What they don’t teach you in law school – the importance of marketing

General

You’ve got a great result in a case.  Whether it is a big verdict, or a case which made the news or an appearance before the Supreme Court.  You figure, now I am on the road to success.  Clients will be beating down my door because of my recent success.  You expect a flood of new clients and referrals.  Eventually it dawns on you:  professional success does not necessarily translate into business success.  This is where marketing comes in.

Where did this hoax begin?

Like most things wrong with our profession, it starts out in law school.  Everyone reading this article understands that law school does not prepare you for the practice of law.  Despite your mastery of Contracts, Torts or Constitutional Law, as a practicing attorney, those classroom skills do not translate into the “real world” of practicing law.  Once you join a firm or open your own office, what you learned in law school does not translate into running a law firm, getting new clients and making money.  When a law student asks me the most important skill for an attorney, I answer without hesitation:  Business Development.

You are running a business

I love practicing law. Maybe I will write a column some day about everything I love about being a lawyer. You’ll probably delete that one after reading the first line or two. You may love practicing law as well. Your goal may be to serve your clients and provide the best representation. But you cannot serve your clients if you cannot make payroll. Many of you may not agree, but the goal of every business, including a law practice, is to make money.

Building your practice by attracting new business

To build a successful business, you must identify your Ideal Client. Your Ideal Client is not a great liability/damages case, it’s not a high income divorce case, it’s not a real estate closing where you get extra money for writing the title. Each of those may be a good client, but not your Ideal Client. They are one time transactions, i.e. a personal injury case, a divorce, a closing.

Your Ideal Client is the person who brought that client to you in the first place and who can continue to bring a steady stream of new clients. Your goal should not be to make money off a single transaction, but to develop relationships with your Ideal Client who will generate a steady stream of cases throughout your career. The long term value of your Ideal Client is much greater than any single transaction.

Identify your Ideal Client

If you’ve read this far, take another 10 minutes to think about your practice and identify your Ideal Client. For my practice, Ideal Clients are doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists who treat injuries. If you are a real estate lawyer, Ideal Clients are mortgage brokers and real estate agents. Your Ideal Client is not the person you just finished representing. That client may not even remember your name in a few months, and if they do, when are they going to need you again? How often do people get hurt at work? Buy a house? File for bankruptcy? I am not suggesting you abandon former clients (I’ll write about maintaining communication with former clients in an upcoming article). But former clients are not your Ideal Clients. Take 10 minutes and think about who is your Ideal Client. Having difficulty? Give me a call. I am sure I can give you a list off the top of my head no matter what your practice area.

What to do with your Ideal Clients?

Ok, you have a list of ideal Clients. That was the easy part. What next? You need to nurture your relationship with your Ideal Client. If you buy a plant for your office, it will die if you don’t water it. The same holds true with your Ideal Client. You need to stay in regular contact with your Ideal Client. It may be tickets to a game, or a round of golf, lunch or even bag of coffee, but you need to stay in regular contact with your Ideal Client.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, YOU are my Ideal Client. Referrals from other lawyers are a great source of business. I send this e-mail on the Third Thursday of every month to my Ideal Clients – lawyers who are in the position to refer me personal injury, workers’ compensation and disability cases. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing these e-mails and passing along things I have learned over the years. But I spend the time so when the next injury case crosses your desk, you will think of me.

Take a few minutes to think of business development

We all spend so much time providing service to our clients we often forget about business development. Almost every one of my referring lawyers is swamped with existing business. That’s a good thing. Our practices take off and before we know it, we forget about business development. Even though we may have so much business that we feel overwhelmed, every one of us would love to have “better” clients. Spending a few minutes to come up with your Ideal Client and a little more time each month to nurture those Ideal Clients will pay great dividends in your practice.

Let us know what you think of this article or to suggest topics in the future. Michael McCready