August 29, 2014 Articles

Ladies Who Launch: Reflections on Marketing

By Molly R. Hamilton Cawley and Amie E. Penny Sayler

The word “marketing” is groan-inducing for many associates who are just trying to keep up with their piles of legal work. To take the sting out of the “m-word,” we sat down over cocktails with three attorneys who have launched successful practices in three distinct areas of the law. We did not want the fun to end, so we equated the themes of their wisdom with happy hour favorites.

Cheers to Nancy Haas (lobbying and government relations), Michelle Jester (banking), and Deb Yerigan (family law)—successful shareholders in the firm of Messerli & Kramer, P.A.—for sharing their tips and advice for not only surviving, but excelling, as a woman attorney.

Gin and Tonic
Like this classic cocktail, marketing is more effective when you team up with a colleague who complements your business development style, approach, and goals.

Michelle Jester explained, “We break off in teams depending on the potential client. The partnership approach allows us to use different people’s relationships and contacts with a potential client so that we can learn more about the client, the decision makers, and who currently does their legal work. That way, we can more effectively market to that particular client.” Michelle also noted that part of the effectiveness of partnership or team marketing is that clients “are looking for depth and breadth. Whether it’s a happy hour or a formal presentation, you have to show that there are other people at the firm to service the client.”

Nancy Haas recalled an occasion where, absent the right marketing partnership, she would not have retained a client: “I knew there was no way I was going to win the contract without Erin [Campbell]. I refuse to make the classic mistake of setting up an expectation that there is only one person who can do this. The client gets better service because they have two qualified people who have different skill sets.”

A glass of bubbly is all about passion and excitement—so is marketing your law practice. It is easier to market legal services if you are enthusiastic about the particular skills or substantive area of law you are selling. Deb Yerigan noted, “There are a million divorce lawyers, but other attorneys who refer clients to me know how much I enjoy practicing family law. I think that is an important selling point.”

Michelle Jester’s clients similarly recognize her passion for banking: “I like doing banking because, in my mind, lending usually drives the deal. So if someone’s buying a piece of property or even if they are refinancing, I always think of you as the driver on the bus and everybody else as passengers. I love figuring the deals out, putting them together, and driving them to the closing line.”

Even if she is not familiar with the subject matter, Nancy Haas finds that “sometimes you’re really selling your knowledge of the process and not necessarily the subject matter. I just love lobbying and I have so many interactions in that capacity that it’s easier to make the case for the client when you are at the Capitol or in other meetings. This makes marketing easier.”

Whether you like red or white, a truly fine wine is developed over years. The same applies to marketing your law practice—focusing on the long term is the best way to maximize results and minimize frustration.

Deb Yerigan effectively utilizes the long-term theory of marketing: “One of my best sources of business is lawyers who don’t do family law. Those lawyers are constantly asked by friends, families, or colleagues when they are considering a divorce—‘whom can you recommend?’ So my theory of marketing is if, in the future, a lawyer who I know gets asked that question, I am the first name that comes to mind.” To keep a steady stream of future referrals and “just in case somebody might have forgotten,” Deb consistently attends events that will draw attorneys from other practice areas, including reunions with colleagues from prior law firms, bar-sponsored socials, and Super Lawyers events.

As Michelle Jester explained, the long-term approach includes joining associations or organizations early on in your career and expanding your role over time: “I got really involved in Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women (MNCREW) as an associate, and it was helpful for me to start on a committee; and then I got on the executive committee and I later became president; and then as part of the executive committee was able to travel to the national convention for networking and professional growth opportunities. Now when I go to other events, like the Minnesota Shopping Center Association, I know so many people from MNCREW. Plus, it’s a woman-driven organization, and I find that women organizations tend to really invest in us as professionals. I just find women are loyal to other women, and that’s an easy place in my mind to start with marketing and networking.”

Scotch is a bold and straightforward drink, and that should be your approach with potential clients. Even if it burns a little, making the “ask” is well worth it.

The successful results of directly asking for work caused Michelle Jester to adapt her style: “I’ve gotten to the point where I say, ‘hey, I really want to do business with you, but I want to learn more about what you do, how I can help you, and then let’s talk about ways that we potentially could either send work each other’s way or refer contacts.’ I’ve gotten way more direct about it. I’ve just decided, if you do not ask, you likely are not going to have the opportunity to receive the work.”

Nancy Haas reminded us that the “ask” is not exclusive to the potential client. Asking other people to reach out to the client on your behalf is a powerful marketing tool. “I started with several people in the lobbying community who were really close with the decision maker, and I started lobbying them. I just said, ‘I’d like you to mention to the client that I’m the best thing since sliced bread. I really need you to say all of these nice things.’ And they were willing to do it because there’s always an opportunity to return the favor. Then I scheduled a fundraiser for someone who was close to the client, and I pulled that person aside afterward and said, ‘I need you to work this client over and I need to keep this client and I could really use your help.’ And that person agreed to do it. I think it’s the best example of the hardest I ever worked to get a client, and it was actually retaining a current client, so we just pulled out all of the stops for it.”

Bar Tab
As all happy hours must end, so must this summary of invaluable advice from Nancy Haas, Michelle Jester, and Deb Yerigan, three stellar attorneys with successful practices. Like all happy hours, it ends with the tab.

Gin and Tonic

Mix it up to create increased value for your clients and potential clients.


Enthusiasm and commitment are transparent to clients and potential clients.


Ferment your future by developing connections today.


Be bold; ask clients and potential clients for work and referrals.


Let’s toast to launching a successful book of business.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, career, business development, professional development, marketing, young lawyers, networking

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