Ask Attorney Jennifer B.: 4 steps to building a successful law practice
There is a road-map for becoming a lawyer: you attend college, graduate from law school, and pass the bar exam. Building a successful law practice, on the other hand, is not as straightforward. No one teaches you how to acquire clients or how to manage them once you have them. There is no manual on building a brand or choosing a marketing strategy that works for you. No one but you can create the infrastructure that works for your particular practice.
There is no doubt that being an excellent lawyer should be your primary consideration. No matter how skilled you become in marketing and business development, if you cannot perform top-notch legal work, you will not retain the business you develop. However, being an excellent lawyer alone does not guarantee a booming practice.
Define your strategy
When considering how to become a rainmaker, marketing is the key. Although there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy, every lawyer can learn to market and develop business. First, determine what you like to do and how these interests can help you reach potential clients or referral sources. For marketing to be effective, it must be done consistently, and if you enjoy an activity, you will likely pursue it. For example, if you like writing, find a way to write about topical legal issues in your field. These days, it is easy to start a blog. You can even use a professional social media platform, such as LinkedIn, to create blog posts. If public speaking is your forte, find out how to participate in existing CLE seminars, or create your own. If you enjoy charity work, become involved through your church or synagogue or volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. The most important part of marketing is to get out and do something.
As a young attorney, I often watched lawyers discuss various topics on cable news. I thought that being a legal commentator on television would help me stand out from my peers, so I made it my goal to become one. It took time, effort, and a lot of perseverance, but today, I am regularly asked to appear. While this marketing strategy, like most, required a lot of dedication and time away from billable matters, it certainly paid off.
Build your brand
Once you have found a marketing strategy that works for you, the next step is to build your brand. This involves letting others know who you are and how you are different from the competition. For example, if your marketing strategy is to be active in the local bar association, don’t just go to a yearly meeting. Get involved to such an extent that people associate your service with your professional identity, and use that to show clients why they should hire you. Now, you are not simply another ho-hum litigator. Instead, you are a litigator who is also the chair of the bar, past chair of the bar, treasurer of the bar, etc. This way, you distinguish yourself from your peers and begin to build a professional brand.
Building a brand also involves promoting your marketing successes. For example, if you create a blog, the link should appear in your email signature, web bio, website, etc. Give those who are considering hiring you the chance to see your skills and expertise. In my situation, every time I appear on television, I add my appearance to my web bio, or I blog about the story, adding additional insight that I was unable to share during my limited TV time.
Set up infrastructure
Developing a marketing strategy and building a brand are time-consuming, but essential, tasks. When these marketing and branding are effectively executed, business starts to grow, and how you manage that growth is crucial. Thus, it is necessary to have proper infrastructure in place.
Hiring decisions should be based on the candidate’s knowledge, experience, and interpersonal skills. After all, if a highly skilled employee cannot interact with others, especially clients, he or she may not be the best fit. By the same token, an employee who is enthusiastic and dedicated may be more valuable than one who has top-notch credentials.
Know when to delegate
Once your staffing needs are met, it is important that you utilize your staff appropriately. Delegating work, which is difficult for most lawyers, is essential to growing a successful practice. Not only will delegating free up time to do the business development required to keep the practice growing, but it will also save your clients’ money if some work can be performed by attorneys and staff at lower rates.
To insure that work is delegated properly and that the practice is operating at its best and highest efficiency, meet with staff regularly to keep everyone on track. Furthermore, if staff members know they have a designated time to meet with you, your schedule—and their schedule—will be interrupted less often throughout the day.
Every lawyer, whether in a big firm or solo practice, is capable of building a successful law practice. And whether you’re just starting out or have been practicing for 30 years, it is never too early or late to think about how this can be accomplished.