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Marketing a law firm

22 July 2015

By Frank Neill

For any business to succeed, it needs to attract customers, and law firms are no different.

That is where marketing comes in. As the Oxford Dictionary says, marketing is "the action or business of promoting and selling products or services".

Marketing, however, is not a concept that sits well with many lawyers. There is a view that professionalism and selling, or marketing, do not fit comfortably together.

"The good news is that professionalism and marketing are the same thing," says Law Management Group founding member Simon Tupman.

Building relationships

That is because "marketing, in a nutshell, is building relationships and business development is the art of doing a super job for your client and selling yourself," Mr Tupman says. Among his many roles, Mr Tupman was Hesketh Henry's first marketing manager.

"Many law firms still don't do enough to market themselves. At the same time a lot of the money that is spent in the name of marketing is, I think, a poor investment. It's throwing good money after bad in some ways.

"You can spend all the money you like on branding the firm, marketing and promotions, and all the rest of it, but the rubber hits the road when it comes to how you interact with your clients.

"Don't think that you can put a tick in the marketing box by putting an ad in the local newspaper or because you've got a website.

"Those things don't build relationships. They might raise awareness, but at the end of the day, marketing and business development all boils down to how you interact with your clients – whether you are doing a great job for them, whether you like them and whether they like you."

Providing great service

In 1992, Mr Tupman watched a television interview with the late Professor Fred Hollows, the famous ophthalmologist who gave thousands of people, all over the world, their eyesight back.

Fred Hollows made a difference in the lives of many by introducing simple surgical techniques into communities that couldn't afford mainstream eye care.

"I will always remember him saying that his purpose in life was 'to serve'.

"Fred Hollows had no trouble connecting with his clients. He was clear about his purpose and his passion for his work earned him the recognition he deserved.

"Lawyers can learn from Fred Hollows's example," Mr Tupman says. "If they spent less time thinking about meeting budget and more time thinking about how they can assist others, then their world and the world around them would be far better places.

"Helping people get what they want is the best way to help you get what you want. That should be the motivation behind every business relationship you have with a client."

So how then do you build relationships with customers or clients? How do you develop your business?

Seven business development ideas

Mr Tupman suggests seven business development ideas:

  • Visit clients regularly, at no charge.
  • Join and participate in a professional association. Don't just pay the subscription, but become active, such as serving on the committee or making presentations.
  • Start a network or business club.
  • Host a "reverse presentation", where the client comes into the firm and makes a presentation "so you give the client the spotlight. As someone once said: 'the best way to market is to stroke the client's ego, not your own'."
  • Get known for something – develop a new area of expertise or become a specialist in a particular area.
  • Present seminars – information bites live and also online. And remember, it's not just what you present, but how you present.
  • Write a book. When you get published it most certainly helps to position you as an expert in your field. And it demonstrates that you care enough about your field to actually put your thoughts and ideas in print.

It's no surprise that client contact comes at the top of Mr Tupman's list.

"Your ability to listen to and understand the concerns of a client is an essential part of communicating and building rapport," he says.

There are many effective ways lawyers can connect with clients. In his book Why Lawyers Should Eat Bananas, Mr Tupman outlines more than 100 ideas that can help lawyers create a more positive perception about their service and value within society.

Mr Tupman devotes two chapters of his book to connecting with clients. The first of these two chapters looks at connecting with existing clients and includes 24 ideas.

Client advisory board

One idea Mr Tupman presents in his book is to form a client advisory board.

"This is a powerful idea and one I have used in my business to good effect," Mr Tupman says.

"Sometimes lawyers are faced with difficult management or operational decisions. Because of their powerful intellects, lawyers have a habit of thinking they know it all and so make (often ill-informed) decisions all on their own.

"If this sounds like you, let go of your ego and let someone else help you for a change!

"A cost-effective way of doing this is to establish a client advisory board. You can either arrange this at a firm level, or just for yourself. What you do is to invite half a dozen good clients/referrers to sit on your client advisory board.

"The purpose is to get their advice and opinions about your practice. They may have faced similar dilemmas in their businesses and so this forum becomes useful for the exchange of helpful information. In the process, you also create a potentially valuable network by introducing clients who may not have met each other before."

Scenario seminar

Another idea is to hold a "scenario seminar". In contrast to lawyers holding a seminar on a new development in the law, where the presentation is often quite serious, the aim of a "scenario seminar" is to have 60 minutes of information and fun.

In his example, he calls the event "How to Avoid the Week from Hell – Everything You Need to Know from Six of Our Best". The firm invites clients, and invites them to bring friends too. Six of the firm's lawyers then presents for 10 minutes each in six practice areas around a scenario.

As an example, the scenario could be the experience of a married, 50-year-old male self-employed property developer. The event might run in this sequence:

Presenter 1

Your expert in motoring offences

What happens if you drink too much this evening and you are stopped at the roadside? What are your rights, what are the penalties, what will happen to you if you are caught?

Presenter 2

Your expert in family law

What happens when you get home from the police station and your life partner/spouse has your bags packed and asks you to leave the matrimonial home?

Presenter 3

Your expert in intellectual property law

Your week gets worse! What happens when you go back to work and you discover your secretary has resigned to join a competitor, taking with her intellectual property belonging to your business?

Presenter 4

Your expert in employment law

The next day, an employee's fixed term contract expires. What do you do if the employee turns up for work after the expiry date?

Presenter 5

Your expert in property development law

What if later in the week you receive a letter from the local council informing you that the condominium development does not have appropriate resource or planning consents?

Presenter 6

Your expert in estate planning

You discover that your eldest son, the beneficiary in a discretionary trust, has become a heroin addict. To finish off an appalling week, you are involved in a road accident and as a result of head injuries, you will be unable to return to work indefinitely. You have made no will, and have no enduring power of attorney! What do you do?

How are we doing?

A similar idea is to form a "how are we doing?" group.

"This is the easiest and most cost-effective method," Mr Tupman says. "Invite several small groups (up to eight clients per group) to participate.

"Invite an independent person, possibly a client, but certainly someone capable of asking questions, to chair a discussion in your boardroom."

Greet the clients when they arrive and then disappear "leaving them in the capable hands of your chairperson. The meeting preferably should be taped (with the consent of all participants). Otherwise, there should be a scribe to take notes.

"The sort of questions you should ask are: 'From your point of view:

  • What would we need to do to be the best law practice in our field?
  • What aspects of our service could be improved?
  • What do you like or dislike about dealing with our firm?
  • In what ways could we be of more value to you?
  • Is there anything specific we could do to build a stronger relationship with you?
  • Compared with other firms you may have used, how do we rate?
  • Is there anything you dislike about our service or our people that would deter you from using us more frequently?"

Measuring client satisfaction

Another way of measuring client satisfaction is to survey your clients and ask them for feedback.

"Measurement of existing client satisfaction levels is probably the single most effective marketing tool a firm could employ," Mr Tupman says.

"Without finding out what your clients think of you and your service, you will have no accurate idea of what they want. You risk making client relationship or marketing decisions based solely on intuition rather than on fact."

Other ideas

Among the other ideas Mr Tupman outlines are the following:

  • get out of your office and go visit your clients;
  • produce a regular newsletter;
  • send birthday cards;
  • go the extra yard (by doing something at no charge over and above providing legal services); and
  • support a client's charity.

Attracting new clients

In Why Lawyers Should Eat Bananas, Mr Tupman lists 28 ideas for connecting with new clients.

One of these is to offer prospects a free initial consultation.

"If you were considering buying a new car, you would want to take it for a test drive. Prospective clients who have not used your service before probably feel the same; they'd like to take you for a test drive to see if you match their expectations," he says.

"Offer them a free initial consultation so you both have an opportunity to strike up a rapport."

Create or update your website

"I am amazed at the number of firms that don't have a website yet," Mr Tupman says.

And of those that do have a website, what they present is "just a brochure" about the firm. Frequently, too, the websites talk about what the firms do, what they offer and their people.

In contrast "a good effective website has more references to the word 'you' than the word 'we'. The message is built around "you", the reader."

While services, for example, need to be outlined, an effective website will do this from the viewpoint of the client.

A good website, Mr Tupman says, should have the following features:

  1. Good design and client-oriented language.
  2. It should distinguish services for businesses, services for individuals and service specialisation. A good example of this is DMH Stallard's website,www.dmhstallard.com.
  3. Testimonials, endorsements or case studies "to bring to life how good you are".
  4. News and events. The aim is to keep people in touch and also so that the website is not stagnant.
  5. A careers button. "Marketing is not just about the client. It is marketing for talent too".
  6. An explanation of what drives your business – what is its backbone.
  7. Community or charity initiatives.
  8. Online resources and services, where – for example – people can log on and see where their transaction is.
  9. Online documentation for sale, which has seen a lot of growth in the United Kingdom, but which is an optional extra for a website.
  10. A service guarantee – "some kind of guarantee that's designed to be more than fluff". A good example is on the Exemplar Companies website, at www.exemplarcompanies.com/site/innovations/value_guarantee. Although many lawyers wonder if offering such a guarantee is risky, Mr Tupman says that it is, in fact, "not taking any more risk than you take anyway." It's simply saying: "So confident are we that we will offer you a good service, we will stand by our words."

This article was also published in LawTalk 864, 8 May 2015, page 6.

Last updated on the 22nd July 2015