Money Mentality

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: Verdicts & Settlements

VIEWPOINT: Ensuring a continuous flow of clients requires planning, delegating tasks, focusing on quality and double-checking, with special emphasis on regular marketing efforts.

Litigators may recall the wonderful “gravy days” of business. Client lists were plump, billables were soaring and the phone rang off the hook. Who had time to develop client lists, update brochures or spend nonbillable time cultivating relationships the attorney really didn’t need at the time?

Warning: That mind-set can derail the gravy train, and fast. When work from current clients inevitably slows down—or disappears altogether—practitioners have a lot of time on their hands, leading to feelings of panic and desperation. The attorney needs a client infusion, and fast! Attorneys can short-circuit this downward spiral by committing to regular, ongoing marketing efforts. Making time for marketing now can pay off in the future through a steady, reliable stream of clients who keep business profitable into the future.

To market, to market. The cornerstone of success in marketing is consistency.

Marketing efforts should not be separate from other business activities. Rather, they should be part of everything attorneys do in the course of trial practice. Carve out some time every day or every week for marketing activities. Keeping marketing momentum going through consistent effort is easier than starting from ground zero once or twice a year, when the practice becomes desperate for clients.

Attorneys don’t have to do a year’s worth of marketing in a single day or week. For example, resolve to make just two telephone calls a day to keep in touch with a former or potential client or with someone who may be a great client referral source.

Begin at the beginning. One fundamental question is: Has the firm taken the time to build a solid foundation on which to market?

That foundation includes establishing a corporate identity and logo, compiling a contact database and creating marketing materials. Without these basics, marketing efforts will lack cohesion and direction.

Success hinges to some extent on the little things such as an effective and cohesive look to the firm’s logo, letterhead and announcements. What do the firm’s written materials say about it? Do they set the firm apart from and above the competition, or are they “plain vanilla,” proclaiming that the firm leadership hasn’t realized yet that today’s lawyers understand image and branding?

Time and concentration are necessary to develop a marketing plan, make decisions about logos and brochure copy and assemble a solid contact database. These often work best as weekend projects, when phones aren’t ringing and employees are not in hot pursuit of client issues. Once this foundation is in place, all it will need for quite a while is occasional minor tweaking.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. Before the marketing partner becomes overwhelmed at the thought of maintaining marketing image, remember the effective manager’s mantra: Assign tasks to team members.

Make everyone in the office a valued member of the marketing team. For example, involve the Director of First Impressions, commonly known as the office receptionist. Does the receptionist give the front-line impression that each incoming call is important and the firm is not just good, but outstanding? Evaluate each position on the basis of its marketing role and potential.

Also consider passing on the tedious but critical task of developing a database to someone who can pull names from files. Of course, the attorney still will need to review the database.

Quality is job one. Much of the emphasis related to marketing deals with issues of quality.

It’s a “noisy” world out there, with thousands of messages competing at once for clients’ eyes and ears. If a particular law firm doesn’t stand out, with interesting, intriguing, useful and accurate information, the firm name will get lost quickly in the ruckus.

What about those times when clients get the attorney’s voicemail? Be sure the outgoing messages are energetic and confident. Clients should want to hear back from that voice.

Take a hard look at the firm’s printed materials. If the firm scrimped on the quality of the paper or on the printing process, materials probably look second-rate. If so, they’re doomed for wastebaskets all over town.

Double-check first impressions. Counsel also should walk through the front door of the firm, trying to see through prospective clients’ eyes.

Attorneys should put themselves in the place of a first-time visitor. What does the reception area say about the firm? Are the publications on the reception tables current and reflective of the law firm’s expertise?

Academic journals are not necessary—but reading material in the waiting area should not be six months old. The reception area should be a marketing center for the firm. It should be well-stocked with brochures, reprints of articles and newsletters. This shows off the business, the partners and the practice.

Marketing is a red carpet rolled out in front of every single potential client—sometimes even people one might not perceive as potential clients. Everything an attorney says and does, the way the attorney presents himself or herself and the quality of information provide the fibers of that carpet. Will the firm’s red carpet stand up over time?

Sharon J. Berman is the principal in Tarzana’s Berbay Co., specializing in marketing for law firms and other corporations.

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