Create a Marketing Plan for Your Small Law Firm
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How-To Kit
Create a Marketing Plan for Your Small Law Firm
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Step-by-Step Guidance

Step 1: Identify your practice niche.

  • What legal services do you provide?
  • What skills or experience are you known for or do you want to be known for?
  • Describe your practice in one or two sentences.
  • See additional practice guidance on practice niches.

Step 2: Identify your niche target market.

  • Who do you want to reach? Who needs your services? What kinds of people or situations do you like to service? Who do you want calling you?
  • If individuals will be your target clients, what age range, what occupation, income range, family type, etc., would you expect in your clients? If businesses will be your target clients, what industries, how large, average revenues, type of ownership, etc., would you expect?
  • Where do you already have opportunities, connections, a knowledge base, a reputation?
  • Look at the needs of your geographic region, including the size of your legal market, any trends, or limitations.
  • Identify the following:
    • ideal clients by name or type
    • ideal clients by name or position
    • ideal referral sources by name, position, or service
  • See the Choosing a Niche Target Market Worksheet.

Step 3: Identify your competition.

  • Your market analysis should include an identification of the competition, as well as why your service will be better than or different from the competition.
  • Who are your competitors? How strong are they? Are your target clients already using your competitors? Are your competitors strong enough financially to force you out?
  • See the Assessing Your Law Firm's Competition Worksheet.

Step 4: Identify your current business development stage.

  • What stage are you in regarding business development? A new lawyer without any clients or contacts? Or an experienced lawyer with no or few clients but with lots of contacts?
  • Where do you need to focus your business development efforts?
    • Building your knowledge of and reputation for your niche services?
    • Establishing contacts in and referral sources to your target market?
    • Deepening relationships with your connections with your target market?
    • Following up on connections and turning them into business-producing relationships, including referrals?

Step 5: Identify your business development goals for the next three, six, and twelve months.

  • To be effective, your goals should be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-driven. Set your goals for the next three, six, and twelve months based on your answers in the preceding steps. Put these goals on your work calendar. Choose a color and use it for all calendar entries for your business development goals and activities.
  • What do you want to accomplish by the end of twelve months? Think in terms of revenue, number of new clients, referral sources, contacts in your niche market, knowledge in your practice area, etc.
  • What do you need to accomplish in the next six months to meet your twelve-month goals?
  • What do you need to accomplish in the next three months to meet your longer-term goals?
  • What do you need to do on a weekly basis to meet your longer-term goals? (Refer to your responses in Step 6 below.) Put these activities on your calendar as a daily or weekly appointment with yourself so that you do them.
  • See the Law Practice Business Development Goal-Setting Checklist.

Step 6: Select your marketing tactics to reach your target market.

  • Choose a few simple, repeatable marketing tactics that fit you, and use them consistently to reach your target market. These are your keys to success. Common tactics to select from include the following:
    • One-on-one networking and relationship building
    • Traditional memberships in associations and groups related to your target market
    • Referral sources
    • Online technology and online networking like websites, blogs, e-mail, e-newsletters, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook
    • Writing for and/or public speaking to your target market
    • Advertising, publicity, and sponsorships
    • No-tech/no-cost placement or distribution of marketing material (i.e., community bulletin boards)
  • Be Strategic. Because it generally takes between six and seven contacts before a prospect takes action—and you probably have limits on resources such as time, money, and energy—make sure you first focus those resources on developing and enhancing relationships in your target market, including with potential referral sources.

Step 7: Prepare your marketing tools.

  • Business cards. They should be professional and on high-quality paper. Include a brief description of what you do and for whom.
  • Advertisements. Consider whether advertisements are the best way to reach your target market. Be warned: advertising can come with a hefty price tag. If you decide on advertising, identify the best publications to reach your target market.
  • Website. Be strategic about creating your website. Identify the purpose you want it to serve for your practice and create it according to your needs and your budget (e.g., do you want your website to drive your online business or to serve as a validation site and online presence?). Your website should be branded to match your business cards (or vice versa) and should include at a minimum your credentials, legal services provided, practice areas, contact information, and a professional photo. Consider building it on a blog platform or including a blog on your website as an additional marketing tool. Blog about matters that interest you and that will attract the kind of clients or work you like. Put a link to your LinkedIn profile on your “About” page and on your “Contact” page.
  • Facebook. Consider creating a professional profile. At a minimum, include a description of your practice in the “About” section of your personal Facebook page.
  • LinkedIn profile. Create or expand your profile. Search engine optimize your profile, headline, and title with keywords about your services and niche target market. Put your website address on your profile.
  • Elevator speech. You should have a 10–20 second elevator speech or self-introduction that incorporates energy around the benefits of what you do and for whom. Your speech should be a concise, memorable description that you can use when people ask, “What do you do?” It is important to have something prepared that makes a good first impression. See the Crafting an Elevator Speech Worksheet.
  • Electronic announcements. Weigh the cost of printing and mailing announcements versus electronic announcements via e-mail.

See additional practice guidance on other tips on marketing.

Step 8: Make a list of your market contacts.

  • Look at all of your existing contacts and identify by name which ones are in your target market or are potential referral sources for work in your target market.
    • clients and former clients
    • friends and relatives
    • neighbors
    • business associates
    • church members
    • former colleagues
    • classmates
    • trade associations and industry groups
    • noncompeting attorneys
    • other service providers to the same market
    • alumni associations
    • nonprofit organizations and boards
    • community activity partners
    • school boards
  • See the Law Practice Target Market Contacts Worksheet.

Step 9: Make a list of potential contacts in your target market.

  • Referring back to your Choosing a Niche Target Market Worksheet, do research to learn more about this market and identify:
    • Ideal clients by name or type
    • Ideal client contacts by name or position
    • Ideal referral sources by name, position, or service

See the Law Practice Target Market Contacts Worksheet.

Step 10: Plan to reach out to your identified contacts.

  • Use the two or three marketing tactics you chose above to start getting in front of and meeting potential contacts in your target market. Volunteer and become a frequent speaker or writer for your potential market. Or consistently attend and participate in other events those people attend. Join and actively participate in in-person and online groups such as LinkedIn involving potential contacts in your market. Or consider where your potential contacts (by name or type) congregate or hang out (bars, coffee shops, specific restaurants, conferences) and go there. Consider what they read or do and get in front of them that way. Enlist other people’s help in meeting these potential contacts.
  • Commit to daily or weekly business development activities to reach out or stay in touch with your target market contacts or potential contacts identified in Steps 8 and 9. See additional practice guidance on daily business development activities.
  • When establishing and maintaining business relationships, use your best relationship skills—the same skills you use or should use in your marriage and/or other personal relationships. Listen, ask, observe, care, pay attention to details, be thoughtful, helpful, giving, attentive, curious, patient, creative, spontaneous, and acknowledging. Set your sights on establishing a relationship, not just landing a piece of work.

Step 11: Set your marketing budget.

  • Be realistic about what you can spend on marketing. Be smart about focusing your budget on effective techniques to accomplish your three- to twelve-month goals using your chosen marketing tactics.
  • Your budget should include the cost of business cards; professional headshot and three-quarter shot photos; logo; website hosting and web designer, if appropriate; memberships in trade associations, bar associations, or other groups, if appropriate; networking meals with clients and contacts; attendance at networking events with your target market; etc.
  • Because one-on-one connections are typically the most productive way to develop business, spend your financial and other resources on ways to create more of those relationships rather than on expensive sponsorships and general advertising. Depending on the nature of your practice, your website may serve as your brochure. Or you can create an electronic brochure using software programs such as Publisher rather than paying the cost to create, print, and mail a glossy trifold or other brochure.
  • See the Law Practice Marketing Budget Worksheet.

Step 12: Compile your marketing plan.

  • Your completed plan should outline:
    • Legal services offered
    • Niche target market (ideal client to be serviced and/or ideal referral source)
    • Three-, six-, and twelve-month business development goals
    • Chosen marketing tactics (the few specific ways you propose to consistently reach your target market)
    • Weekly business development activities
    • Marketing budget
  • See the Sample Law Practice Marketing Plan (Template) and the Sample Law Practice Marketing Plan (Completed).

When to Use

This How-To Kit explains how to draft a marketing plan for a solo or small law firm. It is geared toward a lawyer or lawyers starting a new practice, but it is useful for lawyers with firms who may not have previously gone through the exercise of drafting a marketing plan. The kit includes worksheets to help you focus your marketing efforts, and a sample blank and sample completed marketing plan.

Using these materials is not a substitute for the attorney’s independent judgment, drafting, and research.

Other Resources

Books

  • Michigan Basic Practice Handbook (see chapter 1)
  • Get Clients Now! by C. J. Hayden
  • Get Slightly Famous, by Steven Van Yoder
  • How to Work a Room, by Susan RoAne
  • Little Red Book of Selling, by Jeffrey Gitomer
  • Rainmaking Made Simple, by Mark Maraia
  • Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, by Theda Snyder
  • Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed and the Underconnected, by Devora Zack

Other How-To Kits

Other Helpful Links

Additional Practice Guidance

Practice Niches

Some lawyers, new and experienced, are what have been traditionally called general practitioners. They offer a wide range of services for their clients, from estate planning to business contracts, family law to consumer bankruptcy, criminal defense to real estate transactions. Those with a successful general practice have typically built it by providing quality legal work in all areas and becoming well-known for doing so. Other lawyers, new and experienced, focus their practice on one or two practice areas and related niche target markets. These lawyers are organizing their marketing around the clients they really want and the services they most want to offer. By focusing their marketing around their niche target market, they stand out rather than blend in with all of the other new and experienced lawyers who are also trying to build a practice.

Niche marketing is not just offering legal services in a particular practice area or two but also focusing most of your business development efforts on a defined group of prospective clients with common characteristics and needs. If you are an experienced lawyer, ideally these would be prospects with the same characteristics and needs as key clients in your current practice.

If you are a newer lawyer, you can build your niche around your own areas of knowledge, professional or personal interests, and the kind of people or entities you want as clients. Essentially a niche target market is a segment of the marketplace with a set of common characteristics that can be reached using a common message. Your niche target market can be as narrow as you choose.

For example, your niche target market can focus on a particular industry such as commercial landlords or software development, combined with a category of company such as size based on number of employees or stage such as start-ups. Your niche target market might focus on companies with a specific legal need such as immigration assistance for engineers, or a demographic cohort such as the elderly, adult children of elderly people with care needs, parents of juveniles or special needs children.

Why do business development through niche marketing?

  • Niche marketing works because through it you become known for something. Rather than blending in, you can control how you stand out. For example, instead of being forgotten as being just another estate planning lawyer at a chamber of commerce networking event, be more memorable as an estate planning lawyer for young families. Perhaps you should spend more time at PTA meetings or the Jaycees, which is typically the chamber arm involving younger members.
  • Niche marketing is cost effective and efficient. Rather than taking a shotgun approach, it allows you to focus your resources (time, money, energy, etc.) on a very specific target market.
  • Niche marketing allows you to be proactive. You can identify opportunities or risks your niche market faces that should be addressed by someone with your background and legal knowledge and share this information with your market.
  • Niche marketing can also level the playing field. Potential clients may be less concerned about your years of experience, size of your firm, or alma mater if you are known as one of the leading lawyers in your niche and knowledgeable about your niche’s legal, business, and/or personal challenges.

Some lawyers, especially new ones, are very reluctant to pick one or two practice areas and target a niche market for their services. They believe they will lose out on business that might otherwise come to them. But by targeting a specific market niche they want to serve, they are focusing themselves to develop business and build a name for themselves. If clients outside your niche market contact you—and they will—you can decide whether to work with them.

If you have not yet specialized in a certain practice area, think about practice areas that interest you that may expand in the future. For instance, as the elderly population grows, the number of seniors with legal needs will increase. You have some experience and interest in working with seniors. Therefore, elder law may be an appropriate specialty for you. Developing skills in any niche you can identify as a source of likely future business is probably a good move.

That said, many attorneys practice in a variety of areas. If you are just starting out, you will be amazed by the number of areas that potential clients ask you about that you realize you have little or no substantive legal knowledge in. How many of these you opt to develop a level of competence in is up to you. Decisions of this sort will be largely governed by the success of your marketing plan. If you are able to make a living practicing only in one specialty, so much the better. If you determine that you want to gain competence in several areas, that is fine as well.

What is not fine is to commit to gaining a level of competence in an area by accepting a client and then failing to put in the hours required to gain that level of competence. Should you extend yourself to that level, your opponents will know it, the judges before whom you practice will know it, and worst of all, your clients will know it. If you make the mistake of letting that happen, not only will you endanger your client’s interests and breach the provisions of MRPC 1.1, but you will poison the well that future clients will drink from by killing your reputation for the delivery of quality legal services. Lawyers have many things but only one reputation. Your reputation in your community is almost completely within your own power to develop and enhance. Similarly, however, your failure to practice competently regardless of whether or not by design will have guaranteed negative impact on your ability to remain in your own practice.

Other Tips on Marketing

Methods announcements. Before sending any announcements, consult the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct about advertising and law firm names. See MRPC 7.2 and 7.5. Be sure to include your area of practice in your announcement (which MRPC 7.4 permits).

Subtly remind people what you do. Put your area of practice on your business card, as part of your e-mail signature block, and maybe even on your letterhead. It should be very clear on your LinkedIn profile and the “About” section of your Facebook page. You should create a Google profile for yourself and include your practice niche and target market. You should also include this information in your Twitter profile if you have one. It is always important to keep reminding potential sources of business, including referral sources, what you do and for whom. You can submit a listing to the Attorney directory or the Law Firms directory from Martindale.

Internet marketing and ethical considerations. Law firm websites can be designed to drive online business and/or as a validation of you and your practice. Decide the purpose of your website in advance, based on the nature of your practice and how you anticipate you will originate business. The options for setting up a website range from consulting a website designer for the initial design to doing it yourself, with costs ranging from $50 to thousands of dollars. Review as many other law firm sites as possible before solidifying your own ideas. You can find a list of Michigan law firms on the State Bar website.

See Ethics Opinion RI-276 (July 11, 1996) for a discussion of Michigan’s rules regarding advertising and solicitation on the Internet. Another issue relates to e-mail communications with clients. The American Bar Association has issued a formal opinion stating that e-mail “affords a reasonable expectation of privacy from a technological and legal standpoint.” ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Formal Opinion 99-413 (1999). But states vary on what attorneys must do to protect client confidences.

Beware of the ethical considerations posed by receiving endorsements and testimonials on LinkedIn and by holding yourself out on LinkedIn as a specialist. Many articles are available online about these potential pitfalls.

Social media. Think strategically before you dive into social media. Social media can be very effective depending on your practice area and target market, but it is not necessarily the key to business development for every lawyer and every practice. For example, a Twitter account and a professional Facebook page may not be necessary for your practice and target market, and your time may best be spent on other efforts. Blogging may be a good way to increase traffic on your website; on the other hand, blogging may not be the best way to raise your visibility and credibility with your target market. You should, however, have a robust LinkedIn profile and active presence on LinkedIn to support your practice and to use as a resource and tool to supplement your other business development activities. Keep in mind that LinkedIn and other social media tools are not a substitute for developing relationships the old-fashioned way. The virtual exchange of business cards does not create a relationship of trust and referrals. When you connect or reconnect with someone on LinkedIn, always include a personal note.

In-person networking. Personal marketing is perhaps the best way of getting business because people do business with people they know, like, and trust. This includes clients and referring lawyers. This means getting out and networking with your target market and/or referral sources for your target market.

Rather than going to numerous random unproductive networking events, spend time on events or activities involving your target market that you enjoy. Spend time identifying and getting to know people who are most likely to be good potential clients or good potential referral sources for your niche.

If you are likely to rely on referrals from other lawyers or you need to build your name within the local legal community, join your local bar association and attend meetings and social events. Or join a specialty bar association. Consider whether lawyers who offer the same legal services will give you overflow work or work in the event of a conflict of interest. Get to know other lawyers who offer different services so that you can help one another and exchange referrals. Make sure that you know what type of law your referral attorneys practice, and refer business outside your practice area to your referral attorneys first. Treat your referral sources like clients: take them to lunch, ask how you can help them, follow up with help, and stay in touch with them throughout the year.

Some lawyers find business networking referral organizations such as BNI International to be sources of business. Like any organization, check out such groups before you join them. If you are a newer lawyer, talk with experienced lawyers who may know more about referral groups to see if it makes sense for your practice to join one.

Focus your efforts and resources on your niche target market so that you build a name for yourself and personal relationships with people in your target market. You can establish personal connections within your target market by getting involved with, writing for, or speaking to your market. For example, get involved in community groups involved with your target market. Make yourself available to talk to groups who may become potential referral sources for business for your target market. Get to know other professional service providers who also have contact with your target market.

Schedule regular contact with past and present clients who will continue to direct business to you. Stay in touch with them at least two times a year. Connect with them on LinkedIn or Facebook and “like” and comment on their activity. Send them magazine or newspaper articles or links to other information that you think would be of interest to them. Send them a holiday card and possibly a birthday or other card throughout the year. Consider holding a client and referral source appreciation party after your first year or two in business. Budget it accordingly and perhaps center it around an event in your community such as a parade, fireworks, farmers market, or art fair.

If you are shy about networking events, focus on building relationships one at a time outside of such events and/or borrow a book from the library on event networking.

Presentations, publishing, and education. Give presentations on your practice area to groups in your target market. Publish articles in your area of expertise in publications designed to reach your target market or referral sources. Or post regularly to a blog on your website. Follow the rule: write once, publish three times. This means when you write an article, find two other ways to reuse the same article. You may be able to publish it as is in another publication, modify it for another publication, or turn it into a blog post or a guest column. Look for opportunities to turn your articles into presentations and vice versa.

If you are likely to rely on referrals from other lawyers or you are building your credentials, write articles for legal publications and give presentations or teach continuing legal education to other lawyers.

Your end goal is to be foremost in your contacts’ minds when a need for your services arises.

Above all, remember that establishing yourself as a reputable, knowledgeable attorney and getting involved with and known by your target market will be the most productive uses of your business development resources.

Daily Business Development Activities

To break old habits and create new behaviors, including establishing effective business relationships in your target market, you should commit to taking at least one marketing action per business day for at least one month. If you commit to and complete this plan, you will have developed a new business development habit. Many of these marketing actions can take less than a few minutes, and some even less than a minute, per day. Outline a written commitment that includes the following:

  • Taking at least one marketing action per day starting for a set period of time (e.g., one month). Note these dates on your calendar.
  • A description of your target market.
  • The marketing actions from which you can choose each business day. Your actions do not have to be with a different person every day. Consider the following tasks:
    1. contacting or “touching” a current client, potential client, market contact, or referral source, in person or via telephone, e-mail, or mail;
    2. contacting or “touching” a current client, potential client, market contact, or referral source using any of the tools on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, including the simple “like” or “comment” tools;
    3. writing an article;
    4. blogging, commenting on, or sharing other relevant blog posts or articles, links, etc.;
    5. sharing valuable information via your update bar on LinkedIn and/or in groups in LinkedIn;
    6. providing information, ideas, or other help to a member of the press;
    7. preparing or giving a presentation;
    8. volunteering; or
    9. joining a group related to your target market.
  • Keep a daily record of these actions, including the amount of time involved and the results, using (1) calendar entries, (2) entering them on an Excel spreadsheet, and/or (3) recording them as nonbillable marketing time in your time records.
  • You may also find it helpful to make a weekly recurring appointment with yourself on your calendar that blocks out time for reviewing your marketing plan and doing business development activities (e.g., Fridays from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.). This recurring appointment forces you to think of your marketing plan every week, even if you end up having to cancel the appointment.

ICLE gratefully acknowledges LexisNexis, provider of the LexisNexis services, for resources used in preparing ICLE books, supplements, and how-to kits.


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