Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do You Want More Clients, Or More Referrals?

There are plenty of people running around the internet claiming to know how to get you more clients (for a fee) and referrals (for a fee). There are plenty of lawyers, pen and check, or credit card in hand, ready to pay.

The same lawyers searching the internet for their financial future are also looking for someone who will teach them the secrets of social media.

Sad news: There are no secrets. There are no secrets to getting more clients, referrals, or writing 140 character messages. There are only people who claim there to be secrets in order to convince you that (for a fee) you can know something your competition doesn't.

Marketers will tell you that "just doing a good job" is not enough." I agree. Others need to know you did a good job. In order to get more clients and referrals, you need to make yourself known.

There's a few ways to do this. First though, you have to decide what type of lawyer you want to be.

There are two types of lawyers (there's actually about 8 types of lawyers but for this discussion, there's two) - there are lawyers who want clients, and lawyers who want referrals.

If you want more clients, here's my suggestion:

[1] Direct mail.

[2] Google ad-words.

[3] Billboards.

You'll get a ton of calls, and a ton of cases. Most will be clients looking for a low fee, but that's OK. You can do a bunch of cases cheap and hopefully have a practice that can handle the number of clients. Calls will come in droves, clients will be happy with a nice payment plan over several months, and the real tools you need are a credit card machine and a good calendar program for your computer.

If you want more referrals, you'll first have to understand that what you are seeking is that another person, lawyer or otherwise, will put their credibility on the line and tell someone else that you should be hired.

Here's how you do that, in no particular order:

[1] Do not take advice from anyone who has no experience getting referrals, and only experience getting clients.

[2] Get off the computer, except to write something about your practice.

This can be as simple as a short article about the different types of procedures in your practice area, or a complex page-turner about a recent decision affecting your type of clients. Where do you write this? Start a blog - but only if you're committed to posting at least once a week.

[3] Talk to your current clients about other things besides the case - ask them about their lives.

When you develop a relationship with a client where they feel they can discuss "anything" with you, they will. Some clients will refer you cases during their representation, others you will need to ask when the case is over (assuming you weren't fired). If you are not willing to ask a client to refer you clients, you have a problem.

[4] Meet non-lawyers, go to non-lawyer events, have non-lawyer conversations.

If you think you need to sell your practice to get referrals, you'll be the one at the cocktail party standing alone in the corner on the phone. Clients aren't hiring your practice, they are hiring you.

[5] Never assume a meeting with someone was a waste of time because 10 minutes later there was no referral.

My rule is that within 6 months of meeting someone who may be in a position to refer me a client, I get a call. Sometimes it's a year. It just happens that way.

[6] Pay attention to what is going on in the community.

Pay attention to people you know, even if you just know them by name or reputation. If someone you know won a case, or received some other type of accolade - say congratulations. No need for a formal typewritten letter - an e-mail will do. Do not include in the email an invitation to lunch, unless you know the person well and it would be natural for you to hang out with them. There are people who scour media and send letters to lawyers who win awards - most of them are financial advisors looking for clients.

[7] Spend your advertising and marketing money on things that allow you to be in the presence of others.

Small ads in the local paper are fine, but your $1500 is better spent on a foursome at a golf tournament than on a 4-color ad in a "lawyer's" magazine. Those seeking "clients" would never consider taking time from the office to work "on" their practice instead of "in" their practice.

[8] Always make time to talk to people seeking advice - especially those that are in a position to refer you a client.

I take a lot of calls, and receive a lot of emails seeking opinions and advice. I return them when I have time, but usually pretty quickly because "thanks for calling me back so quickly," makes you the lawyer who deserves an important client.

[9] The best and worst part of having a referral based practice is that you never know who will refer you a client. That is why [8] is vital.

[10] Always, always, always show appreciation - even (especially) if it doesn't work out.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a lawyer who told me my referral didn't work out, but "thank you." I do this as well. I want to follow up, and let my referral source know why the case didn't work out. Many lawyers don't like to do this because it appears negative. I think it's essential. You can also take the opportunity when a referral doesn't work out to take the referring individual to lunch and talk more about your practice. No one expects anything when a referral doesn't work out, especially a free lunch. This year a few lawyers referred me multiple clients - none hired me. Those lawyers all received holiday gifts. The phrase "it's the thought that counts," is actually true.

[11] Be patient.

Again, if you just want clients, you shouldn't have read this far in the post - type away on ad-words and start stamping mailers. None of your clients will care about anything else but that you charge a "reasonable fee" (read:cheaper than the guy down the street). Good referrals take time. It requires you to have a reputation - not necessarily as a great lawyer, but as a good lawyer. The definition of a good lawyer is not just based on legal skills - it comprises many things.

Becoming a good lawyer happens one client at a time. If you want to have a volume practice of small cases, that's fine - you will get there through advertising -especially internet advertising. But if you want a smaller practice with better cases and higher fees, you'll have to stop seeing the computer as the key to your future. Unfortunately, that suggestion pisses off a lot of people here that are making a living telling you otherwise.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Fat Man Running said...

All very sound advice. And for free, nonetheless!

My "timeframe" on referrals seems to be even longer--I sometimes get referrals from people I've met 1-2 years ago. It pays to keep in touch--and share referrals--even if you don't "get" anything in return. Referrals aren't quid pro quo, but I've found when you have a network of people you know and trust enough to be comfortable referring your clients to for matters you don't handle, those people usually know and trust you, too.

That's no secret. But many lawyers really suck at it.

David Fuller said...

I'd add one more things: if someone asks why you practice XYZ, be able to say something other than "volume," "easy," or "profit." When I hear any of those reasons, I see a legal mill churning out cases as fast as possible, instead of an attorney working a case for a client.


I can't remember ever reading a better article on marketing for lawyers (and other professionals, properly so-called).