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THE MAGAZINE      May/June 2002
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Practice Development Marketing

Creativity in Marketing Beeds Success

Robert W. Denney

Lawyers have always marketed themselves and their practices. Over the years, though, the strategies have changed significantly. And the ante keeps rising. To stand out from the crowd today, you must get out the word in innovative ways.

Legal marketing is not new. However, until 25 years ago, it wasn’t called "marketing." And it was usually limited to a few traditional endeavors such as pro bono and community activities. By and large, those endeavors worked.

Then in 1977 came the landmark Bates decision. The decision merely stated that lawyers could not be prohibited from advertising, yet it ushered in the Modern Age of Legal Marketing. While few firms began running advertisements, a number started to produce brochures, newsletters and practice area resumes. Some even retained the services of P.R. consultants to garner mention in the press.

Still, for a number of years it wasn’t quality or creativity that mattered in firm marketing. It was merely the fact that a firm was doing something. Firms that printed brochures or newsletters gained an advantage over those that did not. Then some firms gained a new advantage by producing seminars. Next, firms began developing logos. Then along came the Internet, and those that were first into the Web site fray moved farther ahead in the race for marketing success. Now that Web sites are common, many firms have turned to branding and advertising campaigns to set themselves apart.

These days, just doing something is no longer enough. Standing out from the competition requires that firms and lawyers select marketing strategies that are right for them specifically. It calls for distinctive tactics and creative use of marketing tools. To get your creative juices flowing, consider the following examples and ideas for new tactics.

Distinguished Examples

A young tax and estate planning lawyer on Long Island took a unique approach to business development: He began racing stock cars. When his partners challenged this as being a reckless personal hobby, rather than real marketing, he had two things to point out: First, most stock car racers are young, upwardly mobile people who have the financial resources to invest in the sport. Second, from his racing contacts, he had already obtained a number of clients with larger than average estates for their ages. The criticisms stopped—and the lawyer’s practice has continued to grow.

The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, firm Goldberg, Katzman & Shipman has taken a unique approach to the traditional brochure. Its "brochure" is actually a folder containing 10 separate sheets, one for each of the firm’s major practice areas. On the front of each sheet is an interesting, indeed compelling, photograph that makes you want to turn the sheet over to learn what the photo’s message is. On the back of the sheets are brief, well-written descriptions of the practice areas. As soon as you see what the practice area is, you grasthe point of each photo. It is one of the most creative, effective brochures I have seen in my 25 years of law firm marketing.

And how about this? A successful bankruptcy attorney in New Jersey is known as an accomplished and humorous speaker. He began offering himself as the master of ceremonies for banquets, award presentations and other events. His reputation, and the requests for his appearance, have grown steadily. So has his law practice.

Even simple policy changes can helbuild client relationships. Several firms, for example, have adopted a policy of not billing clients for phone, fax, copying or messenger charges. And they state this fact in their retainer letters and on all invoices. What’s the rational? Clients see these changes as normal costs of doing business and, whether or not they say so, clients resent being billed for them. Does this policy, by itself, bring in new clients? Probably not, but it makes the point that the firm understands its clients and how they think. That, in and of itself, is good marketing.

Different-Strokes Ideas

Don’t print your cell phone or home phone numbers on your business card. Instead, write them on the card when you give it to a client. Clients will feel special because you gave them these numbers personally, rather than printing the numbers on your card for just anyone to see.

When setting uan appointment, give a time that’s not on the hour or half-hour. For example, make it at 10:05 or 2:55. Then place the call or arrive for the meeting at exactly that time.

Don’t stay seated at your desk when you’re talking on the phone. Stand. Move around. Picture the person as being there in front of you. Gesture while you talk. Even smile. Your voice will be more interesting, and you will be more effective.

Don’t send Christmas or holiday cards. Lots of lawyers do that. Instead, send Thanksgiving cards. Or send birthday cards. This shows you have made the effort to learn, and remember, when the person’s birthday is.

When people ask what you do for a living, don’t say, "I’m a lawyer." Make an impression by saying something different like "I’m a doctor," then pause for a second and say, "a legal doctor" or "a tax doctor," depending on your practice area. If you’re a litigator, begin your answer by saying, "I’m a professional fighter."

If you haven’t done work for a certain client recently, send a blank invoice with the words "Good news. There’s nothing to bill you for." Or call the client and ask, "How are you doing?" or say, "I’d like to come by just to visit for a few minutes and catch uon how you’ve been doing."

Keea "Helpers" list of people you can recommend if someone has need of their services. More than the usual list of accountants or bankers, this list could include travel agents, real estate agents, painters, carpenters and even baby-sitters. You will quickly develoa reputation as a valuable resource when clients and others need assistance of all kinds.

Lastly, here are ideas for creative wording in print ads or on Web sites:

Make your point by saying, "We not only care for our clients, we care about them." Or, "There are people who don’t care for lawyers. And there are people who love them. Many of the latter are our clients."

Show a complicated math equation, with "1 + 1 = 2" beneath it. Use the caption "Sometimes the answer to a complex legal problem is quite simple."

Use a picture of the Mona Lisa, with the words "Our clients smile, too."

If your firm is small, have a picture of a Chevy Suburban, with the caption "Sometimes bigger is not always better. The same is true of law firms."

Use Your Imagination

I don’t profess that all of these are great ideas for your particular practice, but perhaps they’ll helyou generate other ideas more suitable and comfortable for you. The point is this: To be successful in marketing these days, you have to be innovative. Well-done creative marketing will distinguish you from your competition. And you’ll have a lot more fun while you’re at it!

Bob Denney (bob@robertdenney.com), president of Robert Denney Associates, Inc. , is a strategic marketing and management consultant. He can be reached at (610) 964-1938.

ACTION

  • The Complete Guide to Marketing Your Law Firm, edited by Hollis Hatfield Weishar and James A. Durham. American Bar Association, 1999.
  • Through the Client’s Eyes: New Approaches to Get Clients to Hire You Again and Again, 2nd ed., by Henry W. Ewalt. American Bar Association, 2002.
  • Comments? Contact Bob Denney at Robert Denney Associates, Inc., 110 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, PA 19087; (610) 964-1938; bob@robertdenney.com.