How often do you, as a solo practitioner or partner in a small firm, feel backed into a defensive posture—forced to justify your value and your fees to prospective clients who desperately need your help but question why they should pay you for it?
Have you ever found yourself at a networking meeting competing with a layperson who sells legal “insurance” and informs everyone in attendance how important it is to “have a will?”
Do you ever feel like screaming: “Do NOT compare my $100,000 law degree to your 10-minute Google search!”
If any of this feels familiar, know that you are not alone. As a lawyer, myself, I’ve experienced all of the above and, as a practice growth consultant who now works with other lawyers to grow their businesses, I’ve heard these types of stories over and over again.
Just last week, in fact, I had lunch with a colleague and friend who is a 30-year practicing lawyer and a partner in a “Big Law” firm. He told me that even this venerable old law firm is now having to rethink the way they do business, not so much because of all the competition, but because the way consumers think about legal services has changed.
“Gone are the days when attorneys could get away with saying: ‘We don’t know how much it’s going to cost,’ and then billing every six minutes for as long as the case takes,” he said. “What other business works that way? None. Clients are not putting up with it, anymore.”
Where does that leave us—the small firms and the solo practitioners? How can we compete with both the big firms who now are flat billing, the online legal services sites and the legal insurance companies?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to make a living regardless of what is happening with the “economy” or the “industry.” I choose, then, to focus on what needs to be done, instead of what is out of my control. You can, too.
Here’s What We Know
- People still need lawyers, whether they realize it or not. We’ve all seen what happens to do-it-yourselfers who die with an unfunded LegalZoom trust; divorce themselves from all their future financial security when they only intended to divorce their spouse; or mistakenly think a “contract” written on a restaurant napkin is sufficient to seal a business deal (true story).
- When the stakes are high, clients will seek to find the best lawyer their money can buy.
- Internet websites can’t advise based on facts (or even uncover all the facts), can’t counsel and can’t litigate.
Here’s What to Do
If you want to be viewed as an indispensable trusted advisor clients clamor to hire, then it is incumbent upon you to make your case to your prospective clients. Here’s how, in three steps, to establish your value before a prospect every contacts you for a consult:
- Brand yourself and your firm as “high value,” not necessarily “affordable.” This does not prohibit you from helping your cash-strapped clients by letting them charge your services or arrange a payment plan. What it does, though, is it sends a message that you are not the cheapest lawyer on the block, so they shouldn’t come in expecting discounted services, AND you are worth every nickel. The key, of course, is to actually BE worth every nickel. (I’m assuming any lawyer who is reading this is competent and provides a high level of customer service already.)
- Use social media marketing, public speaking and in-person networking to share your brand and message, and to educate your prospective clients and referral sources. It used to be, if you wanted to position yourself as a credible authority in your industry, you had to create relationships with the media and hope they would talk about you and your firm.Now, we can control our own “press” by self-publishing books, articles, blogs, videos, podcasts—even through live messages. Create content focused not on self-promotion but on helping others. Share your knowledge (without crossing over into specific legal advice), consistently and frequently through social channels to attract those with whom your message resonates. Make it your mission to educate the public about your area of expertise.If they are going to Google anyway (and they will), better they get credible, correct information from you. Prospective clients may not need you at the time they read your content, but, if you consistently post high-value, high-quality content, you will be the first one they think to call when a need arises, either for them or a family member, friend or colleague.
- Implement policies, procedures and systems so your client knows exactly what to expect, what to do next and how best to work with you. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling an urgent need to deal with a serious issue impacting your life and then not being able to communicate effectively with your attorney. Proactive, responsive lawyers justify their high value. With each and every case, your reputation is at stake. It may not be fair, but it is true.What most clients do not know, but we do, is that in most legal disputes, neither party gets exactly what they want. Your client may not be entirely happy with an outcome. However, your professionalism from start to finish of their case—the way you run your office, the way you communicate with others (especially opposing counsel and your client), and your level of preparation and ability to communicate effectively—all influence your client’s decision to work with you in the future and/or to refer you to others. You simply cannot underestimate the importance of these factors in your success.
Remember: the public does not know what they do not know. Our job, as lawyers, is to protect them—most often from themselves. When a prospective client comes into your office asking for your help, but arguing with you about your fees, you know the true cost of them not hiring you. Don’t get irritated with them for their ignorance; educate them!
If that doesn’t work, then let them go and continue your process of attracting your ideal clients. They are out there, and they need you.