American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

 

PR: It Doesn't Take a Fortune

By David L. Haron

Using a public relations professional may seem lavish, but if you have a practice you love, it's well worth the expense. We all know that new business is the lifeblood of any practice. No matter if you're wildly (or mildly) successful, you can't afford to sit still. Today's fast economy, highly mobile workforce, and potential for mergers and acquisitions could steal your most productive client overnight. New clients and referrals are key to your continued well- being. And if you have a specialized practice, you must have referrals from lawyers who know what you do, how you do it, and that they're not able to handle it themselves. (This is all the more attractive in those jurisdictions where liberal fee-splitting is allowed.) If you are in a specialty practice, you must be prepared to "give yourself away." You must discuss your practice in detail with other lawyers in order to demonstrate the uniqueness of your work and the difficulties facing the uninitiated. Although "telling too much" may open the door to competition, it's more likely that your colleagues will recognize your expertise and refer clients or seek your advice.

Whom to Choose and What to Spend

Target marketing through professional PR representatives need not be a large firm luxury. Solos and small firms can economically utilize professional help. But finding and using the right PR professional takes some effort. First, because PR people often charge by the hour-$100 and up-it's essential for those operating on a modest budget to find someone familiar with the unique needs of the legal profession. You don't want to pay to educate. Many PR professionals will have experience in large advertising or public relations agencies. However, they will be the most expensive. A better bet is a PR agent with some communications or advertising experience, who has recently worked as a lawyer, law firm administrator, or bar staff member. This type of person is familiar with the practice of law and can hit the ground running. Second, initial interviews are essential. Make sure it's free or negotiate the cost up front. Many PR professionals charge for brainstorming and planning. References are helpful, but most important are the individual's personality, enthusiasm, and recognition of your practice needs. Most PR reps prefer an hourly rate assignment. But beware: If you have little experience with public relations, this form of remuneration can be disastrous. There will be fits and starts, drafts and redrafts, and the cost can be enormous, no matter the success of the program. A fixed or capped fee is the best way to go. Project costs can range from $500 for a simple news release and local media placement to $3,000 for message development and website design. Because forecasting the future is difficult, most agencies will provide an estimate and-much like your own billing system-will keep you posted as to how much is being spent and for what. When you reach the point where you're comfortable with the PR agent and want to use him or her regularly, a monthly retainer is a good option.

What You Get

A PR professional can help get you quickly up to speed in the following areas:

1. Develop and refine a consistent message that recognizes your best features and promotes you in a positive, ethical, competent manner.
2. Arrange speaking engagements before groups such as a local or specialty bar. The agent will negotiate the details-location, multimedia equipment, invitations, and publicity-and provide presentation materials, refreshments, and follow-up with staff and attendees.
3. Suggest topics for, assist in the writing of, and place articles in legal and related publications, and obtain permission for reprints to place in brochures or to hand out at presentations.
4. Develop, edit, and place magazine and other advertisements, obtain photographs and other advertising services for brochures and general presentation materials.
5. Train and hone your presentation skills.
6. Brainstorm and develop public relations campaigns.
7. Develop electronic media packages with website access.
8. Develop PowerPoint presentations.

If the expenditure on public relations produces even one significant case, it's paid for itself. More importantly, you know you are a good lawyer-a good public relations professional can let the world know.

David L. Haron is with Frank, Stefani, Haron & Hall in Troy, Michigan. He can be reached at dharon@fsh-law.com.

From Your End . . .

It takes effort on both sides to make the public relations process function. You must:

1. Discuss your practice, your goals, and objectives; include your best features and your deficiencies.
2. Keep in touch with updates on changes in the law, your successes, and any publicity you receive.
3. Be prepared for your meetings; don't waste time-and money.
4. Monitor your bills; make sure they're detailed.

 

 

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