Table of Contents FOREWORD I. ONLINE MARKETING
ETHICS IN DIGITAL MARKETING INTRODUCTION TO WEB STRATEGY PRACTICE WEBSITE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION VIDEOS SOCIAL MEDIA
2 4 6 11 14 19 22
SEARCH ENGINE ADVERTISING DIRECTORY ADVERTISING LOCAL PUBLICATIONS
28 33 34
III. REFERRAL SUCCESS
COMPLEMENTARY PRACTICES CURRENT CLIENTS
IV. CLIENT SATISFACTION & RETENTION
CLIENT SATISFACTION CLIENT RETENTION
V. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
EXIT STRATEGY PRINCIPLES SELL OR PARTNER-‐UP
We go into business for ourselves to control our own future, and to take on a rewarding challenge.
Remember, you can earn more money, but when time is spent it is gone forever. â€“ Zig Ziglar iii
Why did I start my own practice again? In this guide we outline several marketing methods that rely on new technologies like search engines, social networks, and digital video. But this is not the primary reason for calling it the “Modern Marketing” guide. What is modern is a method of operating your practice that is very new to most of the folks reading this, it’s a frame of mind more than the marketing tools themselves. This philosophy is one that I’ve only recently come to embrace, and its central theme is that you have to start living your life, the way you desire to live it, right now. The fact that you’re running your own solo legal practice or working as a partner or associate in a firm gets you halfway there, now let’s take steps to achieving your desired lifestyle, protecting your investment of time and money, and securing a strong financial future that relies on the success of your practice. Whether you have been in practice for several years or you just opened up your practice, there are a lot of challenges coming up. The way you deal with these challenges will determine the role that your practice plays in your life, in the short-term and in the long-term. The goal of this brief guide is to outline some of the major business and ethical factors that go into maintaining a financially rewarding legal practice through marketing techniques that work towards achieving your revenue goals. This is not a guide that tells you how much to spend on magazine advertising and direct mail; rather, this guide will explain the varied activities that are available to today’s lawyers; allowing you to develop a customized marketing plan for the very specific and unique needs of your practice and adhere to Ethical regulations set forth by the ABA and the state you practice in.
I. Online marketing
Reach prospective clients wherever they might be looking to find you.
The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous â€“ Peter Drucker 1
Ethics in Digital Marketing
ince 1983, when the ABA propagated the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (the â€œModel Rulesâ€?), lawyers in most jurisdictions have been bound by state variants on the Model Rules, including rules on lawyer advertising and solicitation. Virginia adopted the ABA Model Rules on 1/25/99. Until the early part of the 21st century, these rules specifically addressed communications through TV, radio, and print media. With widespread use of the Internet in the 90s, the ABA has acknowledged the need to update these rules to address these advances. This led to the formation of the Ethics 2000 Commission, which recommended certain updates and tweaks to the rules to include references to digital communications. The revolution of social media in the past decade has also greatly changed the way we communicate in personal and professional relationships, and it has added new means of Ethical considerations for attorneys in the spheres of marketing and solicitation of new clients. The ABA acknowledged the need for changes to the Ethical rules to address these challenges, and in 2009 then President Carolyn Lamm created the Ethics 20/20 Commission to evaluate and recommend potential rule changes in this new digital world. Â The Commission believed that the principles underlying the Model Rules remain relevant and valid, and most of the recommendations are clarifications and expansions of the Model Rules as well as other existing Model Court Rules 2
and policies. The Commission sought to address the needs of clients and lawyers in a technology-driven global economy while protecting the public and our system of justice. They address how technology can affect lawyer and client confidentiality, business development and marketing, lawyer mobility, and outsourcing human resources. This guide focuses on modern marketing strategies and Ethical rules as amended, and explores various areas of concern. Keep in mind that much of the legal Ethics of is state-specific, so always be sure to read your state’s rules and opinions. You have to comply with the Ethics laws of any state where your law firm has an office, and you may have to comply with the laws of any state where you actively solicit clients as they can vary greatly. Rules 7.1-7.4 were amended in July 2013 and detail what a lawyer can or cannot say in advertising. Rule 1.4 lays out rules for communicating with clients. Finally, Rule 5.3 indicates that you have a duty on what non-lawyer assistants do on your behalf. Therefore, you need to have a strategy to know what to say, who to say it to, and how. You need to have procedures to deal with the incoming communications. Finally, you must let everyone on your staff be “in the know” with your strategy and your procedures. 3
Introduction to Web Strategy
he goal of Web Strategy is to qualify the importance of anything you do online as an essential component of your business’s success. A decade ago most law firms didn’t even have a website, and those that did have a website up weren’t relying on getting clients through the Internet. Today, we can tell that the Internet is much more important to businesses then it ever was, and it will continue to increase in importance into the foreseeable future. Now that consumers are more likely to visit Google when they’re looking for products and services; we are beginning to understand the importance of being there when potential customers search for the services offered at your practice. This search engine positioning involves two components of Web Strategy: Search Engine Marketing and Online Advertising, which we will return to in a bit. Right Place, Right Time: An Example. Being there for your future clients when they are looking for you is what effective online marketing is all about. It means being there for your future clients when they are looking for you – this is the epitome of marketing success. To use a retail example: supermarkets stock candy bars at checkout aisles so you can impulsively pick one up to hold you off until you get home. Here’s something interesting, when you look down at the checkout snacks it’s very likely that you’ll see a Snickers bar and remember their slogan “Hungry, why wait?” This is because they’ve 4
generated brand awareness for their candy bar, and on top of that, made the candy bar available to you when you need it the most. This is how effective marketing works – you’re there when folks want you to be there. Taking this thought just a little further, you have to realize that prospective clients don’t know they’re looking for you specifically, they’re looking for a lawyer that is compassionate, caring, assertive, patient, credible, and sometimes, miraculous (but we’ll leave that one to the holy books!) Being there when it matters is why we turn our attention to establishing engaging and effective online social networking profiles on Facebook, Google Places, Yelp, and Twitter, among other related sites. This introduces another component of Web Strategy: Social Media. Quantify your business goals. The most important component of your web strategy is not the clever technologies or cool social networking websites you use, rather, it’s the formal evaluation of the ability of your web presence to help your practice achieve its business goals. This means that we must correlate online business to offline business, which is where most business is actually based. For example, as a real estate agent you might do a lot online to promote a new house listing, yet still not receive offers for the property. This means that something is off – you might not be attracting the right folks to your website, you might not be attracting much traffic at all, and more importantly…you don’t have a formal plan for marketing your products and 5
services online. Set quantitative goals and hold your marketing activities accountable for helping you reach those goals.
Practice Website Building an interactive, client-converting website
website is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity, just like it’s always been necessary to have a telephone line. People want to work with a lawyer they can trust, and though we all have different psychological criteria for what is “trustworthy,” there are a few standard denominators; one of those important factors is a successful track record. Success in providing clients compassion and devotion, as well as professional accomplishments and achievements. When you walk into the law office it’s clean and neat, decorations are welcoming, the front desk assistant is cordial, and you meet on the scheduled appointment time with no delay. Similarly, we expect this image of success to be conveyed online, on the firm’s website. In a general discussion of lawyer and law firm websites, the ABA explains that: (1) websites can include information about clients and matters, as long as the website keeps the information up to date (and thus is not misleading) and "as long as the clients or former clients give informed consent" to the inclusion of "specific information that identifies current or former clients or the scope of their matters"; (2) websites can include information about the law, as long as it is accurate, current 6
and not misleading (acknowledging that it is difficult to draw the line between general legal information and specific legal advice, and suggesting that it would be "prudent" for websites to warn visitors "that the legal information provided is general and should not be relied on as legal advice" -- which "cannot be given without full consideration of all relevant information relating to the visitor's individual situation"); (3) websites allow lawyers to "control features and contents so as to invite, encourage, limit, or discourage the flow of information to and from website visitors", which will help determine if a visitor has initiated a "discussion" that could render the visitor a "prospective client" under Rule 1.18 (contrasting a website that encourages visitors to "submit a personal inquiry about a proposed representation" and a website that simply lists information about the lawyer and includes contact information, which "alone does not create a reasonable expectation that the lawyer is willing to discuss a specific client lawyer relationship"; warning that "imprecision in a website message and failure to include a clarifying disclaimer may result in a website visitor reasonably viewing the website communication itself as the first step in a discussion"; in analyzing the "significantly harmful" standard under Rule 1.18; explaining that a prospective client that discloses "only an intention to bring a particular lawsuit" normally will not be able to argue that such information could be "significantly harmful"; (4) a website's "warnings or cautionary statements . . . can be designed to and may effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer's obligation to a website reader," as long as they are "reasonably understandable, properly placed, 7
and not misleading." Among other things, such language "should be conspicuously placed to assure that the reader is likely to see it before proceeding." Such language can avoid misunderstandings about the creation of a client lawyer relationship, a visitor's expectation of confidentiality, the absence of "legal advice" on the website and whether "the lawyer will be prevented from representing an adverse party." (ABA-457) Credibility. The website’s design is modern and inviting, users are offered descriptions of the types of clients and practice areas that the firm specializes in, and contact information is easy to find. These few factors alone are enough to convince future clients that they’ve found the right attorney for their immediate needs. Your office staff will also notice a reduction in time spent informing and educating clients because sought after information is now online. Let’s not forget that by sheer fact of having your own website you will earn yourself several spots on the search engines – when folks type your name into Google, now they’ll have the opportunity to click through to your very own website to learn about you – instead of clicking on a directory that doesn’t provide the visitor with the necessary information and credibility factors they’re looking for. Your website is your opportunity to post client testimonials – ask your clients why they enjoyed their experience and get permission to post their review onto the firm’s website. You can also record a video of your client reading out the testimonial and post this to the website. 8
Control your own reputation and use extra caution with client testimonials. Different states have different opinions on this matter; some prohibit them; some allow them but require disclaimers. Virginia allows client testimonials and endorsements but they must still be monitored, revised, or removed so as to comply with Rules 7.1 and 7.2. For example, the lawyer cannot permit to remain on his LinkedIn page a client recommendation that says the attorney is the “best lawyer in town,” because it is a comparative statement that cannot be factually substantiated. Advertisement using statements such as "the best lawyers" may be inherently misleading. (Rule 7.2 (a)(3) LEO 1297) Convenience. A firm’s website must make it super simple for clients to get in touch and request consultation. We can accomplish this by placing phone numbers in highvisibility areas, including an interactive map that makes it easy to get customized directions to your location, and a contact form that allows clients to send you an email to ask a question or request an appointment. By sheer fact of providing the public with a way to reach you, you’re improving your odds of getting new cases without spending any resources to market to them. This leads into another area of Ethics concern, which is communications with potential clients via email and other forms of digital interaction. Virtually everyone is a potential client. If a lawyer isn’t careful, someone may inadvertently become an actual 9
client—or think he or she is—often with grave consequences. In other words, if a person asks a legal question, and a lawyer answers or says he or she will look into it, a lawyer-client relationship may result. There’s no need to sign an agreement, shake hands, discuss rates or send an engagement letter. One way to protect the attorney-client privilege is to add the “attorney-client privileged” label to all communications we think are privileged. If you really want to protect an e-mail, don’t rely on the automatic legend. Label the message itself. Then a judge will know you actually thought about it. Personality. The website is your opportunity to impress future clients. When they can meet you and your staff online by viewing their photographs and watch your videos, you can start to expect phone calls that begin with pleasantries – business is important, but a phone call that starts with pleasantries is bound to produce a successful relationship. Your first impression is your last impression. Whether you’re the only attorney, or there are others at your firm, short biographical blurbs that talk about the lawyer’s education, experience, specialties, hobbies, and family are always construed positively. This is the difference between lawyers that are “providers” and attorneys that are community leaders, with real lives of 10
their own – they have children and pets, they play golf, they’re avid photographers, they’re people!
Reputation Management Show the world how great you are, on your own terms
n this hyper-digital age we can be certain that every private practice law firm can be found on Google. Type in your own name and you’ll see results from review websites whose stated goal is to provide the public with a trustworthy review system. The most popular sites in this category include Yelp, Avvo, Lawyers.com, and Google Places. Each of these websites make money through advertising – they get paid from ad space throughout their websites as well as promoted profiles by lawyers that are willing to shell out cash to take control of their profile. We all know that there is minimal trust and credibility in these review websites – anyone can post a review, whether or not they’re actual clients – and the worst thing about this is that you can’t get the review removed. The bottom line is that you need to minimize online negative reviews because they will affect your first impression. This is the primary reason for having a strong, informative website – to control what people read about you online. Fixing a bad online reputation. I’ve seen great lawyers, with fantastic offline reputations, have several terrible reviews on review 11
websites – these can be managed by getting clients to visit those websites to submit their positive reviews. Don’t ever attempt to fix this problem by paying someone to write recommendations and posting fake reviews – these review systems have ways to figure out when people are “gaming” the system, and more importantly, it’s unethical and shameful. Rule 7.2 comment 5 talks about this particular issue: Except as permitted under paragraphs (b)(1)-(b)(4), lawyers are not permitted to pay others for recommending the lawyer’s services or for channeling professional work in a manner that violates Rule 7.3. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. If your clients are truly satisfied when they leave your office, they are your best source of reputation control. You might say, “my clients don’t use the web.” Firstly, that’s just a blanket statement that carries little weight. Secondly, it doesn’t matter – hand out a card that provides links to your various online review platforms so they can do it on their own time when they leave your office. Your bad reviews will be dropped to the bottom of the list in no time. Not all states allow client endorsements but thankfully Virginia is not one of them. The Committee addressed whether a lawyer can circumvent the prohibition against comparative statements with the use of client testimonials. For example, a lawyer’s television advertisement shows a former client making statements about the client’s satisfaction and about the 12
quality of the lawyer’s services, using statements to the effect that the lawyer is “the best” and will get you “quick results.” Rule 7.1(a)(3) prohibits statements comparing attorneys’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated. The Committee has previously opined that a lawyer’s advertising of specific case results is misleading, without the appropriate disclaimer. See Rule 7.2(a)(3). Thus, an attorney has clear guidance as to the impropriety of making certain statements in his advertising. Rule 8.4(a) states that an attorney shall not violate a disciplinary rule through the actions of another. Moreover, the language of the restriction in Rule 7.1 makes no qualification as to the maker of the regulated statements. To the contrary, the rule’s requirements are directed at any statements contained in the communication. Thus, there is no support in Virginia’s Rules of Professional Conduct for affording greater leeway to advertising statements made by clients than to those made by attorneys. The standard is the same in both instances. Applying that standard to this hypothetical, the client’s statements make a comparison (“the best”) that cannot be factually substantiated and offer a guarantee of results (“quick”). If such improper statements are contained in the lawyer’s advertisement, the lawyer would be in violation of Rule 7.1. I’ve also worked with attorneys that have a terrible offline reputation, if they’re at a point in their lives where they’re ready to take steps to improve this reputation, success is imminent, and the internet can help to expedite their newly positive reputation. For those lawyers that cannot improve their offline reputation – there is nothing to be done in the online world that can help them. Marketing 13
vultures will sell their products and services to these attorneys – offering them “promoted profiles” on review websites – but they’ll soon figure out that this practice is akin to paying off witnesses – once you stop paying, you’re back to square one.
Search Engine Optimization Get your website on the front page of search engines
hen a potential client goes into Google and types in your legal specialty, you must be at the top of the list. Thus, we “optimize” the firm’s website in order to get to the top of search engines. This is the difference between receiving a call at your practice and your competitor receiving the call. Here’s an example using the legal specialty of estate planning in a city located in Virginia.
To understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO) we simplify the various factors into two main categories: 14
1. On-page Optimization 2. Off-page Optimization
On-page Optimization. This type of optimization includes website content (text, images, videos, etc.) strategy and configuration of the firm’s website. This is where an SEO expert edits the programming code that makes up the website and edits the text throughout the website to ensure that search engines like Google and Yahoo consider the website as one that is relevant to a searcher’s search criteria. A website for a criminal defense practice must contain content and backend code that is rich with criminal defense-relevant keywords that searchers are likely to type when they’re searching for a criminal defense attorney in their specific locality. There is a methodology for on-page optimization that involves the analysis of consumer search patterns and the SEO practices of competing practices; so it’s important to conduct appropriate research when planning on-page SEO strategy, which must include a strategic content plan. This is where a Lawyer or Staff Blog comes into play. When your website is frequently updated with blog articles that are directly related to your legal specialties, search engines regard the website as a relevant authority on those topics – thus further ensuring search engine prominence. Keep in mind the fact that one should never write for search engines, rather all the content should be 15
written for human readers, specifically to your “perfect” client that you are looking to acquire. Legal blogs can also create Ethical gray areas for lawyers. Hunter v. Virginia State Bar (2011) has brought the subject of legal blogs to the forefront. The case is “the first time in which a legal blog has been challenged under the Rules of Professional Conduct in relation to advertising restrictions,” says Micah Buchdahl, president of the law marketing consultancy HTMLawyers. Remember that a blog is a website, and a website falls under the Rules of Professional Conduct as they refer to advertising and marketing issues. Make sure you’re not utilizing language in a way that violates the rules, using words such as ‘expertise’ or ‘specialization.’ If you’re going to be as riskaverse as possible, you should not blog about the details of client cases you’ve handled because of the possible risk that you could disclose sensitive information. Lawyers have an ability to control the features and information content of a website to invite, encourage, limit, or discourage the flow of information to and from website visitors. LEO 1842 suggests that the use of disclaimers may help to avoid Ethical problems created by the receipt of communications via the website or blog. Unintended relationships may be avoided by the use of “click through” disclaimers that require the visitor to agree, before moving forward, that information given by the visitor will not be kept confidential and may be accessed by others; the information contained on the blog is not legal advice but only legal information; the blog is not a substitute for hiring a lawyer, and the visitor should consult with a lawyer if 16
they have a legal problem; and no lawyer-client relationship, express or implied, is created by the use of the communication. (Lawyer Websites and Blogs: Navigating Through Ethical Turbulence in Cyberspace by James M. McCauley)
Off-page Optimization. When search engines “index” your website they load your website’s domain name into their database – once the website is indexed, the goal is for the search engine to believe that the website is relevant to the searchers’ search criteria. One major component of indexing involves credibility. In other words, the search engine’s automated indexing algorithms want to make sure that your website is trustworthy. One can fill a website up with keyword-rich content but that’s not enough to make it “credible.” This is where off-page optimization kicks in by building relationships with other websites that Google has already considered to be relevant and credible. This process must be conducted by a professional that has experience in Ethical and sustainable search engine optimization practices. There are many SEO companies and one-man outfits out there that offer quick and cheap results – most of them are not established businesses, and they won’t be around very long. The fact is that an effective SEO strategy considers the long-term viability of search engine optimization efforts, and these “quick-results” companies often employ unethical practices that might get you to the 17
top of Google fast, but will ruin long-term SEO potential by deeming your website irrelevant. These “black hat” SEO techniques usually include one or more of the following characteristics: • • •
Breaks search engine rules and regulations Creates a poor user experience directly because of the SEO techniques utilized on the Web site Unethically presents content in a different visual or nonvisual way to search engine spiders and search engine users.
If you are discovered utilizing these spammy techniques on your website, you run the risk of being penalized by search engines. These are shortsighted solutions to a longterm problem, which is creating a website that provides both a great user experience and all that goes with that.
Videos Using moving pictures to educate and influence
f a picture can tell a thousand words – a video can tell millions! Don’t be intimidated by the process and cost of creating videos for your practice. A professional videographer will take great care of you, he or she will make sure that the video’s resolution is highdefinition, the setting and background is aesthetically pleasing, the sound quality will be perfect, and lighting will be spot on. A professionally produced video will enhance that “first impression” and convey a level of professionalism that helps you to stand out from the crowd of competing private practices and bigger law firms. Nevertheless, there are many benefits of any video, whether or not professionally produced. A video provides you with the opportunity to introduce yourself to prospective clients – after watching the video these prospective clients will have already met you and become convinced that you will take great care of them. Keep in mind that all the same advertising rules apply to creation and publication of videos. If the answer to any of the following questions is "YES," the video advertisement fails to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Virginia State Bar. Does the advertisement contain any misleading or deceptive statements or claims? [Rule 7.1(a)]
Is there misleading or false information in the video? [Rule 7.1(a)(1)] Does the video contain an endorsement by a celebrity or public figure, who is not a client of the firm, without disclosing that the speaker is not either a member of the firm nor a client of the firm and whether the speaker is being paid for the appearance or endorsement? [Rule 7.2(a)(1)] Does the video contain a portrayal of a client by a nonclient without a disclosure that the depiction is a dramatization? [Rule 7.2(a)(2)] Does the video contain a portrayal of a lawyer in the firm by someone other than the lawyer, without disclosure that the person is not the lawyer or a lawyer in the firm? [Rule 7.2(a) Types of videos Of course, letâ€™s start with an introductory video that introduces prospective clients to the firm that will be legally represent and defend them. Present a professional and understanding image for yourself and your staff. With the introductory video out of the way you can start focusing on educational videos that describe specific practice areas and developments in your field. Constructive and friendly advice goes a long way, not just in promoting yourself, but also by building good will in your community as you become recognized as an attorney that is out there helping people in tough times when they need it the most. 20
A few pointers for your video: 1. Make sure to smile and carry a conversational tone. This is not the time to confuse viewers with complex legal terminology – this is your chance to convince clients that you’ll provide excellent quality of service. 2. Use a camera that captures sound that is clear and wholesome. It’s hard to listen to a video that sounds like you’re talking into a tin can. 3. Choose the right setting for the video so that there aren’t any distracting background elements and to ensure that lighting is not too bright or too dark. 4. Upload the video to YouTube. This will allow you to share the video anywhere else on the web, on your Facebook page, through e-mails, and even on your practice’s website.
Social Media Making the most of Facebook, Google+, and more.
t’s easy to hear “social media” and think, “my practice already has a Facebook account, I’ve done enough already.” However, there is much more to social media than the trendy buzzwords we hear every day. Social media is today’s “word of mouth,” and it’s a prime source for new client registrations because legal representation is one of the few services where quality of service plays a bigger role in overall value than price itself.
I want to personally thank Mr. Thompson. He’s amazing. Due to your wonderful compassionate work, I can get back to my daily life and continue to work hard and provide for my family – Facebook Fan You are in fact a great lawyer, right? The above statement, when it comes from an existing client, is worth more than any piece of advertising you can pay for. Their relatives, friends, and colleagues, will be setting up an appointment with your office the next time they are looking for an attorney. This is where social media kicks in: 1. To provide a platform for current clients to share the great merits of your practice 2. To expose your practice to your current clients’ network of friends
A lawyer who discusses his or her cases on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog risks violating Rule 1.6, absent client consent. A lawyer could easily breach confidentiality on Twitter simply by tweeting to followers what they are doing at that particular time. A lawyer could try to avoid disclosing specific client information by keeping the message general and vague but this would not be interesting to read. A lawyer may consider having the client permit the lawyer to post information about the client’s matter on a social networking site. However, the lawyer must ensure that any disclosure will not hurt the client’s legal position or embarrass the client. (Blogging and Social Networking for Lawyers: Ethical Pitfalls by James M. McCauley, Ethics Counsel, Virginia State Bar) LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional “profile site,” operating in over 200 countries and territories. As of Jan. 2013, LinkedIn has more than 200 million users. It is the most popular profile site among lawyers for professional purposes. LinkedIn permits users to recommend others. This feature may raise an Ethical issue in jurisdictions that prohibit or restrict recommendations and testimonials. LinkedIn lets users claim specialties in their profile. However, some jurisdictions restrict expertise claims. As a general rule, lawyers should list practice focus areas in a summary field, rather than as a “specialty.” Follow Rule 7.4 in Virginia. You can’t say you are an expert in a particular area of law (except patent and admiralty). If you have a national certification, you have to disclaim that Virginia does not recognize such certification. Lawyers may state, announce or hold themselves out as 23
limiting their practice in a particular area or field of law so long as the communication of such limitation of practice is in accordance with the standards of Rule 7.4, Rule 7.1 and Rule 7.3, as appropriate. A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law. Other states may allow you to certify a specialty. You may have to prove your knowledge through an examination (For example, you do this in California). Recommendations & Referrals from happy clients. In this day and age, more and more, families and friends share their experiences and recommendations on social networks like Facebook and Google Plus (Google +). For example on Facebook people can leave you recommendations posted about the practice by happy clients – each of these recommendations are posted directly to the client’s Facebook profile page (known as the Facebook Wall), where they publicly stated how happy they are with the firm’s service – essentially recommending the practice to their own network of Facebook friends, which could be a lot of people! Making time for social media. Social media management is simple to implement when planned effectively. For private practices and small firms all you have to do is get started, don’t put it off. Open up a Facebook page, start writing a few posts a day so the page seems active, invite your clients to add you on Facebook, and don’t be too shy to ask them to write a recommendation on Facebook. If they aren’t comfortable 24
with Facebook, ask them to review your firm on Google + or Yelp.com. Every little bit of social media interaction will help to build community goodwill and a broadened reach for your practice. As your social network grows and more local residents are following you on sites like Facebook, you will be able to use these platforms as free, high-impact advertising channels. Other Ethical Problems that could arise with Twitter, Blogging and Online Marketing of Legal Services: • Revealing privileged or confidential information. • Exposing the law firm to claims of defamation or harassment. • Sending messages that appear to be legal advice, which can create an unintended attorney-client relationship. • Violating ethics rules against solicitation of legal work. • Receiving messages that contain malware or illegal materials. • Writing about specific case results without a disclaimer • Reckless criticism of judges • Unauthorized Practice of Law Lawyers should review Virginia Rule 7.1 and 7.2 to make sure all statement or claims made, be it a website, a blog, Twitter, or Facebook, are in compliance with the advertising rules. Also, consider Virginia LEO 1750 Advertising, Compendium Opinion. Lawyers must ensure the advertising rules are followed if using Internet media to promote their services that contain celebrity endorsements, 25
client testimonials, specific case results, specialization claims or comparative statements. TWEETING, BLOGGING, SOCIAL NETWORKING: THE BENEFITS AND RISKS IN A LAW PRACTICE by Barbara Saunders)
II.ADVERTISING Recognize that your practice is unique and you will never waste money on advertising again. Youâ€™ll invest it.
Doing what everyone else is doing is the sure path to "average." That should not be good enough for you. â€“ Ben Glass 27
Search Engine Advertising
ust as we see products and services being advertised to us in the offline world, by passing a billboard, flipping on the radio, and receiving junk mail at home, the internet has become quite an active marketplace. You see ads everywhere you go online these days – whether it’s checking your web-based e-mail, using a search engine, or visiting your favorite websites, you will find that ads are being displayed all over the web. Just like in the real world, these are paid advertisements – but in many ways they are much more effective than traditional offline advertisements. Is online advertising right for me? Online advertising gives your firm one more location for exposure; however, it’s not for every practice. In fact, most practices can’t benefit enough from online advertising to merit spending money on online pay-perclick ads. For example, when you buy those ads that display at the very top and to the right of the search results in Google, you are paying every time someone clicks on one your ad – this is often between $4.00 - $15.00 per click, depending on your legal specialty. As you can see, the cost can become hefty, fairly quickly. The good thing about pay-per-click advertising is that you can run a trial campaign and measure how good it performed for you. Just like anything else on the web, we can track how many folks clicked your ads, and how many of those “clickers” actually called your practice and paid 28
for your services. You may find that the return on investment (ROI) just isn’t good enough to carry continue online advertising campaigns. How Pay-per-click Advertising Campaigns Work. Each major search engine has its own version of an online ad campaign management tool – on Google it’s called Google AdWords, and Yahoo and Bing call it the Microsoft AdCenter. Using these campaign management tools you create advertisements and then bid on keywords – essentially, you are spending your money on purchasing keywords. For example, a criminal defense attorney may want to display its ads only when someone types in: Drug Lawyer Washington DC. In this case, the phrase “Drug Lawyer Washington DC” is referred to as a single keyword and depending on how many other websites are interested in the keyword the bid can be anywhere from $1 to $25.00 or more…it all depends on the competitive environment. It’s an auction – the highest bidder gets the best ad placement (all the way at the top), and the lowest bidder will get the poorest placement, all the way at the bottom (and in the worst case, on the next page!). Critical Elements for Online Advertising Success. So how does a business without experience in online advertising figure what an acceptable price is for a specific keyword? The only way to be sure is to conduct research. This means running multiple searches with various variations of varying keywords, leveraging online 29
tools to estimate how much it will cost to use variations on the desired keyword, setting up the ad copy itself so that it is appealing to the right audiences and repels the wrong audiences, ensuring that the website is prepared to receive paid visitors and convert them to customers, and finally, when everything is set in place and your ads are running, you must measure your performance. In the online advertising world, all of these are elements that must be optimized to ensure success â€“ the light at the end of the tunnel is that once you figure out the right mix for your own company, you will reap the benefits of being there at the right place, at the right time, and best of all, at the right price. The many variables that are necessary to optimize for effective online advertising campaigns can be narrowed down into four categories: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Keyword Research Ad Copy Research Landing Page Optimization Analytics
Keyword Research. With keyword research the idea is to determine which keywords will deliver the most return on investment, you base this on estimated traffic volume and determine how competitive the keywords are. If itâ€™s a keyword with high search volume you can expect the probability of someone typing it in to be pretty high. At the same time, you can expect your competitors to be aware of the keywordâ€™s popularity, thus setting the average bid price 30
fairly high – and of course, you have to keep cost per acquisition (CPA) down. Upon careful review of your business revenue model you will have to decide on the highest bid price that will still allow you to make a profit from eventual ad-generated business. An example, if you specialize in small business formation and you’re looking to promote creation of business plans at a reduced rate that allows you to break even, say $800. You have to make business sense out of your ad purchasing decisions. If someone walked into your office you’d happily offer the $800 rate because you’re breaking even and you can expect that client to return when he needs to write his operating agreement with his business partners. However, you have to come up with a maximum amount to spend per online advertising lead … is it worth it to spend $800 to get someone to give $800? In this case, the firm incurs additional cost to see this client because he needs to pay his staff and calculate the opportunity cost in there as well. This is where it becomes very important to apply business rules and revenue realities to online advertising efforts. Ad Copy Research. Ad Copy Research starts by selecting great text to draw in your target consumers. The real strategic purpose of Ad Copy Research though, is to analyze your own performance and conduct continuous improvements that optimize your ad’s probability of bringing in business. Just like any research project you have to take a set of data from a pre-determined range of time and analyze the 31
performance of the varying ad copies you used. Thus, when you’re running an online advertising campaign you have to agree to review performance periodically and fine-tune your ad copy accordingly. When your competitors are displaying ads with catchy ad copy, the challenge for you is to determine which mix of text will get the searcher to click on your ad instead of your competitors’ ads. The Landing Page. The element of online advertising that is most often overlooked is possibly the one that is the most obvious, the landing page. The landing page is the page that your ad links to – there’s a bit of a fight to bid on the right keywords at the right price and create attractive ad copy…but the challenge continues once the user hits your website. This is a big deal – it’s like getting someone to walk into your office…you don’t want them to leave without making an appointment or at least committing to setting up an appointment. Therefore, in the online world, instead of your office’s friendly staff, you need Landing Pages that have easy to find ‘Calls to Action’. A Call to Action can be as practical as presenting a quick form to “Request an Consultation” or as direct as telling the visitor to “Call Now.” To optimize these landing pages you have to go through a process of testing that is similar to that of the ad copy research – this time you create more than one landing page, after a period of time you can analyze your performance and determine which landing page generated more conversions (leads) and delete the landing pages that were underperforming. 32
Statistics / Analytics. This is something we truly can’t live without. Analytics will tell you everything about your website visitors – you will be able to find out how long visitors spent on specific web pages, figure out what they clicked on, and best of all determine which keywords they typed into their search engine to see one of your ads and click on it. From these analytics you get information that reveals weaknesses in your website design, which includes landing pages, as well as shortcomings in keyword or ad copy selection. Allowing us to continuously improve our ad campaign performance.
Directory Advertising Online directories provide additional exposure.
here are several legal directories such as Lawyers.com, avvo.com, findlaw.com and Justia.com. These directories offer consumers a portal from where they can find attorneys within their respective locations, read and write reviews on those lawyers. These directories often make money through advertising, and lately, several of them have started to profit by offering physicians their own “promoted” directory listings. A promoted listing can be as simple displaying a “featured” label on the lawyer’s listing, or more advanced, to include a space for additional images of your firm and the ability to reach you directly using a contact form. Demand Force empowers clients to make appointments right from the site. Sites such as Avvo.com 33
offer free basic listings to lawyers and for a fee will upgrade your listing or offer on-site advertising to enhance your prominence and visibility. Comment 5 to Rule 7.2 specifies a lawyer may pay for the costs of print directory listings, on-line directory listings, Internet-based advertisements, and group advertising. A lawyer may pay others to generate Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer and the lead generatorâ€™s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1. A lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a personâ€™s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral.
Local Publications Targeting specific audiences, languages and ethnicities.
he world is changing into an online world; with people migrating more and more to the web to get their information, you need to keep this modern reality in mind when it comes to investing in marketing for your practice. However, don't discount print advertising altogether. Local publication advertising can still be a very effective marketing channel, especially when attempting to reach specific target audiences and ethnicities, if done correctly. 34
In the past, many advertisers relied almost solely on magazines to deliver their ads to the buying public. After all, running an ad in a magazine was much less expensive than running an ad on national TV or Radio. This was especially true if you were targeting a niche market. For example, let’s say you want to promote family law services to women. You really wouldn’t run an ad for this on national TV, you would run an ad in Fairfax Woman magazine with primary female readers. This would be much more cost effective, as you would only be paying to reach out to your specific local target market. Model Rule 7.1 - Prohibits any false or misleading communication about a lawyer’s services. Misleading if communication forms unjustified expectations of similar results. In November 2001, the Virginia Supreme Court amended Rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, the Virginia Supreme Court approved LAO A-0114 on August 26, 2005. The Standing Committee on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation is now issuing this updated opinion which incorporates the new rule amendments and new opinions. Some of the issues addressed in this opinion include: use of actors; use of the phrase “no recovery, no fee;” laudatory statements by third parties; use by a law firm of a fictitious name; use of specific or cumulative case results; participation in a lawyer referral service; communications involving listing of inclusion in publications such as The Best Lawyers in America; and the use of the terms “Specialist” or “Specializing In.” 35
Targeting Demographics: Incomes and Minorities. Today, the demographics of the United States are changing very quickly. By assessing the local economy of any given U.S. city we are able to determine whether or not the residents of specific communities are likely to become your future clients. Each firm has its own sort of qualification system, a system that determines the profile of the target clients for your practice. Depending on your specialty there are income qualifications to consider; moreover, household income level determines how likely certain communities are to go out of pocket for certain legal services. Other demographic variables that you should consider are age, household size, sex, and ethnicity. This last factor, ethnicity, is becoming more and more useful to private practices as they vie for the same consumers that larger firms are going after. If you are in a region that includes concentrated pockets of specific language or ethnic groups, then you have the opportunity right now to reach them before the competition tries to do so. The specific ethnic group you choose to target depends on your regionâ€™s specific demographic makeup. In particular, I recommend an analysis of your local Hispanic market, it is booming nationwide, and this can be a key opportunity for your practice, today. Local publications offer one of the paths of least resistance towards becoming the attorney of choice, in your specialty, in your local Hispanic community. Look for the local Spanish-language magazines and newspapers and 36
you’ll find that advertising rates are still affordable, though quickly rising, and your return on investment should be decent as long as you set the campaign up correctly. Don’t forget to update your online presence as well with a website that caters to specific languages, and search engine optimization programs that target local prospective clients that search in a foreign language, like Spanish.
A few considerations when advertising in publications: 1. Review the publication’s media kit thoroughly 2. Are they offering any “introductory” deals? 3. How are they going to distribute the magazine? (i.e. through dealers, subscribers, web based, etc.) 4. How many subscribers do they have? Who are their subscribers? Are they your right target market? 5. Are they paid subscribers or are they free issues going out to “qualified” subscribers? 6. How did they qualify or obtain these subscribers? (how did the subscribers sign up, or were they automatically opted-in?) 7. How many issues are they going to distribute? 8. Are they going to be offering the magazine as a web publication?
Online Magazines / Newspapers. Some magazine publishers also have websites where they post additional articles and media to complement their offline print publication. They do this for several reasons: 1. They don’t have to pay for the extra printing cost of the additional articles. 2. By adding extra content to the online version, they can justify the subscription fees they charge to subscribers of the offline, print magazine. 3. By adding more value to the online version, they are hoping to get people to switch from print, to electronic subscriptions. The main reason is that they want to convert readers to the electronic version is cost. It’s a lot cheaper to put out an online version of the magazine or newspaper than it is to pay for printing and mailing costs. Now some of you are thinking, “if the electronic version of the magazine is cheaper to publish, then advertising costs should go down as well.” That’s not always the case, and this is clear evidence that the world is moving towards a digital future. We found that many magazines and newspapers charge the same advertising rates for their online and offline editions, while some publications provide up to 50% discounts to their online advertisers and sometimes they even offer a free online advertisement to businesses that advertise in the print edition. The Virginia amendment in Model Rule 7.1 concerning advertising which is false, fraudulent, deceptive or 38
misleading applies to all public communications and includes communications over the Internet. The Standing Committee on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation also observes that a lawyer’s communications over the Internet are “disseminated to the public by use of electronic media” for which the lawyer has given value, and therefore are subject to the requirements of Rule 7.1 and 7.2.
Media Kits Whenever you contact a magazine or newspaper about advertising make sure you ask them to send you a media kit. Most of them will email you an electronic media kit. The information you can gain from a media kit can be very valuable and it can give you some insight into the type of people who read that particular magazine. You have a duty under Rule 7.1 to make truthful statements in your advertising. Comment 1 to the Rule states, “Whatever means are used to communicate regarding a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful and not misleading. A statement or claim is misleading if it is likely to mislead the public or a prospective client.” To make sure that you do not mislead your audience, you have to know who they are. You can accomplish this by ordering media kits from prospective advertising publications. A Media Kit will generally include: 1. A sample issue of the magazine or a link to a copy of the magazine online. 2. A rate card - explaining the advertising rates, allowable discounts, positioning, etc. 3. Advertising specifications - listing the dimensions for the different ad sizes, etc. 4. Circulation information - Depending on the magazine this may be nothing more than a cover letter stating the number of "readers,” to more indepth, offering up statistics on the demographic breakdowns of the magazine’s readership. 40
Market Research. Donâ€™t purchase advertising in a publication without first understanding what type of people you will be reaching, what kind of content is within the publication, who the other advertisers are, and where the magazine or newspaper will be delivered. You might consider ordering back-issues of the publication to help you in your research.
Tracking Your Client Inquiries. A lot of lawyers I’ve talked to over the years don’t track the response they are getting from their advertisements. They haven’t the foggiest idea which ad or magazine is pulling in the best response. This isn’t any way to make wise marketing investments, it’s haphazard and uneducated. Instead, consider establishing a formal process for your front desk to follow when receiving new phone calls or e-mails from new clients – you must include a simple question in that process:
“How did you hear about us?” Clients will gladly tell you how they found your practice, keep a spreadsheet on your front desk computer, use your practice management software’s “referral source” function, or simply jot this information down on a piece of paper that doesn’t move from the front desk. At the end of each advertising cycle you’ll be able to know for sure how much business each publication has brought to your practice. What can help you make better decisions than these customized statistics? Not much. The caveat here is that you may find that you’re getting many calls – but not closing enough clients. This will highlight operational inefficiencies that you can work on – whether it means that phones need to be answered quicker or front desk staff needs to be more patient and welcoming. Whatever the case, now you have real statistics for your very own practice – there is no objective method for improving results from each marketing dollar you spend until you have this in place. 42
There is no competitive advantage in “Word of Mouth” referrals, every practice gets them.
Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs 43
Complementary Practices Building lasting, fruitful, and ethical relationships
uilding a base of professional network from various disciplines who refer clients to you is a foundational practice-building approach. The legal profession continues to be a growing one and presents potential referral sources for attorneys. There are many ways in which the legal professions can interface, making attorneys a natural source of referrals. Identify complementary practices; for example, if you provide services related to estate planning, you can focus your marketing and networking efforts on attorneys who specialize in family law. Be able to explain how your niche service relates to their specialty, and build bridges. These complementary practices stand to become a top source of high quality, new client referrals to your practice. But, the referrals can only begin once you establish an Ethical working relationship with other attorneys in your region. This is a critical offline marketing task for legal firms â€“ if you ever want to receive referrals from other attorneys you cannot just sit and wait to get a call from an attorney that looks through a phone book to find your number; in fact, itâ€™s highly likely that the lawyer already has a regional referral list for each legal specialty. Developing Ethical legal referral relationships. Meet and build relationships with attorneys with a possible interest in your niche specialty. Possible venues where you might interface include continuing education 44
programs and workshops that include attorneys as well as other complementary professions (i.e. Chiropractors would be great referral sources for a personal injury attorney and a CPA for the estate planning lawyer), Chamber of Commerce meetings, local bar association events, etc. The opportunity lies in establishing a mutually beneficial, longlasting, mature relationship with these referring partners. This adds value to the simple task of quickly making a referral â€“ when the referring partner is making that referral you want them to be 100% sure that their client is going to be in great hands and make them look good. You add value by explaining the merits and philosophies of your firm and assuring the referring firm that you have a process for effective inter-practice communication that keeps the other party in the loop about the service being provided to their clients as long as it does not breach client confidentiality. Itâ€™s no longer a simple referral, rather, an Ethical partnership that ensures comprehensive, customized care for each client. Be careful and do not share revenue! Rule 5.4(a) states that a lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a non-lawyer. The benefits of a referral program will have to be realized through other methods. Executing a referral generation program. The one-to-one, in-person meeting, is the most impactful and valuable method for developing these sensitive, important, long-term relationships. When your assistant has downtime, ask them to do the research and even contact them, start with a couple per week, to 45
complementary practices. It’s also a great idea to put together a referral follow-up program that emphasizes a consistent and detailed loop of communication between your practices. A well-developed referral generation program will identify your firm’s strengths as well as its weaknesses; as a result, most practices require an adjustment or enhancement of current operational procedures to ensure sustainable success. A note on Ethics. You deliver the best legal advice and consulting services possible – that should be the basis for attracting referrals. When you refer a client to another attorney you do it in the client’s best interest – you wouldn’t accept nor tolerate any offers for referral compensation. Yet, there is a form of compensation that is not unethical, it’s called appreciation. You’d be surprised how far a simple “thank you” will go when you speak to your counterpart at the referring practice. Lawyer Referral Generation Services A lawyer referral service is typically offered by state and local bar associations as a public service. The purpose of a lawyer referral service is to increase access to justice by referring members of the general public to lawyers in private practice or to legal aid organizations or agencies for a nominal fee. A potential client who contacts a lawyer referral service is directed to a lawyer who practices in the area of 46
law that is most appropriate for their situation. If a client is unable to afford a lawyer and the legal problem is not a matter that can be handled by a lawyer on a percentage fee basis, the client is directed to a legal aid organization for help. There is a difference between referral service programs that are certified by the American Bar Association and state bar associations. For those lawyer referral service programs, which are certified, minimum qualification standards are established for the lawyers who wish to participate in the program to receive referrals. Certified lawyer referral service programs are approved by the American Bar Association for compliance with the Model Rules Governing Lawyer Referral and Information Services. ABA Certified services use a rotation method to ensure an equitable distribution of referrals in a given practice area among the lawyers who have been qualified. The American Bar Association provides a list of the national network of certified lawyer referral service programs, with most states having a service listed. The cost to the potential client for an initial consultation with an experienced lawyer is usually very modest. In many cases, there is a maximum fee set by the bar association for the initial consultation with the lawyer. Virginia Lawyer Referral Service (VLRS) offers this service to the public for a minimal $35.00 fee, which is collected by the VLRS at time of referring, entitles the referred caller to an up to one half-hour (30 minute) consultation with a VLRS attorney that is a VSB member in good standing. The up to one-half-hour consultation may be by phone or in person. There is no obligation on either party to go beyond the initial consultation. For more information regarding VLRS visit http://www.vsb.org/vlrs/ 47
The question arises whether and under what circumstances attorneys may advertise participation in lawyer referral services and joint marketing arrangements. VSB OPINION #A-0105: Attorneys may advertise participation in lawyer referral services and joint marketing arrangements so long as the advertising is not false, deceptive or misleading. For previous Legal Ethics Opinions concerning lawyer referral services and marketing arrangements. The Committee is concerned that some advertising concerning lawyer referral services and joint marketing arrangements are deceptive. Among the deceptive practices observed by the Committee are the following: l. Advertising participation in a Lawyer Referral Service which is not a true, qualifying Lawyer Referral Service as defined by prior opinions of the Standing Committee on Legal Ethics. 2. Implying in advertising that a lawyer is selected for participation in a Lawyer Referral Service based on quality of services or some other process of independent endorsement when in fact no bonafide quality judgment has been objectively made. 3. Stating or implying that the Lawyer Referral Service contains all of the lawyers or law firms eligible to participate in the Service by the objective criteria of the Service when in fact the Service is closed to some lawyers or law firms who meet the objective criteria. 4. Stating or implying that there are a substantial number of attorneys or firms participating in the Service when in fact all calls in a geographic area will be directed to one or two attorneys or firms. 5. Using the name of a Lawyer Referral Service or joint marketing arrangement in a way, which misleads the public as to the true identity of the advertiser.
ake great care of your clients, offer compassionate care, and establish office procedures that provide a common framework for interacting with clients.
Also recognize that happy clients need to be reminded and influenced to share their good experience with friends and family. Without any guidance, many of your clients will suggest your practice when asked for a recommendation; however, a client that has had a fantastic experience, and is asked to tell their friends, is much more likely to volunteer a recommendation to your firm on social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and Yelp. In some states, testimonials are forbidden in attorney advertising. However, the rules were written long before anyone imagined clients would take it upon themselves to write attorney testimonials and post them on sites like Yelp and Avvo. Virginia does allow client testimonials and endorsements as long as they comply with the ABA Model Rules.
IV. client satisfaction & retention Make your first impression an excellent lasting impression!
When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it's like giving them emotional oxygen. â€“ Steven Covey 50
Client Satisfaction There’s more to it than you may think
have met attorneys that don’t understand the importance of the Golden Rule as it applies to the sustained success of their practice. This is a maxim that has been expressed in just about every language by the world’s most important and influential philosophers:
“One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” These are lawyers that don’t respect the client’s time, they’re pompous, and don’t listen. This doesn’t mean that these are bad attorneys, they could be excellent legal practitioners; nevertheless, you’re operating a business. If you don’t believe quality of service is a direct result of the way you act then you don’t understand that client satisfaction is the number one way to keep new clients coming in. At the end of the day, an attorney employed by a large firm can only get away with a poor client satisfaction record for so long until they’re reprimanded. A lawyer running a small private practice must adhere to similar standards. Setting Your Own, Customized Goals. Client satisfaction is an important outcome measure for legal services; however, “satisfaction” can be subjective and based on the specific beliefs, morals, and culture of each person. Consequently, private practice attorneys need to devise their own, customized, set of client satisfaction 51
factors in order to begin to measure and set client satisfaction goals for your own practice. We can’t collect industry-wide client satisfaction benchmarks and hope that they apply to everyone’s practice; it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. What matters to a personal injury attorney’s clients will be different than the client satisfaction factors that matter to an estate planning attorney’s clients. Proactive Issue Resolution, Avoid Lawsuits. It’s simple, the first time you get negative feedback about any facet of your practice, deal with it. Resolve the issue now before it gets out of hand, and convert the poor feedback into an opportunity to become better. Low satisfaction ratings have proven to have negative spillover effects into other areas of the private practice.
Client Retention Discounts don’t work, honesty and value preside
here is no business in the world where the customer base can be expected to stay with you permanently. The same applies to legal businesses; yet, you have a better opportunity to preserve clients longer than most other industries. When it comes to resolving legal issues or getting legal advice, Americans are willing to pay more to be represented by attorneys whom they trust and appreciate. If your ambition is to have your calendar booked with cases everyday, then start by taking great care of your current clients. Happy clients will 52
return, they will share your greatness with their friends and relatives, and they will help you to be satisfied with your own business. You can make yourself trustworthy by consistently communicating with your clients. Rule 1.4 requires that lawyers keep in touch with clients a) when the client inquires, b) when information becomes available that allows the client to make a determination on the relationship, and c) when new material facts emerge, and d) when communications emerge that affect the matter’s resolution. You should always end your attorney-client relationships with written correspondence confirming the end of the case. What could be better than receiving an unsolicited, physical “Thank You” note in the mail? You can surf the web all you want to look for “bad” reviews about your firm (Lord knows we can’t please them all!); or, you can start thinking positively and generate those “great” reviews, right now, today. Retention and Attrition. No doubt, we want retention rate high and attrition rate low. But let’s find out what your specific practice can do to retain more and lose fewer clients. You retain clients by delivering top-notch legal advice, returning calls and emails from clients, and providing your best-written products and oral advocacy with caring and winning attitude, from a fantastic, smiling staff.
These secrets to high retention are also your Ethical duties. Rule 1.1 details how you should deliver top-notch legal advice and provide your best written products and oral advocacy. Rule 1.4 states that “A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.” You lose clients because you underperform in the aforementioned retention activities; but let’s not forget the competition. There is so much competition. New attorneys continue to enter the market, larger firms buy out private practices and form power houses, consumers have less spending power! Yet, I don’t think you should be afraid. You’re in business because you’re a trained attorney and you want to control your own future. So it’s true that there might be cheaper alternatives to your practice, but consumers have already proven to be less price-sensitive with legal advice than with most other customer services – so take care of your existing clients.
V. Planning for the future Your practice is more than a safety net, it’s part of your life.
The simple reason that most people fail financially is not because of the lack of a plan, it’s not because of good advice, it’s not even because of a lack of capital. It is for one reason—they attach more pain to the idea of having money, than NOT having it. – Anthony Robbins 55
Exit Strategy Principles Why you need to think about the end game
s an attorney with your own private practice you have already been approached by many financial planners that wants you to stop thinking in the short-term and think about the future. They’re right. After all, your business is not the sole purpose for existing, at least it shouldn’t be (there are a lot of theories for why we exist, but I’m sure this isn’t one of them, and I definitely won’t try to tackle existentialism in this little guide!) The Rules of Professional Conduct require that you think about an exit strategy. Comment 5 to Rule 1.3 states: “A lawyer should plan for client protection in the event of the lawyer's death, disability, impairment, or incapacity. The plan should be in writing and should designate a responsible attorney capable of making, and who has agreed to make, arrangements for the protection of client interests in the event of the lawyer’s death, impairment, or incapacity.” The fact is that you have goals for your life and your business is a means to achieve those goals. We set an exit strategy not merely to expect the best and plan for the worst, but to realistically figure out what the best is and what you’ll do when you get there. You will need to do this with money in mind, how much do you need every year, and how much would you like in your bank account when you retire? You’ll also want to consider family time, how many of your kids’ and grandkids’ softball games do you 56
want to attend every week? Don’t forget to consider the loans you have to pay off, the type of home you desire, your kids’ college tuition, your vacations, your overall quality of life. Once we set our life goals and figure out what role the practice is expected to play in helping you achieve these goals we can set quantitative goals for exiting. Not everyone reading this guide will want to exit at all – But you still need to set quantitative goals because the business works for you and you need the business to bring results just like you expect results from anything else you invest time and money into. Your quantitative goals, when broken down into years and quarters will give us a starting point for planning your firm’s marketing activities. Take that revenue number that you have to hit every quarter and plan marketing activities accordingly. You have to conduct these activities in order to get more new clients and maintain current clients on your roster – so give these activities attention every month and you’ll be sure to hit your quarterly revenue goals. When you don’t hit your revenue goals it’s time to throw up a red flag, take a step back, and identify the weakest links. You don’t have to exit outright. If you’re after working fewer hours, consider hiring. Take a cut to your paycheck but continue to operate a profitable business by hiring attorneys and paralegals to work for you. If you need an objective analysis, there are 57
several reliable human resource consultants that specialize in private legal practices – check with your state bar or give us a call and we’ll introduce you to someone
Sell or Partner-up Options for maximizing the return on your investment
f you have a well-running legal practice there are opportunities to sell your practice to the highest bidder, or to a large law firm you may have an affinity for. Virginia Rule 1.17 details your duties when selling the firm, including how you notify clients, and the terms you can place in a sale agreement. Under this rule, you would have to cease practicing law (or in the practice area you sell) and notify all clients as to the sale’s terms. However, you would be allowed to continue working in the practice area pro bono. You can also choose a partner that will add value to your practice and take ownership in maintaining financial viability and profitability for the practice. Instead of selling the practice outright, it’s possible to work fewer hours and sell a portion of the practice as equity to a business partner. If this partner is a practicing lawyer, they will continue to be available during normal business hours while you continue to collect revenue from the practice you invested so much time and money into.
Final Thoughts I put together this guide because there just isn’t enough marketing education out there that applies to private practice attorneys. You’d be hard-pressed to find a business-oriented continuing education course, let alone one that focuses on marketing. Additionally, there is so much clutter on the vendor side of marketing. I run a legal marketing consultancy and receive at least two spam emails and phone calls every day from marketing vultures that want to sell me marketing services. Along with my business partners, I’ve been running NOVA Legal Marketing for three years now and I’m no longer surprised to hear how misinformed some of our clients were before joining us, and that’s okay because logic prevails when you take the time to make sense of all the clutter. The competition will intensify in the coming years and the practices that practice Ethical and modern legal marketing will thrive. It’s now time to think outside the box. I hope this guide was helpful to you and I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about any practice management matters you have in mind.
Fred Ostovar NOVA Legal Marketing • www.novalegalmarketing.com (703) 855-9641 • fred@novalegalmarketing
Published on Dec 12, 2013
Published on Dec 12, 2013
This guide will teach you several effective methods for marketing your law firm, emphasizing resource efficiency with a key focus on the bus...