Getting clients when you’re a new attorney

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I got an email from a young lawyer who just completed law school, asking for advice:

“I got a job as a legal marketer for a sole practitioner who has been in business for over 20years.

I am expected to find new clients, set up websites and yet I have not been given the appropriate tools to market this practice and attract clients. Worst part is I don’t earn a salary, only 10% commission for every client I sign. It’s been two months and I haven’t brought anything.

So how do I make this work and attract new clients with no referrals, no tools, no contacts in the legal field?

Please help.

JB

I’ve got news for you JB, you don’t have a job. You have a very bad deal.

Okay, you get an office and someone to answer your phone, I presume. That’s good. That has value. But it’s not worth giving up 90% of the fees on clients you bring in.

Time to re-negotiate.

I would offer to “pay” for the office space by doing work for your landlord, on his existing files. Research, draft documents, meet with clients, do court appearances, that sort of thing. Two hours a day, perhaps, in return for an office or even a desk and access to the conference room is a good deal for both of you.

If he wants your help in marketing HIS practice, he needs to pay you. A salary and/or a reasonable percentage of the fees. Start with 50-50.

Otherwise, if you bring in clients, they’re yours. You get 100% of the fees, unless you choose to associate with your landlord because he has experience and resources you don’t yet have.

If he won’t agree to this, there are other attorneys who will. They have empty space, they need an attorney in the office to do some of their work but don’t want to hire someone. “Time for space” is a good deal for them, and for you.

Okay, what about marketing?

First, consider that your current landlord (or another lawyer or firm with whom you choose to associate) has something valuable you don’t have. They have a reputation. You can use that to get better results in your marketing.

For you, starting out, it might be easier to market this other attorney or firm than to market yourself. Make sure prospective clients and referral sources see you are associated with an experienced firm.

Now, how do you bring in clients?

First, set up a simple website. You need to have something to point to when someone asks what you do and how you can help them or their referrals.

Next, contact (by phone) every attorney you can find and tell them you are available for appearances (for pay) and for overflow. You’ll take cases that are too small for them, for example, or outside their practice area. Ask them to recommend other attorneys who might need your help.

Then, write a “referral letter” that describes what you do (or what the attorney or firm you are marketing does). Explain what you can do for an attorney’s clients when they refer them to you, and why they should. Send this to attorneys you know, and to attorneys you don’t know, and follow up.

Next, write a report that prospective clients would want to read. Things they need to know about their legal problem and the available solutions. Explain why they should contact you to take the next step. Put a form on your website so prospective clients can sign up to get your report. Keep in touch with them via email.

This only scratches the surface but it’s a good place to start. And it will bring in clients.

How to write a referral letter to send to lawyers and other professionals

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Who are you and why are you calling me?

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I received an email from an attorney who asks two questions:

“I’m a sole practitioner, I wanted to enquire on how do I go about getting new clients if I don’t have any referrals?

What’s your take on cold calling as a marketing strategy?”

I’ll address the second question first.

Is cold calling a viable marketing strategy? Is it something I recommend? The short answer is “yes”. Absolutely. It always has been a viable marketing strategy and always will be.

The short answer is “yes”. Absolutely. It always has been a viable marketing strategy and always will be. In fact, cold calling should be a mainstay of every lawyer’s marketing.

But there are caveats.

If you’re calling lawyers, other professionals, business owners or other centers of influence in your local market or your niche market, hunky dory. One professional calling another, to introduce him or herself, to inquire about what the other person does and how the two of you might work together for your mutual benefit–that’s simply networking done over the phone.

Frankly, if you’re not doing this, you’re missing out on one of the simplest and most effective marketing strategies on God’s Green Earth.

If you want to know more about what to say and how to follow up after your first conversation, get my Lawyer to Lawyer Referrals course. You’ll know exactly what to say and what to do.

Now, if you’re thinking about cold calling prospective clients, that’s different.

If they are a prospective “consumer” client and they don’t know you, don’t call. Even if a mutual friend asked you to. Even if you’re not calling about a specific legal matter but are calling to invite them to your upcoming seminar.

Don’t do it.

Sidebar: if you’re calling as a member of the community, to invite your neighbors to a local picnic or charity golf tournament or something else that has nothing to do with you or your practice, that’s different. And worth consideration. But that’s a subject for another day.

That leaves cold calling prospective business clients.

If we assume that there are no ethical issues with doing that (make sure you check), why not? It’s like walking up to a business owner or executive you don’t know at a networking event, introducing yourself and asking to talk to them. You then tell them what you do and how you can help their company. Or offer to send them some information about legal issues in their industry.

It’s done all the time and it works.

But it works better when you have someone else introduce you.

Find someone who has a connection with the powers that be at the company and ask them to introduce you. Or, get their permission to use their name when you call.

Then, it’s not a cold call. It’s not cold because you have a mutual friend or business contact. Much better posture. Much better likelihood of success.

Now, as to the first question, getting clients when you don’t have referrals to offer prospective referral sources.

Surprise. This is also covered in Lawyer to Lawyer Referrals.

Are you still reading? Go get some referrals: Lawyer to Lawyer Referrals 

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Satisfied clients are a dime a dozen

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Do you have satisfied clients? That’s a shame. You could do so much better.

You don’t want clients to be merely satisfied. You want them to have a big smile on their face and be excited (or relieved) they found you. You want them enthusiastically singing your praises to anyone who will listen.

You don’t want satisfied clients. You want fans.

A satisfied client will recommend you to friends and neighbors if they are asked for a recommendation. A fan will go out of their way to talk you up and pass out your cards.

In building your practice, one of your primary objectives should be to make your clients fall in love with you and your firm. One way to do this is to surprise and delight them by giving them more value and service than they expect.

Clients expect competent work, good customer service, and reasonable fees. If this is what you deliver, you’re probably not getting as many referrals as you could.

We just had some minor repairs done on the exterior of our house. Cracks patched, trim painted, a new side door, and so on. Although I know we got a good deal on the work, I couldn’t believe how much we had to spend for “minor” repairs.

When the job was done, the workers showed us some “extras” they had done at no additional charge, things we had originally passed on because they weren’t absolutely necessary and because we were already spending more than we had intended.

The dollar value of these extras couldn’t have been more than a few hundred dollars, but the gesture made a huge impression on us.

We got more than we expected. We felt better about how much we had spent and we were eager to tell others about the company.

Sure enough, as we were taking another look at the work, our neighbor from across the street came over. He said he needed to get his house painted and wanted to know if we were happy with this company’s work.

What do you think we said?

We said they did a GREAT job and we would DEFINITELY recommend them.

He asked for the contractor’s card.

We would no doubt have recommended them without the extra “surprises” they provided. But we went a step further and “sold” our neighbor on “our guy”.

If anyone else asks us for a recommendation, we’ll recommend them. But we’ll do more than that. When we hear that someone needs work on their house, we won’t wait for them to ask if we know anyone, we’ll make sure to tell them about our guy.

That’s the difference between a satisfied client and a fan.

Now, here’s what I want to know. I want to know if the contractor instructs his employees to “find” extras that need doing and do them, gratis. Is this his standard policy, because he knows the value of giving clients more than they expect?

If it is, that might explain why our guy has hundreds of five-star reviews and his competitors have so few.

Here’s how attorneys can get more five-star reviews and more referrals

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When clients are afraid to refer

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A subscriber says, “Sometimes it feels as if clients don’t want to refer, because they want to keep you to themselves.”

He suggests that it might be “concern about either conflicts of interest (“If I refer my contacts, and later have a dispute. . .”) OR, out of concerns about the lawyer getting too busy, too expensive, etc.”

On the first point, about (business) clients who hesitate to refer because the party they refer might later come after them for something and they won’t be able to hire you to defend them, I have a couple of thoughts.

First, it sounds like we’re talking about former clients because if they’re current clients, the conflict of interest laws help them. If they refer a vendor or party who later sues them, those parties probably won’t be able to hire you for that purpose.

And I would point that out.

Besides, if the client has a good relationship with their vendors or partners, why wouldn’t they want to help them?

Helping them is good for business.

“If you can help your vendors and partners stay out of trouble and save money by referring them to a great lawyer, you’ll be able to do more business with them.”

And then there is the gratitude factor. Help out your contacts and when you need something, they’ll help you.

If a client is still concerned about this, you might give them the option of paying you a (nominal) monthly retainer to remain an active client.

Now, I was going to say I don’t think most lawyers need to worry about this issue because I don’t think most clients aren’t concerned about it. And then I remembered that the attorney who posed this question works in the entertainment field and we all know those people aren’t normal.

It’s an industry that thrives on “knowing people” and referrals are an important part of that. But when it comes to lawyers, I can see how some people would get possessive and maybe even a bit paranoid about losing “their” lawyer.

If you have clients like that, I’m not sure what you can tell them. Maybe talk to them about referring people they know who don’t pose a potential threat to them. Someone they don’t do business with, or someone in another industry. Hey, maybe their grandma needs a lawyer.

As to the second point, that clients hesitate to refer business to you out of concerns that you might get too busy for them, or too successful and expensive, I have to say this does happen. It’s much ado about nothing, but clients are weird and some of them think this way.

I’d address this head on and tell them they have nothing to worry about. You might say, “You know, some clients I talk to about referrals have the silly notion that if they send me a lot of clients I might get too busy for them. I want you to know that won’t happen; here’s why. . .”

Explain that the busier you get, the more support staff you’re able to hire, which frees up more of your time to work directly with clients.

“Ironically, the busier I get, the more time I’ll be able to devote to you,” you can say, and it is true. More staff, and more staff to supervise them.

You should also point out that the more referrals you get, the less you need to spend on other time-consuming and expensive marketing methods. That means you’ll not only have more time for them, you’ll be able to hold down the fees you charge them. “You wouldn’t mind paying me less, would you?”

Show them that their referrals help you to do a better job for your clients. Especially the clients who send you lots of referrals.

How to talk to clients about referrals

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Everyone you know can give you referrals

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Many lawyers don’t realize that everyone they know can give them referrals. Even if their client or contact doesn’t know anyone who needs the lawyer’s services, they know people who know people who do.

Your client or personal friend has an accountant or insurance agent who can send you referrals. Or they know someone who knows a business owner who knows an accountant or insurance agent.

It’s the old “six degrees of separation” idea.

One of the smartest things you can do with the people you know is to find out who they know. You can then ask for an introduction or permission to use their name when you contact them yourself.

Start with your client intake forms. Add language prompting new clients to identify their insurance broker, accountant, and financial planner (or whatever is appropriate for your practice).

When you speak with a client or business contact, ask them if they know any (real estate brokers, restaurant owners, physicians, other attorneys, or whatever). Explain that you get a lot of business by networking with other professionals and you’re always looking to meet new people.

Contact the people they identify and introduce yourself. Tell them that you have a mutual client or friend. Ask them to tell you about their business or practice and tell them briefly about yours. Stay in touch with your new contacts. Some of them will send you referrals.

This is one of the easiest ways to expand your referral network and you don’t even have to leave the office.

Everyone you know knows people who can send you referrals or introduce you to people who can. Get in the habit of asking everyone, “Who do you know?” and watch your practice grow.

Learn what to say and what to send your new contacts here and here

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How much detail do you have in your lawyer referral database?

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I got a call from an old friend the other day. She was injured and wanted to know if I could help her find an attorney. I live in California, she’s in Virginia, but fortunately, I knew some attorneys near her.

I emailed an attorney friend in her city and asked if he could help. He replied, “I can find you the right person. Let me know the nature of the claim: medical malpractice? Vehicular collision? Police shooting? Premises liability? There are different lawyers who would be best, depending on the cause.”

I wrote back, gave him more details, and he provided me with two names and phone numbers which I passed along to my injured friend.

If she is able to hire an attorney through this referral:

  1. My friend will get the help she needs from a lawyer who is right for the job
  2. The attorney who takes the case will have a new client
  3. My attorney friend gets the credit for making the referral, and
  4. I get the satisfaction of helping put this together.

I knew my friend was well-connected. He is a great lawyer and a consummate marketer. What I didn’t know is how much he knows about the lawyers on his list.

Knowing what the lawyers on your list do best allows you to be a better matchmaker. That increases the odds of a successful referral and saves everyone a lot of time.

There’s a lesson here, aside from the obvious one that lawyers should keep a list of other lawyers to whom they can refer. It is the value of taking the time to get to know more about them—what they do best, what kinds of cases or clients they prefer, which ones they won’t take—because as you learn this information about them, you prompt them to learn the same information about you.

In your lawyer database, don’t stop with just practice areas. Dig. Ask questions. Get a description of their ideal client. And then give them yours.

Learn more about getting referrals from other lawyers

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Extreme vetting of lawyers

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I got an email from a lawyer who had a bad experience with a referral to another lawyer who mishandled the case (and the client). She’s feeling gun shy now about giving referrals and wants to know what she might do to vet lawyers before sending them any business.

First, let me point out that most lawyers do a decent job most of the time so there is no need to panic or stop referring because one lawyer messed up. It happens, we deal with it, and we move on.

In choosing lawyers to whom you will refer, do what you might do if you were going to hire them yourself. Start with obvious due diligence measures: check with the bar for discipline and complaints, search online to dig up any dirt, review their web site(s) and examine their experience and other qualifications.

Make sure they have sufficient staff to handle the job and carry E and O insurance.

You might give them extra points for expert certification, serving as an arbitrator or judge pro tem, teaching CLE, bar association committees, awards, and so on.

In addition, you may want to

  • Talk to other lawyers who know them, including opposing counsel and judges who have seen them in action
  • Read articles they have written and articles that were written about them. Get a sense of their world view, processes, communication skills, and personality.
  • Run a credit check and/or a background check if there’s a lot at stake or your Spidey-sense is telling you there’s something wrong

If you’re still not sure, have a chat with them. Tell them you want to make sure they’re the right lawyer for the job. Anyone who is qualified should respect that.

You might ask them to fill out a questionnaire, something like the ones E and O carriers use, where they are asked to disclose their calendaring and conflict checking systems and other safeguards and to disclose any malpractice lawsuits against them. Check with your carrier because some require this information as a prerequisite to defending a claim against you for a negligent referral.

While you’re at it, consider whether your client will be comfortable with the lawyer’s personality and style. Not every competent lawyer is a good match for every client.

Start by referring small matters, so you can see how they handle them and how they treat the client. Stay involved with the case, not to micro-manage it but as a second pair of eyes on behalf of the client. They are still your client, after all. Check in with them regularly, to see how things are progressing and to look for signs of trouble. Make sure they know to contact you if they have any questions or concerns.

Bottom line: do your homework but don’t let a bad experience with one lawyer unduly color your judgment in choosing others.

Get more referrals from other lawyers

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What to do with a referral source who isn’t referring?

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What do you do when a referral source isn’t referring?

The wrong thing to do, of course, is to push them. Point out that they haven’t referred much lately or that their numbers have fallen off. Or that they “owe” you.

That’s probably not going to work. In fact, it could easily backfire by alienating them and causing them to do even less.

No, the best way to get a referral source to refer more is to assume (until you learn otherwise) that he is doing all that he can and then help him to be able to do more.

In other words, help his business or practice grow so he will have more customers or clients to refer.

You can do that by introducing him to some of your business contacts who might be able to send him business, make introductions, or open doors to speaking or networking opportunities.

You can feature his business or practice or his products or services on your website and in your newsletter.

You can recommend marketing experts or vendors, or share information you’ve found (books, courses, blogs) that could help him get more clients or bigger clients.

And you can send him some referrals of your own. No, he won’t be able to refer those clients back to you but those clients might refer other clients to him, which he can refer to you. Also, the cash flow your referrals generate might allow him to expand his business in other areas.

But here’s the thing. Even just offering to help him could make a difference. How many other lawyers do that?

Show him you’re trying to help him and when he’s able to refer more, you can bet that you’ll be number one on his list.

Get more referrals from lawyers, other professionals and business owners: click here

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Referral cards for the win

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On the counter in my dentist’s waiting room, prominently featured, is a supply of referral cards. They are full-color, glossy, and about 50% bigger than a regular business card. They are folded in half, creating four panels.

On the front panel is a stock photo of a (smiling) family. Under the photo, it says, “Care Enough to Share”. Under that, it says, “New Patient Gift Card”.

When you open the card, the upper panel’s headline says, “Valuable Offer To New Patients”. Under this, it says, “The referral of a friend or family member to our office is one of the finest compliments our patients can give us. We welcome you to become part of our practice.” (Remember, these are meant to be given to prospective new patients.)

The next paragraph presents a special offer (exam, x-rays, cleaning). The fee ($99) is large, centered and written in dark red. Under that, in smaller print, it says that the regular fee is $298.

The next panel has four bullet points that describe the practice: highly skilled dentists, friendly and caring staff, convenient hours and location, that sort of thing.

Under the bullet points are three “blanks” for the referring party to fill out: “Presented to,” “Referred by,” and “Expires”. Ostensibly, the referring patient fills out the first two, and the dentist’s office fills out the third one if they want an expiration date on the special offer.

These are followed by the names of the two dentists, address, phone number (large and in dark blue), and finally, the practice’s web site.

Turn the card over and the fourth panel has a map of the office, the practice’s name, the dentists’ names, and the office address. Finally, it says, “Call Today!” (large) and provides the phone number. Under that, once again, is the practic’s web site.

The card is colorful and professionally produced. It’s a simple concept: a special offer for new patients and the suggestion that as a current patient, you are “allowed” to bestow this offer on your family and friends.

I’ve talked about referral cards before. It’s an idea that just about any consumer or small business attorney can use. Once you have these made up, you can display them on a desk or counter and let them go to work for you. Or you can point them out to your clients and encourage them to use them.

You can also put a small supply in your “new client” kit, or mail them to clients once or twice a year.

You can also use referral cards to offer information. A Special Report or ebook, available on your website, for example. You can offer this in addition to a special offer on services or a free consultation, or to offer the information by itself.

When your clients take one or more cards, they might not have someone in mind to give them to but it should get them thinking about who they know who might benefit. It also tells your clients that referrals are normal, expected, and appreciated, planting a “referral seed” in their mind.

Referral cards are a simple, inexpensive way to promote your practice, stimulate referrals, and build your email list, and I encourage you to use them.

Learn more about referral cards and other “referral devices” here

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Know, like, trust, rinse, repeat

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You’ve heard it before: “All things being equal, clients prefer to hire attorneys they know, like, and trust”.

You need all three but let’s take a minute and talk about “know”.

In a sense, it is the easiest of the three because it is the simplest. The more people who know you, the more clients you are likely to get. Assuming you are reasonably likable and trustworthy, getting more people to know you is the 20% activity that brings you 80% of your results.

Note that it’s not necessarily how many people you know, it’s how many people know you. How many recognize your name? How many people who go looking for an attorney will find you?

It’s called exposure.

One of the best ways to get more exposure is to leverage the contacts of influential people in your target market.

Centers of interest in your community. Professionals, executives, business owners. People who run blogs and video channels. Authors, consultants, and sales people who write for, sell to, or advise people in your target market.

They can give you direct referrals. They can publish your guest post on their blog or in their newsletter. They can interview you for their podcast or video channel. They can promote your seminar, become an affiliate for your book or course, and promote your free report to their subscribers.

They can give you exposure to a large number of prospective clients. Even better, they can influence them to follow you and hire you. When they promote you, or even just mention you to their clients, readers, and contacts, they are impliedly endorsing you.

That’s the best kind of exposure you can get.

Do yourself a favor and get to know more people like that. Start by asking your existing professional contacts to introduce you to other professionals in their line of work.

You still have work to do with these new contacts but the most important part is done. Thanks to your mutual friend, they now know you. They’ll take your call and reply to your email. You’re on your way to getting their contacts to know, like, and trust you.

How to get referrals and other help from attorneys and other professionals: here

 

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