Feature

Marketing: The Senior Perspective

Edward Poll

Same old, same old—but different, too. Marketing for the “senior lawyer” is much like marketing for any lawyer, but with some noteworthy differences.

By the time you are a senior lawyer, you generally have acquired a track record of experiences, successes, clients, and the like. And, in general, you also have become ensconced in a particular geographic area. These characteristics will affect—and improve—your marketing position.

Self-Analysis and Marketing

Analyze yourself, your practice, and your goals to optimize your marketing efforts. Put it all into perspective, analyzing not only yourself but also your clientele and others in the area who do the kind of work you do and like. Of course, this advice holds for all lawyers and marketing. But as a senior lawyer in particular, you also must estimate the number of remaining years that you still want to work. This will provide you with an idea of how much effort and money you want to expend to increase your current market penetration.

From this vantage point, you should begin to set your goals. Statistically, you can gather the following information to guide your decisions:

  • What are the number of matters and percentage of revenue by practice area?
  • Which clients provide the bulk of your revenue?
  • What are your fees by (1) client, (2) attorney, and (3) category or matter type?
  • Has your volume of work increased or decreased in the last year? Why?

The Firm: Getting Input on Its Position

One positive thing about being a senior lawyer is that you have the standing in your firm to be a mover and a shaker in terms of marketing. You are not an underling and don’t have to be afraid of making waves or being too big for your britches. You have earned the right to be a leader in the marketing arena.

Your first chore in this regard is to ask for input on the firm’s position. In other words, ask your firm’s attorneys and staff about the firm’s position in the current legal market. Some specific questions to ask include the following:

  • What type of services do we offer at present? Do we want to limit our practice areas? One of my clients did this recently without a loss of gross revenue and with an increase in effectiveness of the firm marketing effort—and an increased amount of personal satisfaction. You might be inclined to worry about other lawyers taking your business and overtaking you in general as a firm powerhouse. John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach, did not worry about the opponent; he was concerned about his team and how good its members could be. If they were as good as they could be and focused on his game plan, he knew the team would win its fair share of games.
  • How effectively and efficiently are we providing these services? The greater use of technology enables you to be both more efficient (less labor intensive) and error free (avoidance of negligence). Also, costs (price of your service) can be contained, allowing increased gross revenue and profit, as well as value of your practice.
  • Is the need for these services likely to change in the future? If so, how? Will there be a statutory change, such as Internal Revenue Code, Robinson-Patman Act, etc.? With a change in political fortunes, will there be a change in the value of your offerings? Will your offerings be more or less important to the clients you reach?
  • What is the value of our firm? Do we have a succession plan in place? After 9/11, I coordinated efforts among a number of very large law firms. The ultimate conclusion of the group, representing thousands of lawyers (and later published in one of my books) was that “recovery” should not be the real focus; rather, “succession” and “business continuity” should be. In fact, one managing partner told me that his real concern when he goes to sleep each evening is how the firm will transfer to the next generation.

Assessing New Market and Practice Area Trends

Being a senior lawyer means that the market will undoubtedly have changed since you began your practice however many years ago. You might want to shift your marketing direction. To determine if and how you will do this, learn about market and practice trends taking place today:

  • What will the “hot” practice areas be in the coming year and beyond?
  • Who are the prospective clients in those areas?
  • Does the firm want to offer new services in response?

Based on economic and other social trends, you can identify practice areas that may become more or less successful. For example, if there is a continuing real estate slump in your area, consider taking on real estate workouts, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. If a significant percentage of the population in your area is aging, consider elder law, tax law, and estate planning.

There are numerous resources for such information, including local and national bar publications and reports, other attorneys practicing in your area, government forecasting data (e.g., the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstracts of the United States, tinyurl.com/jotk6a9), the reference sections available via LEXIS and West subscriptions, etc. Summarize the highlights of your assembled information and share it with all participants during your planning meetings.

Once the business plan is created, the practice areas are defined, and the marketing brand is identified, you can then begin to develop the specifics of your plan. Though the business may be modified, the basic formula still is “revenue minus expenses equals profits” (P = R – E).

Capitalizing on Client Loyalty

The basis of any law practice is the client. Without clients/customers, there is no business, no law practice. Thus, lawyers must be sensitive to clients’ wants and needs. Clients understand differences in service more readily than they understand differences in skills. The client is number one. The client is not always right, but the client’s interests must always be addressed as the foremost priority. In other words, the client’s loyalty must be viewed as perishable and never taken for granted. And on a related note, in terms of marketing, lawyers must reach the clients whom they want to serve.

At the senior level, these ideas don’t change. What does change is the branding and reputation that you have gained through the years, the breadth of your market, and the technology available to impact both your marketing reach and efficiency of operation. In other words, the concept is the same: Reach your “ideal client” by personal contact or electronic contact, make that potential client feel special, and show what you have to offer. The method of reaching that ideal client may have been altered a bit over the years. And, of course, what has also altered is the fact that you have more experience and success behind you to offer. You have past clients who will be inspired to give you future business. And you have past clients to offer as evidence of what you can offer to future clients. What hasn’t changed is that prospects must still see your brand and understand the value that you offer them.

Thus, in terms of marketing to potential clients, I would suggest some combination of the following:

  • Meet with clients whom you have served in the past to discuss what they see in their future and to learn how you can provide solutions to them to improve their vision of their future. Personal contact is almost always best (and this contact should initially be without cost to them for your effort and time).
  • Meet with new clients by visiting them in their environment. In order to really vet clients, you need to learn about the territory in which they live and work. By visiting the client, you will have an opportunity to ask questions in a way that bolsters the lawyer-client relationship. Lawyers who use effective questioning strategies show empathy and develop rapport while marketing themselves (asking questions that get people thinking about business solutions involving the lawyer’s services).
  • Market specifically to certain clients with legal updates and brochures that may interest them (e.g., quarterly reports on an industry trend). Another option is to send newspaper and magazine articles to prospective and existing clients with a handwritten note, such as “Dear Molly, I was just thinking of you when I saw this. . . .”
  • If Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cases are strong in your area, take an expert in OSHA with you to do a quick review for the benefit of your target client.
  • Attend functions where your ideal clients will be, such as annual conferences and community events.
  • Invite clients for lunch.
  • Conduct brown bag lunches with educational programming of importance, such as a representative from a bank discussing recent trends in the geographic area and economy.
  • Ask for feedback via telephone, writing, and in-person surveys.
  • Do business only with clients whom you enjoy and who pay their bills on time.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The bottom line is that the need to communicate your message is still the same as when you were a younger lawyer; the modalities may have been modified a bit over the years, and technology certainly is a factor that didn’t present itself before, but being a senior lawyer does not mean that you can skip communication with clients and potential clients.

Another aspect of marketing that hasn’t changed since you were a younger, more inexperienced lawyer involves office response. To sell yourself, you need to give proper attention to clients and potential clients. There is no point in spending money to advertise and to grow your revenue if, when you are successful, the client cannot be properly served. I’m not speaking about the quality of your legal services; I’m presuming that you are competent—as does your client. I’m talking about the first responses from your office (e.g., who answers the telephone) and the friendliness and speed of communication between the prospective client and the lawyer.

Clients: Thinking Outside the Box

Sources of business should include other professionals within the industry of your target market. Of course, this should have started before you became a senior lawyer; but now that you are a senior lawyer, you have an advantage in having more contacts and thus more opportunity for such business clients. Thus, you should expand your marketing outreach to include those who match your target market, all dependent on the industry you seek to serve.

Technology Shortcuts

One thing you probably noticed in this discussion is that many of the marketing suggestions hold true for younger lawyers, too. And although there are many positives in terms of marketing for senior lawyers, such as more experience and a solid track record, the negative is that as a person grows older, his or her energy has to be marshaled and used more efficiently.

Thankfully, technology provides us with the tools to afford us opportunities that we didn’t have before. And technology coupled with your senior lawyer status means that you probably can afford some help that you might not have been able to engage in your earlier days of practice. Have a professionally designed and hosted website; make sure that it says what you want it to say and that it can be navigated easily. Hire someone who can conduct an effective social media campaign, focusing on the media that your target markets are more likely to visit. And couple that with an SEO (search engine optimization) campaign.

The Partnership of Marketing and Succession Plans

One particularly efficient way for a senior lawyer to market his or her law practice is to merge or join forces with another firm. This has the dual advantage of providing a succession plan and exit strategy. The number of lawyers who grow their practice without at the same time addressing operational and transition topics continues to surprise me.

The number is, in fact, increasing as the Baby Boomer generation reaches the plateau of exiting. If you haven’t already, create a plan to exit on your own terms at your own time, while you are still healthy enough to do so.

Conclusion

Senior lawyers have the advantage of experience and success on which to build when trying to attract and keep clients. Senior lawyers also operate from a position of leadership, which gives them an edge in pushing through their agendas. On the other hand, senior lawyers have to worry about declining energy and impending retirement, two issues that impact marketing decisions.

Ultimately, marketing is marketing is marketing . . . but it becomes something a little more and a little different when it comes to senior lawyers.

Edward Poll

Edward Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, is one of the nation’s most sought-after experts in law practice management. The third edition of his book Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law was published by the ABA GPSolo Division in 2014.