Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Should a Solo/Small Firm Focus on to build a practice?

I have been reading on several sites the opinions of what a solo lawyer or small law office should do when it comes to building a client base. There can never be a set list of what is important, but I do shudder when (at least in the consumer law/personal injury field) I see people blindly touting Social Networks as the key to all things, or a key building block. They're wrong.

On twitter, someone posted this: Solo/small should focus on social networking, blogging, thought leadership and niche focus more than "advertising." Doing so is folly. What matters on any list, at least for my areas of law noted above?

1.Competency: Knowing the area of the law- Really knowing it. Because if you say you do, and you don't, a potential client will learn of it. Sometimes, while you talk to that person at an event.

2.Networking: Live, real world networking. Not Twitter, not Facebook. Affinity groups, volunteering, law associations, meetings, conventions. Shaking hands, taking people to lunch or breakfast.

3a.Web presence- Each day I am amazed/appalled at what some lawyers/firms try to pass off as a web site. No phone number on page one. Impossible to locate office address. Spend the time building a website. Keep it current. One firm's website I saw listed under "Recent News" an article from April ... of 2008 ... as the lead news story.

3b.Learning Google Adwords: Most lawyers will mention how many hours are spent preparing for a deposition in a case, but simply slough off Google and internet advertising. Learn it. Google Adwords training can be done over time. Even if all you do is put up a google ad with your name or firm name, limited to your state, you must do it. I bet that what one Gen Y staffer calls a "kick ass" website for your firm, with Google, will generate more work than all SN sites you work on combined.

4.Blogging- This site for me is an outlet, sort of my office without the suit jacket and tie. I blog about law, pharma, and more - even the loss of my beloved dog. After three years, it's not uncommon for our office to receive 50+ emails or calls a month from the blog. With zero cost (thanks blogger!) to run and zero advertising.

5.Marketing to current clients:Good work is nice, but the last thing I need to hear is a person telling me, "I didn't know you practiced that type of law, or I would have told my brother/neighbor/pastor about you." We send out to every client a glossy "important papers" folder, a current (and not cheap) 8 1/2 by 11 Calendar, and more. Each year, new Calendar. In fact, when we miss a couple, I get the call asking "Where's my calendar?" We're working a birthday cards now.

6.List Servers: Speaking only for trial lawyers, our list servers are terrific sources of information as well as work. I contribute from time to time, I read daily, and I offer to assist. If you don't have one for your practice, dig. ABA and a State Bar may be a good start.

Way down on my list is Social Networks like Facebook and others. I no longer use two of them to build my office's work.

The Twitter post mentioning "thought leadership." Jargon. Worthless. How many of you reading this blog post even know what that means. That makes no list. For now.

Social Networks? Sure. I spend 1-5% now on it. I like Twitter- For the rapid rush of information. In certain areas- news, entertainment - great. For law? Not so much at least in my vast area - consumer law and injury practice. I spend time on it.

The point of all this is - learn by doing. I think SN will perhaps be like a yellow pages ad- a good but small part of your practice.

If you think I am wrong when it comes to SN on any list, I'd love to hear from you. Tell me your area of practice, and please - PLEASE- don't merely mention how you now have 1 or 2 clients from SN. If you have a practice where more than 15% have come from SN, my guess is you're a lawyer in tech, IP, or Entertainment.