DETROIT –Solo and small-firm lawyers have to put themselves out there to drum up business, especially in the beginning.
“Out there” can mean multiple meetings over coffee as well as sending your information into cyberspace in the hope that it will attract attention.
Let’s start with the basics: the business card. It may seem as vestigial as the necktie, but it’s still important. Designed properly, it can make a big impression — simultaneously informative and intriguing.
Stacey M. Washington, an Ann Arbor criminal defense attorney, said that when she first started out in her practice, she had a basic manila-colored business card with contact information including email and website. Her revised card has a design that matches her website’s colors and theme.
Washington suggests that the card clearly indicate the attorney’s practice sector — and not just so the person who receives the card can remember what the attorney does.
“If someone loses the card and someone else picks it up off the floor, [the practice information] is right there,” she said. “It’s a fantastic idea.”
Old-fashioned face time
Elizabeth L. Sokol’s practice is in appeals, which means her biggest client base is other attorneys. She said that meeting them doesn’t necessarily have to be via bar-specific activities.
“We’re out there doing other things besides” practicing law, said Sokol, who works in Birmingham. “If you do things that you like to do, you will encounter people everywhere.
“I volunteer at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and I’ve gotten business that way just from [attorneys] who I meet there. … They’re getting to see me in a setting that isn’t necessarily the law firm setting, and they can see I’m a decent person, a likable person.”
She said that she follows up with attorneys she’s met in volunteer or law-related settings with an email within seven to 10 days, and then usually invites them for coffee.
Sokol said her strategy is to not give a hard sell.
“We’ve all been hit with people who are, ‘Hire me, hire me, hire me,’ and that’s really off-putting,” she said. “I try to phrase it more as, ‘How can we help each other? What is it that you do?’ And then I see if there’s a way I think I can work into that or supplement that or help them do what they do better, as opposed to, ‘Well, if you find something you need to appeal, call me.’”
Steven R. Hansen, a Bloomfield Hills-based patent attorney, said he advises knowing as many attorneys in other practice sectors, “because chances are they don’t know a lot of people who are, in my case, patent lawyers.”
Get basics right online
Online marketing can start as simply as creating an effective email signature, with links to a Twitter feed, Facebook page, blog posts about latest work done or a suggestion to connect on LinkedIn.
Hansen said that he produces a monthly email newsletter that goes out to both established and potential clients. It includes a substantive article, which he also posts to his blog; he then transmits that blog post to whatever LinkedIn group would be best to receive
“Sometimes they’re legal groups but sometimes they’re technology groups; it depends on what the nature of the post is,” said Hansen, who is in approximately 20 Linked-In groups.
He said he cautions attorneys not to expect immediate results.
“It’s a longer haul than people think,” Hansen said. “It’s not like you’re going to start throwing articles out there and it’s going to produce quick hits. It doesn’t necessarily cause brand new clients to find me, although it’s happened.”
Rather, he said clients and potential contacts can find “a body of your work when they do find you and they can see how good you are and whether you know your stuff based on this body of work that’s already out there. … They can see what your expertise level’s like.”
Don’t overdo it
But being too active on social media can sometimes hurt more than help.
Washington said she’s had a negative experience on LinkedIn when she posted frequently to one of the groups. Other lawyer members who followed the group reacted harshly.
“They clearly weren’t reading any of it, but they simply didn’t like seeing my face pop up that much,” she said. “Some of them struck me as … attorneys who have been practicing for a long time and they don’t like the notion of social media, even though they’re utilizing it themselves.
“They would make snarky comments about self-promotion, and I’m like, well that’s sort of the whole point of it,” Washington said, with a laugh. “So I stopped posting to groups and just went back to posting on my general feed to people I was already connected to, and people understand it.”
An attorney’s LinkedIn landing page should have an attorney biography/summary that is succinct and not full of legalese.
“There’s a lot you can say about yourself as a lawyer that may be interesting to other lawyers but not to potential clients,” Hansen said. “My emphasis is to put out there what I think distinguishes me from other lawyers and law firms.”
He added that the best way to market and network is simply to keeping existing clients happy.
“In the course of just doing that, I just keep getting more work from who I’ve got,” Hansen said.
This column was written by Douglas Levy and Nancy Crotti for Michigan Lawyers Weekly, a sister publication of The Daily Record.