SOLO Masthead logo
American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice


Vol. 17, No. 1

Did You Know?



Attract Clients by Addressing Basic Human Needs

My assignment for this article was to write about novel ideas for attracting clients, but everywhere you look, there seems to be an article about using social media or other “new” tools to market a law practice. The problem is that there is too much focus on the marketing tool du jour, whether that happens to be Martindale-Hubble listings, rating sites such as AVVO, Yellow Pages listings, blogs, websites, etc., and not enough on the strategy behind using those tools.

The truth is that it really doesn’t matter what method you use to market your practice. If you don’t have the underlying principles and concepts in place and you don’t apply those concepts, no marketing method will be effective. The golden rule of marketing and business development success is that it isn’t necessarily what you do that counts—it’s how you do it that’s important.

Lawyers make marketing much more complicated than it has to be. Regardless of the technological advances made in the last 20 years or the changes in communication and transportation, human wants and desires haven’t changed. Law is a relationship business. Whether your practice is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, you are dealing with human beings. Human beings want to feel heard and understood. They want to have an opportunity to tell their stories. They want a sympathetic ear. They want someone to pay attention to them. They want to feel in control of their lives and businesses.

Don’t most legal matters arise as a result of one of these basic human needs? Whether the legal matter is a divorce, business dispute, criminal action, immigration issue or an estate plan, the protection, loss, or violation of one of these basic human needs is at play. The same needs drive the lawyer-client relationship. Clients want to know that their lawyer is not only technically competent and experienced enough to handle the legal issues involved in the case, but that the lawyer cares about the client, and not just the outcome (or the fee).

Of course, these needs must be addressed during the engagement. But this article is about attracting clients. Your marketing activities and message must demonstrate your understanding of and commitment to these principles, not just pay lip service to them. How do you demonstrate that?

Be transparent. When you feel as if someone is hiding something from you, you get suspicious. Clients do, too. You need your clients to trust you, not only so they will rely on and respect your advice, but also so that they are open and honest with you. Be open about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what costs are involved.

Follow up. Again, it isn’t news, but so few lawyers bother with follow-up that if you do it, you’ll be among the minority. When you meet a prospect or referral source, send an immediate acknowledgement or thank you, and diary your next follow-up or meeting right away. Consistency is key.

Speak your clients’ language. The trust relationship begins before the client ever walks into your office. To attract clients, demonstrate that you can relate to clients by taking complex issues and communicating them in ways clients can understand in your marketing materials and on your website.

Be empathic. Most legal matters include an emotional component. Acknowledge the emotions involved and demonstrate empathy for the client’s position, not by saying that you empathize with them, but by putting yourself in your clients’ shoes and speaking about their issues from their perspective. Your message must communicate that your clients are businesses and people that you care about, not just cases or files.

Focus on the process. Clients come to lawyers with two levels of anxiety: substantive anxiety and process anxiety. Most lawyers are ready and able to address substantive issues about the case itself, the legal issues and potential outcomes. But most lawyers ignore the process anxiety—what will happen and when, what to expect, how the matter will be conducted, etc. If you can acknowledge and address a client’s process anxiety up front—even in your marketing efforts—you will attract more clients.

Recognize clients’ basic human needs and address them in your marketing materials to attract clients. Then follow up by fulfilling the expectations created by your marketing and watch your practice grow.

Allison C. Shields, a lawyer and president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., provides practice management and business development coaching and consulting services to lawyers seeking to make their practices more productive, profitable, and enjoyable. Contact her at . Visit her website at or her blog at


© Copyright 2010, American Bar Association.