organizations as communities. If you participate and get to know the members, they will get to know you. You will develop a trust relationship with the members, and when they are faced with a legal issue or are asked if they know of anyone who can help, you will be the first friend on the list.
Although this marketing plan is logical and simple, it may require some time and training for your partners and associates, as well as some discipline on your part. This type of thing is not taught in law school. Although there are several opportunities to network with potential employers and gain experience through legal aid clinics, this type of marketing is different. Once young lawyers land their first job, most relax and spend their extra time learning the practice of law. It is important to instill the mindset that law is a business, and although they have landed that coveted first job, their job does not exist without a steady stream of work. All lawyers must market their practice to stay profitable.
Relationship Marketing in Trade Groups
Most firms and practices already rely on current client referrals for business development. That is a good start. However, there may be an entire world of untapped referrals that you are missing if you fail to practice the oldest form of advertising: good old-fashioned relationship marketing.
By building relationships with people, lawyers create the natural flow of business. Lawyers must rely on referrals to keep their practice up and running, let alone profitable. Referral advertising is the most common way to attract new clients in the field of law. There are so many potential client bases that have remained unexplored by the legal profession. For example, when you are developing your marketing plan, whether it be individual or for a firm, take some time to investigate different trade groups and organizations. Look beyond the traditional membership groups such as bar associations and other law-related organizations. There are vast gold mines of clients lurking in associations and groups that are not even aware of their legal needs. Undoubtedly, your current clients belong to several trade groups, attend trade shows, and keep in contact with people they have met through the years in the industry. Ask your current clients to advise you regarding what groups are reputable and what groups will allow you to get to know the industry in addition to the people in it. Not only will your client realize that you are truly committed to representing their best interests, you will gain their respect as well as the respect of their colleagues.
Again, this marketing technique will not work if you do not take an active role in the group once you become a member. After you join the group, take an educational or consulting role. Perhaps offer your legal services to the group in exchange for a sponsorship position. Make sure your information is accessible to the members of the group so that when they need you they can easily contact you. Be aware and prepared that you may not develop a client relationship overnight, but when these people need help, they will remember the name of the lawyer in their industry group they met at the annual dinner or the lawyer who talked about issues in law that concern the industry.
If you are a small firm or solo practitioner, marketing the name of the firm will not give you the same name recognition as it does for large, well-known firms. Emphasize your name, not the name of the firm. Capitalize on the personal relationship you have created.
One way to make them remember your name is to use your expertise to educate the members about why they need legal assistance. Place yourself in an expert role for all members of the group. Study the industry and the legal needs of its members, then ask the group for time to give a presentation. If the group has a publication, ask for permission to submit an article regarding the legal issues that apply to the industry. Explain when and why legal representation is important to their business. No matter what field of law you have chosen, offering legal advice will automatically gain respect for you and your firm.
Perhaps the most significant reason to pursue membership in these clubs and organizations is our civic duty as lawyers. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct state, "Lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society." This is true not only in the courtroom but also in the context of providing legal education to clients and society alike. As lawyers we have special skills that, when used correctly, can benefit society. By offering our time to these clubs and organizations, we can fulfill our civic duty.
The American law system is based on the theory of stare decisis, dictating that we shall rely on precedent when presented with the same set of facts. Membership in civic and trade organizations has been the practice of lawyers since the creation of the American legal system. Who are we to disrupt this tried-and-true method of legal marketing? These groups and organizations are the perfect forum for us, as lawyers, to build our businesses and develop professional relationships with people in our communities.
Lynne J. Stadjuhar practices law with Zupkus & Angell, PC, in Denver, Colorado, where she specializes in general litig tion, insurance defense, insurance coverage, and bankruptcy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.