Being A Sherpa In Your Legal Marketing Efforts

Being A Sherpa In Your Legal Marketing Efforts

By Jay Fleischman

Lawyers are called upon to guide their clients through difficult times, and to bring them into a better place. It is this aspect of your client relations that is critical to marketing your practice, particularly to generate more referrals. Sadly, it’s something many lawyers forget all the time.

As a bankruptcy lawyer I spend a lot of time and resources marketing my practice. Getting that new client in the door is always a monumental task, and there’s always a chance that my marketing efforts may fall flat (yes, marketing is an art – not a science). So getting the client to agree to let me be the one to help is never a done deal until … well, until it’s a done deal.

Our job is NOT merely to do a good job. Our job is NOT merely to end the problem. There are millions of lawyers out there who can very easily get the client from Point A to Point B unscathed.

Our job, I submit to you, is to offer support and comfort to our clients. Empathize. Listen. Offer an ear to bend (figuratively, not literally).

We meet our clients at a tough time, a time when their nerves are frayed and their lives are upside down. We can judge, we can passively accept the task at hand … or we can the sherpa and give them the benefit of the doubt. In other words, we can be gentle and helpful.

Our clients count on us to be their guide. They look to us to be their sherpa, their guide through tough time. When we agree to work with them, we make a promise to show them the way and do so safely and effectively. But we also tacitly promise to be kind. And we must follow up on that promise in every way possible.

Keep your clients in the loop. Send them letters and emails telling them about where you are in helping them out. Pick up the phone and call just to let them know you’re on top of things. Give peace of mind.

And whatever else you do, always remember … no matter where you are in your own life, it’s not that far to get to being in your client’s shoes.

What Content To Use In Your Legal Marketing Efforts

Consumer have more choice than ever when deciding how to solve their problems.  They can go to a lawyer, choose self-help, or bury their head in the sand (which is often what happens).  And drilling down into those choices reveals a stunning array of decisions to make: which lawyer to choose?  Where should they be located?  How much should I be charged for their services?

The list goes on and on.  To the consumer we become fungible goods – all those choices blend into a single amorphous blob of legalese.  Once that happens, it’s game over.  Consumer doesn’t know who to choose and so either does nothing or throws a dart at the board to see which number to call.

So we are faced with the mantra of be different or go home.  Enter the notion of using compelling content to market your law firm.  Separating yourself from the pack to showcase not only your skills, but your viewpoint and personality in the hopes of creating a connection with the sort of person you’d like to represent.

That’s why people tell you to start a law blog, beef up your web presence, write Ebooks and special reports … the list goes on and on.

But there’s so much you know about your practice area.  What constitutes content we should be using in our marketing?

That’s where your clients come in.  They know what they want to find out about, and what would have made it easier for them to decide to hire you in the first place.

After all, don’t clients have problems that they’ve been mulling over in their heads for weeks – if not months or years?  Don’t they have a need for answers, for help, for solace and empathy?  And if your clients have those questions, don’t other people in the world have them too?

Take the next step with me, folks.  If other people have a question and you can answer it in a way that makes sense to them … wouldn’t that mean you would get that person as a client as well?

So rather than sitting in your office wondering what content to create, ask your clients.  Find out their concerns, worries and fears.  Write down their questions, and then answer them.

This isn’t rocket science, it’s being helpful in a world where every consumer thinks they’re alone.  It’s throwing out a lifeline to someone, giving answers to questions in a way that is understandable and digestible.  From there, you can worry about the form your content will take – audio, video, text, whatever.

But before deciding on format, decide what to say.  All you need to do is ask.

5 Ways To Reduce Friction In Your Legal Marketing Efforts

It’s been said that your role as a business owner (and yes, you are a business owner if you run your own law firm) is to make it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.  You need to grease the wheels and create a friction-free experience for the potential client.  When you fail to do this, you run the very real risk of losing business – sometimes, without even knowing it.

I confess that from time to time I have made it difficult for people to hire me.  Sometimes that’s been by accident, other times by design.  But over the course of my career as a consumer bankruptcy lawyer, I estimate that friction has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost profit.

Every morning I look at my practices and ask whether there is anything I could possibly do to make it easier and more convenient for the right person to hire me.  Whether it’s the way I deliver my services, my pricing structure, the payment plans I offer, or even the way my staffers talk with callers – there’s always something that could be made better.

I’m not advocating some crazy 24/7/365 business operation, nor am I telling you to consider doing your work for free.  Here are 5 of the ways that might make things go a bit smoother:

  1. Magazines in the waiting area. Go through your reading material and make sure that it is current and relevant to your visitor – not to you.  If you cater to 20-somethings I’d recommend that you steer clear of having a bunch of old copies of Highlights for Children in the waiting room.
  2. Your retainer agreement. Make the retainer agreement easier to read (bigger type), shorter, and skip the legalese.  Write it so that clients can understand what you’re talking about and they’ll feel more comfortable signing it.
  3. Your receptionist. If the receptionist isn’t friendly and warm then it’s time to reconsider your staffing.  The first impression is critical in making a prospect feel better.
  4. The work the client needs to do. Still giving your bankruptcy clients a 20, 30 or 40 page document to fill out?  Convinced that this is for your protection in case the client complains about missing a debt later?  Consider shortening the document to 5 or 10 pages, and then having the client initial each page of the bankruptcy petition.  In this way you can decrease the amount of work the client needs to do to get the case filed, and make it easier to get them to that happy end result.
  5. Your availability. When a client calls and gets your voicemail, they get angry.  Why?  Because they have no idea when you’ll call back – if ever.  Consider setting a time to return all phone calls each day, and letting all clients know when that time will be.  Clients will be happier when they know that you will call back at a certain time, and you’ll be happier because you won’t get distracted by phone calls all day.

5 Ways To Capture Ideas For Your Legal Marketing Efforts

Ever have a great idea about something while doing some random chore or activity? Try as you might to remember it later, it eludes you. Frustrating, no?

We’ve talked about how important content creation is in your legal marketing efforts.  We agree that inspiration can come from a variety of sources, and that you should always be on the lookout for legal marketing ideas.  How you promote your law firm’s offerings can come from the subtle way that a waitress gets you to order a second piece of pie, or a headline in an ad that convinces you to buy that doo-dad.

My head is always running in a million directions. How to help my clients, an observation about how someone is doing business the right (or wrong) way, or a random thought. One minute it’s gone, the next … poof.

I tell you, it pisses me off to no end.  It’s like in the old days (before the Interwebs) when you’d hear a line of a song and obsess for days over the name of the song.  Yeah, I’m that kind of person – I get hung up on this sort of thing.

So anyway, lots of great ideas come to me when I’m walking down the street and minding my own business.  That gold used to get lost, but no more.  Here are my top 3 ideas for on-the-go content creation.

  1. WordPress App For Android and iPhone. WordPress, my blogging tool of choice, has a handy little app that lets me add content to my blogs whenever I’ve got my phone in my hand.  You can save posts locally on your phone so if you’re 35,000 feet in the air and on an airline that doesn’t offer in-flight wi-fi, you’re still good to go.
  2. Posterous and Tumblr. These “blogging lite” web applications (Posterous powers one of my personal sites) allow you to send an email to a specific address and – just like that! – it’s turned into a blog post.  Now that Posterous has added some great features recently, this has become a better option for bloggers than was even previously the case.
  3. Email yourself. Yup, I send myself messages all the time.  I have a filter set up that if I receive an email with a specific word in the subject line (no, I’m not telling) it goes into a special folder with ideas.
  4. Moleskine. These handy little notebooks come in a variety of sizes, but I use an unlined pocket-sized one that I can keep in my pocket.  It’s a mess, covered with random words and thoughts that make their way into my blog posts.
  5. Voicemail To Self. Just like email messages, I send myself voicemails all the time.  Case updates, thoughts on emails I’ve seen from others, whatever – scraps of my knowledge and information.

The bottom line is that legal marketing doesn’t begin or end at any particular moment.  Stuff – good stuff, bad stuff – hits you when and where it chooses.  Your goal is to capture those ideas and sources of inspiration, to think about them, and to integrate them into your legal marketing efforts.

I’d add Evernote, SpeakWrite (using their iPhone app), and Backpack as other options.

What do you use to capture ideas?

Finding a Voice

People talk about the need for great content on your legal blog, and I agree completely. But once you get over the hump of, “What the *&^&*&^ do I talk about?” you’ve still got a huge hurdle to overcome – your voice.

It’s one thing to have something to say. It’s a whole other ball of wax to be able to say it in a way that’s interesting and compelling for your readers and potential clients. Because if you’re not interesting, the content won’t get read no matter how good it is.

Rather than go into lawyer-mode when you write, take some time first to listen to the way your clients talk. Not the gist of what they’re saying, but the actual words and phrases. How they structure their sentences, their thoughts and their ideas. Once you’ve done this for a short time (it could be as little as a single day) you can start to write.

A Victory For Online Legal Marketing Efforts

The Zelotes v. Chern case, if you haven’t been following it, speaks to whether a pay-per-lead online advertising business model is tantamount to paying illegal referral fees.

One of the things that Mr. Zelotes relied upon was the Virginia State Bar Standing Committee on Legal Ethics draft Legal Ethics Opinion 1851, which

generally addresses whether a lawyer may ethically participate in a third party Internet website or organization that invites a prospective client to submit case information and then automatically forwards that information to a very limited number of participating lawyers if the service: 1) charges a fee based upon either an agreement to an exclusive geographical listing for the lawyer; 2) charges a fee based upon very strict limitations on the number of participating lawyers in each geographical practice area; or 3) charges a set fee per referrals or client contact.

Well, looks like the good guys have scored a victory, as least in part. The Virginia State Bar has announced that is has withdrawn proposed legal ethics opinion 1851, Participation in a Third-Party Internet Website for future consideration.

I know this isn’t the end of the case, but it’s a ray of sunshine – and proof that at least one state bar association recognizes that online legal marketing demands a dose of reality rather than more heavy-handed regulation.