Business development. Marketing. Branding. Logo. Website. Mention any of these words to any entrepreneur, much less an attorney about to start a law practice, and they’re guaranteed to conjure up at least some level of dread and groaning. As a trademark attorney who focuses exclusively on counseling business owners on protecting their business names and logos, I’ve seen my fair share of branding successes and failures over the years. I also teach a course that I developed for attorneys called Rainmaking 2.0 (based on the idea that 1.0-level effort yields 1.0-revenue, so it’s time for 2.0-level training on these topics), so I’ve really seen things up close and personal.
The irony is that, despite being professionals whose success rests on the ability to master these concepts, law firm owners often tend to avoid marketing efforts, usually citing some combination of disinterest, lack of ability, or shortage of knowledge. Part of the reason is that the topic of marketing just has so much to it. So, it’s hard to know where to begin, what to invest in, what will work, and how to even know what’s working after the fact. The good news is that even the basics that most attorneys know they need in this day and age—a logo, website, e-mail signature, and social media—can be effective marketing tools so long as they are designed for optimal use.
Before you can even get to marketing, though, you’ve got to decide one very big thing: What exactly are you marketing? Yourself and your law practice, yes, but what is your personal brand? Figuring out what you stand for as a company (and, yes, even as a solo, you are a company!) can be tricky, but once established, it makes designing all your actual marketing collateral so much easier.
So, how do you go about figuring out your brand? It starts, of course, with what practice area(s) you will offer. I recommend creating a niche and getting as specific as possible—it is, without a doubt, the best foundation for a brand. Part of creating a niche is setting yourself apart from other attorneys who do what you do. Isn’t that the objective of all this to begin with? We want to do what we can to have potential clients choose our firm rather than the 30 others in the same county. You can do this in a number of ways—below are just some considerations to get you started.
Values. First and foremost, what does your firm stand for? Do you help the small mom-and-pop shop owner go up against the big corporations? Are you the go-to for high school parents whose kids are in trouble with the law? Do you want to avoid litigation and settle or be the pit bull in court?
Adjectives and characteristics. Next, think about how you would define your law practice. When it comes to the firm itself, will it be modern and innovative or traditional? What is the role of technology in your practice—are you cloud-based and paperless or is everything still being printed, filed, and stored?
Are there differences in the way you do things? Perhaps you start each family law consultation with a little gift bag of tissues, candy, and a supportive handwritten note from you. When a business litigation case ends, consider sending a Starbucks gift card so the client can have a treat after all that stress.
Even when it comes to billing, you can have flat fees where the standard is to bill hourly. Or you can design packages that include different tiers of services so that there is a menu for clients to choose what suits them best. (Be sure to check with the rules in your jurisdiction.)
What about yourself as the face of the law firm? This one may take a certain amount of self-reflection—interestingly, owning a law practice has a way of holding a mirror right up close to your most powerful strengths and biggest weaknesses. Are you friendly and warm or direct and down-to-business? Is there something you always do, say, wear, etc.? One attorney I know in Atlanta always (and I mean always) wears a bow tie, regardless of the occasion. Regular day at the office, networking function, or black-tie gala, he’s got on a bow tie—it’s memorable. Another colleague always used to end meetings and conference calls with “Alright, everyone, make it a good one!”—again, as cheesy as it sounds, it sticks with you, and even years later, I remember.
Practice areas. Rather than being the attorney who “does a little bit of everything” (too vague and broad) or, worse, who does “criminal defense and entertainment law” (two entirely unrelated areas), hone in on one or two practice areas at most that you want to focus on for marketing purposes. It’s fine if you have others that you want to offer as ancillary services, but you’ll have the most success by narrowing it down to a couple for branding.
For example, say that Attorney A markets herself as a criminal defense lawyer who focuses 100 percent on motor vehicle matters. Attorney A’s slogan is “When You Get a Ticket, I Tell ’Em to Stick It.” On the other hand, Attorney B’s slogan is “Exceptional Service,” with the following areas listed on the firm’s website: criminal defense, personal injury, family law, business law, estate planning, and elder law. To which attorney would you refer your neighbor who received a DUI last Saturday night?
Now, a major concern my attorney-students have is that if they brand themselves in one specific niche (let’s say personal injury, particularly dog bites), then they won’t get any calls about slip-and-falls, car accidents, or medical malpractice. This can be true to an extent, but it isn’t efficient or practical to try to handle that wide a range of matters. By narrowing down, you can perfect your processes and procedures, develop templates for each stage of the matter, and have a work flow to handle cases quickly—ultimately this frees up more of your time, which is always the goal. Please, please don’t be the attorney who practices Door Law—you know, taking anything that walks through the door.
Ideal clients. We can’t possibly have a dialogue about your practice area(s) without considering who your ideal client(s) may be. This is an area many of my attorney-students seem to skip, but once we backtrack, the rest of the picture becomes a lot clearer. In addition to what you do, who would you like to do it for? Do you like working with young entrepreneurs, multi-million-dollar corporations, couples with children (or without), the elderly, or the underprivileged?
You can choose to offer one practice area for all demographics—bankruptcies for businesses of any size—or choose a demographic and service the radius of their needs. For example, you could narrow your target market to yacht owners and then practice the areas of law that affect them—insurance and liability, title and registration, contract negotiation, and possibly litigation.
When it comes to practice areas and ideal clients, the key is to find a balance between what you enjoy and are interested in as well as what is profitable—you can’t have a successful law practice without both.
Expertise, credibility, and authority. This is one of the most proven ways to develop a niche for yourself in the legal market. Positioning yourself as an expert and establishing credibility and authority in a certain practice area makes you the go-to attorney in the minds of other attorneys (read: referrals!) and clients looking to hire. Just as you wouldn’t hire a cardiologist to examine your foot problem, clients seek to be reassured that the counsel they hire has experience with the same type of matter, familiarity with the process, and training to handle any intricacies that may arise.
Press features are great ways to convey this expertise. The catch is that very few attorneys are willing to put in the legwork to obtain these accolades. It is unlikely that media outlets will come looking for you to give your commentary on a newsworthy case in your field and ask for your perspective on a recent ruling. Rather, use a free service such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO; helpareporter.com) to scan daily listings of queries submitted by journalists. The listings come three times a day, and you’ve got to be quick (and consistent) about responding, but I have seen incredible results and so have my students who have put in the effort.
Awards and recognitions also help beef up your credibility and authority in a field or as a lawyer in general, especially when you’re on the younger side. Take advantage of American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division programs (americanbar.org/yld) as well as calls for nominations through your local bar sections and committees. These are often announced through newsletters and mailings, so read correspondence carefully—you’ll miss out if you just delete these or toss them in the trash.
Whew. Now that we’ve gotten all that heavy lifting out of the way, isn’t it a lot easier to design your marketing collateral and get the word out about your practice?
Logos, business cards, and e-mail signature. Let’s start with the basics. When choosing colors and designs for your logo, think back to the adjectives and characteristics, as well as the ideal clients analysis you did. Make sure what you are designing fits the brand you’ve developed—this is where the expertise of a branding firm can come in.
For example, if you are targeting victims of elder abuse, perhaps pink polka dots aren’t the best decision. On the other hand, entrepreneurs and business owners, especially tech start-ups, are likely attracted to a minimalist and clean design—think blacks, grays, whites, and maybe touches of a bright pop of color. Look at your favorite brands (and consider their target audiences) for inspiration and ideas. Also take some time to read up on color theory—there is research to indicate that certain colors incite certain feelings. For example, red and yellow spur hunger (seem familiar from any fast-food joints you’ve been to lately?), and blue tends to be more calming.
Once you’ve pinned down a logo, it needs to go on your business cards and e-mail signature. I have one major rule on this: Your practice areas must—I repeat, must—appear across the board. I cannot tell you how many cards I get and e-mail signatures I see without any indication what services the attorney offers. How can someone refer you business if it isn’t clear what it is you do?
Another tip for e-mail signatures is to have one designed—services such as Fiverr (fiverr.com) and Upwork (upwork.com) can help—with a small picture, your logo, and clickable links to your social media pages. I can’t tell you how many compliments (and referrals) I’ve received from this alone. Think about it: Every e-mail you send becomes a reminder of your brand and niche. You’re staying top-of-mind without even trying.
Website. It still surprises me how many attorneys don’t have a website in 2018. A website is absolutely crucial to starting your firm, and the lack of one makes a law firm look unprofessional and unprepared to do business. But the only thing worse than no website is one that is outdated, poorly designed, and lacking important elements. This conveys an image of sloppiness, and when you only have one chance to make a first impression, it can really cost you.
For starters, ditch the idea of trying to do it yourself. There are services that offer templates to make things easier, but as with many aspects of running a law practice, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. And in this case, you likely can’t even do an adequate job. Find a local agency by asking fellow solos in your city for recommendations or even asking lawyers whose websites you like for their designer’s contact information. The first step will likely be a discovery call, where you’ll discuss the look and feel you have in mind, along with what elements you want to include. So, let’s make sure your website has the moving parts it needs. Along with your biography and contact information, below are some key elements that you should include.
Mobile phone optimization. Now, more than ever, people are browsing for information on their phones. They may receive your name from someone else, see you on another website, or find you on social media, so your website must be optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. Everything should be clean and formatted to fit the screen sizing, along with buttons and clickable links.
Social proof. Your website is the spotlight opportunity to showcase the press features, awards, and recognitions you have earned. Ideally, they should appear as a standing header at the top or bottom, or at the very least, on your biography page.
In addition, if possible, have a separate page just for client reviews and testimonials. It’s a good practice to make it part of your routine when a matter concludes to ask for feedback, whether it is via e-mail, on Yelp, Google, Avvo, or another platform. Your website can have these reproduced so potential clients can see the glowing remarks others have to say about you. (Again, be sure to check with the rules in your jurisdiction.)
Links to social media and blog. If you haven’t already, take the steps to create social media pages for your business. Facebook and Instagram have the ability to do so, which allows you to keep your personal life private. You would think it goes without saying, but if you take the time to keep up a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn page, there should be links prominently displayed on the header or footer of your website as well.
The same goes for a blog, but a word of caution here. It’s far worse to have a blog with a few peppered entries (the most recent of which is, say, three months ago) than no blog at all. So, make the decision to post regularly and consistently, or reformat your posts to an “Articles Archive” instead. That way, it takes the pressure off of being a blog where updates are expected regularly.
A Case Study of My Firm
As for my law practice, I focus almost exclusively on filing trademark registrations for companies of any size—this characteristic, along with my numerous press features and awards, is the epicenter of my brand and marketing. In fact, my firm’s tagline is “Award-Winning Trademark Law Firm.”
This means I don’t offer any other legal services, including entity formation or drafting contracts. I don’t even handle disputes involving trademarks, such as an instance where my client discovered an infringer or, in the reverse, was accused of doing so—I refer all these matters out. It isn’t that I don’t know how to practice these areas, it’s that I intentionally choose not to. I find that helps my referral relationships immensely. Referrals come my way because the attorney isn’t concerned about my poaching the client—I just stay in my trademark lane. Conversely, I have the opportunity to send just about everything non-trademark back out.
I also decided at the outset that my practice would be modern, entirely cloud-based, and accessible from anywhere in the world, with technology playing a heavy role. That’s the beauty of trademarks—I can submit filings regardless of where I am so long as I have my computer and an Internet connection. Naturally, having to adhere to court appearances and discovery deadlines would not suit well the lifestyle I have chosen.
In my firm’s marketing, I highlight our two bicoastal offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and Newport Beach, California, so someone is always available to answer the phone. I also emphasize our flat fees and tout our policy of “no surprise invoices, ever,” meaning that we always clear next steps and additional costs with the client before beginning work.
As for some of the accolades I’ve received, I attribute many of my press features to regular, consistent use of HARO and reaching out to publications myself at times, offering a perspective on relevant topics. Similarly, I obtained some of my awards and titles through actually nominating myself or asking a colleague to do so—if you don’t promote yourself, no one else will.
A Few Final Thoughts
Regardless of the stage of marketing you find yourself—new attorney developing a brand or seasoned lawyer revamping her image—implementing some of the tips I’ve provided here should have you well on your way to a successful path of rainmaking. Best of luck!