July/August 2003  Volume 29, Issue 5
July/August 2003 Issue
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Ask Bill
Have questions about your career, your practice, your computer or anything else? Send them to Bill Gibson at bgibson@cnnw.net. If Bill doesn't have the answer, he'll find the experts who do.

Q: Bill, I'm a second-year associate in a 35-lawyer firm. At lunch today, the partners gathered the associates and announced that, from now on, even first-years are responsible for bringing in at least 50 percent of their own work. This is a rude awakening! What should I do?

A: I'm a solo practitioner, so I asked Heather Jefferson, a partner at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young in Wilmington, Delaware, for her thoughts. Here's what she had to say:

"The most important job in marketing is planning. First, review your firm's marketing plan. If the firm does not have one, it should develop one, and you should bring that to the attention of the partner in charge. Next, develop your personal marketing plan. You may need some help doing this. If your firm has a budget for such activities, consider hiring a marketing consultant. Otherwise, get a good book on the subject -- the ABA has plenty. You could also look for new business from within your firm's existing client base. Look at the clients who make up the top 20 percent of your firm's revenue, and work through the responsible partners to find a way to market yourself to those clients by offering services that your firm doesn't already provide."

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, principal of Astin Tarlton in Golden, Colorado, regularly assists lawyers with practice development issues. Here's her advice:

"The first thing I'd do is brush up my resume. It sounds like this firm is in trouble! Next, start building your personal marketing plan, complete with a comprehensive database: names, addresses and other personal data for client contacts, potential client contacts, law school friends, your parents' friends and your former roommates. You never know who's going to grow up and head the next 'fastest growing company.' Then, organize a schedule and system of reminders to build and keep those relationships alive through personal, written and electronic contacts. Of course, no one is going to hire you on the basis of a pretty Christmas card. But if you keep your name before people, listen carefully to what challenges them and help them find answers, they just may provide your next chunk of work … or better yet, a new job!"

Finally, I asked Mary Beth Pratt, chief marketing officer for Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, for her perspective:

"Analyze your practice to determine which clients and types of work are the most profitable for your firm. Then, prepare a personal marketing plan based on the clients and industries with the most potential. Next, educate yourself about the key issues facing your clients and their competitors. Identify their challenges and opportunities so that you can become a problem solver for clients.

"A good way to do this is to join trade associations, subscribe to industry periodicals and attend trade shows. With enough study and research, you might consider writing for a trade publication. If you can publish an article offering insight into an important issue, analyzing a recent court decision affecting their industry or commenting on a major business trend, your clients will notice. As a member of a trade or business association, especially someone who has published an article, you'll be taken seriously when you submit a program idea involving a seminar or other project. You can then turn your program results into another paper. Before you know it, you'll be sought after to speak or write or, better yet, provide legal advice.

"A final note: Your personal marketing plan should include estimates of costs to your firm -- and the amount of your own time that you'll have to invest. The firm might pay the cost of your attending a trade show, but you'll have to commit the time to attend the meeting and do your homework beforehand. Make sure that the potential benefits justify the time and money you'll spend."

K. William Gibson ( bgibson@cnnw.net) is a personal injury lawyer and arbitrator in Clackamas, OR. A former Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section, he is the author of How to Build and Manage a Personal Injury Practice (ABA, 1997).