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Relationship-based marketing works best for law firms

In his Rhetoric, Aristotle lays out his three tools of persuasion – good sense, shared values and friendliness.  If you closely watch any modern-day ad campaign, you will see that these tools are still as valid as the day they were first recorded.

Lawyers, however, often attempt to persuade their potential clients to hire them using just one of these three tools – good sense.  They will tell marketers, “It is enough that I do good work.”  In doing so, most lawyers and law firms leave two very powerful tools of persuasion on the table – shared values and friendliness.

“For most legal work, there are plenty of lawyers out there who are good at what they do,” said Kimberly MacArthur Graham.  “At a certain level, competence is a given.  When making a choice among five equally qualified lawyers, how will a potential client decide?  Quite simply, the decision-maker will proceed based on which lawyer seems to offer the most-productive long-term relationship.”

Relationships are based on shared values, often defined as trust or trustworthiness, and friendliness, often defined as putting the interests of the client and the community before your own professional or personal interests.  There are many ways for a lawyer to demonstrate these qualities.

“One interesting study shows that, when people are asked for their opinion of professional service providers as a class, only 43 percent give a positive response,” said MacArthur Graham.  “When these same people are asked for their opinion of a particular service provider, a person they already know, even casually, the approval rating goes up to 87 percent.  That is the powerful effect of a relationship.”

MacArthur Graham discussed relationship-based marketing at the June 12 meeting of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association (www.legalmarketing.org/rockymountain), held June 12 at Fogo de Chao Restaurant in LoDo, Denver.  She is founder and principal of Layer Cake Creative (www.golayercake.com), a Denver-based marketing and public relations firm that specializes in professional services marketing.

“The key,” said MacArthur Graham, “is to create electronic and print marketing collateral, and individual business development plans, that demonstrate the full personality of your firm – not just its capabilities.

“In this way, you can successfully differentiate your practice from other equally qualified providers within a targeted and competitive market segment,” said MacArthur Graham.  “You can also acquire clients that are a good match to begin with and therefore more likely to stay with you for the long term.”

Conduct a personality test

In order to enhance and communicate their unique personalities, law firms and lawyers must first define their personalities.  There should be a definition for the firm as a whole, and then variations on that definition for the individual lawyers.

“Law firms can hire consultants to help them through this process,” said MacArthur Graham, “but there is no need to spend a lot of time and money.

“Sit down as a group and answer a few simple questions,” said MacArthur Graham.  “What do we do?  Is it profitable?  Who do we do it for?  Who should we do it for?  Who will do it?  Do we need to add expertise or technology in order to do it better?  What level of service do we provide?  How can we improve service?  With what personality will we do it?  How are we human beings in addition to legal experts?  How will we convey this message – in words and in graphics?  In print, online and face-to-face?

“Having the firm’s personality defined, and well-communicated, can prevent lawyers and staff from getting too much ‘off-message’ in their individual marketing efforts, especially in the new world of social media,” said MacArthur Graham.  “A written policy or set of standards can address this concern.”

Within the larger context of the firm, each lawyer should convey his or her unique personality.  Not everyone needs to be the same ‘flavor.’

The firm, for example, may be vanilla.  One lawyer can be vanilla with chocolate sauce, another with sprinkles and another with a shot of Kahlua.  One can be hand-cranked, another store-bought and another soft-serve.  One can be in a milkshake, another in a cone and another on a piece of pie.  Just as there are many variations on vanilla, there are many variations for individual lawyers within the context of a law firm’s basic personality.

“The topping or style that you add should be selected with your unique practice in mind,” said MacArthur Graham.  “It should also reflect the ‘pain points’ and interests of your target clients.”

Fit the tool to the talent

When developing individual attorney identity and business development plans, there is no ‘one size fits all’ method to create and maintain relationships.  Each lawyer has a different personality and interests.  Some are speakers.  Some are writers.  Some are networkers.  Some enjoy interacting with others face-to-face, others prefer networking virtually.

“The audience, too, must be appropriate,” said MacArthur Graham.  “A great speech delivered to an audience of people who are in no position to hire you is a waste, as is an article published in a magazine your clients won’t see.  A posting on LinkedIn or Facebook might have little impact on your target audience unless you have a carefully crafted network of connections or friends, or you are posting to a specific sub -group.

“With so many tools available to the modern marketer, no one person can use them all and still be effective,” said MacArthur Graham.  “You will be spread too thin.  The worst choice of all is to start an effort and then not follow through.”

The tools you choose must provide you with direct access to decision-makers in your target market.  If you cannot find the best venue for your efforts, you can create one.  This could be a seminar series for your clients and their friends.  It could be formation of a LinkedIn Group around a newsworthy topic for your clients, potential clients, referral sources and the media.

Use the tools you select to tell stories about your clients, the problems they face and how you help them solve those problems.  “Use them to start conversations,” said MacArthur Graham.  “Over the long run, conversations are a much better way to create and maintain relationships than overt selling.

“If your firm uses events as business development tools, be sure to have ‘rules of engagement’ for these events,” said MacArthur Graham.  “Obviously, there should be a code for dress and acceptable behavior.  In addition, lawyers should do their homework.  Who will be there?  Who does the lawyer want to meet?  How will the lawyer start the conversation?  How will the lawyer follow up?  Under no circumstances should you sponsor an event where all of your lawyers in attendance spend the time hanging out together.

“In addition,” said MacArthur Graham, “many law firms seem fond of distributing random gifts with their names on them – like stress balls, shopping bags or t-shirts.  Instead, think of your firm personality.  Think experiential.  People value interesting or fun experiences more than objects.  Instead, come up with a way to spend time with a potential client, doing something that you both enjoy.”

Even the most skilled lawyer will have trouble developing quality work if he or she is unable to develop and maintain the kind of trusted relationships that turn into business.

To be successful, each law firm must have a distinct personality.  Each lawyer within that firm should have a personality as well, which is regularly conveyed to members of a carefully targeted audience using the appropriate tools for the topic, the lawyer and the audience.  Potential clients who know you and trust you in any capacity will be more likely to hire you when they need legal services.

Copyright © 2023, Janet Ellen RaaschNational Law Review, Volume II, Number 241

About this Author

Janet Ellen Raasch, Ghostwriter,StrategicWritingandGhostwriting

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer, ghostwriter, editor and marketing communications consultant who works closely with lawyers – to help them achieve name recognition and new business through creation and placement of content for the Internet (especially social media) as well as publication of articles and books for print.

Janet Ellen Raasch has written 16 books, all or part of 30 websites and well over 1,000 published articles.  These articles have appeared in recognized legal and marketing publications...