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Market originality over qualifications, Md. attorneys advised

When potential clients visit law firm websites, they’re often greeted by the familiar sight of the scales of justice or the columns of a courthouse. But those generic images are no way to attract new business, said Hunt Valley-based attorney Eliot M. Wagonheim.

Instead, Wagonheim and other legal experts said Friday during several panels at the Maryland State Bar Association’s 15th Solo and Small Firm Conference that lawyers need to use marketing tools to differentiate themselves from the competition and make connections that clients will remember.

Rather than focusing on credentials or awards when creating a promotional page, attorneys should make sure the message their site projects is a reflection of their clients’ needs, Wagonheim advised.

“Expertise is assumed once they call you — you’ve got ‘Esquire’ after your name,” he said. “…What is it that you believe makes you unique? A lot of people would say their approach, their mindset, their philosophy, their bedside manner, their ability to ask the right questions. If that’s what makes you unique and that’s what keeps you from being a commodity, where is that on your marketing materials?”

Cynthia Sharp, who advises attorneys on business development through her company, The Sharper Lawyer, said lawyers should also work on turning themselves into “a category of one,” so that clients and referral sources naturally come to associate a particular area of law with them. Because people are more likely to refer business to individuals they personally like and trust, she said, sharing some more personal details during your marketing efforts can be crucial.

“What is your story? What is it that made you go into the area of practice that you went into? What got you to this place?” Sharp said. “Many legal services are being turned into a commodity. By differentiating yourself, you can get yourself out of that particular trap.”

In other words, marketing is all about connecting with the potential client, Wagonheim said.

“The buying decision is an emotional one, not an intellectual one,” he said. “We’re not going to buy until we make the emotional decision that it’s right for us. When you’re asking your customers to buy a pencil, a stick of gum, some mints, it’s not a big deal – they can fork over a couple bucks. But you’re not asking them to do that. Your customers have to make a pretty big decision when they buy from you.”

Interaction encouraged

Beyond fairly static methods of marketing such as the firm website, Sharp said, it’s essential to form personal relationships and work on cultivating a brand that will help you reach a greater pool of potential business.

“The brand is your promise and it is what the marketplace thinks of you,” Sharp said. “You develop your brand by writing and speaking and by broadcasting that message. You can sit in your office all day and churn out great work, but unless people know about it, you’re not going to have any clients to do the work for.”

Social media is another way to form relationships from your own office, she added, although many attorneys make the mistake of using Twitter as a way to inundate their followers with messages rather than beginning a dialogue.

“Instead of talking about yourself, start a conversation,” Sharp said.

Platforms such as Twitter are also useful for attorneys looking to establish themselves or their firms as thought leaders in a particular area of practice, said Sharp and Becki L. Young, co-founder of Hammond Young Immigration Law LLC in Silver Spring.

At Young’s practice, for example, a firm employee is responsible for curating immigration news from around the world to post on the law firm’s Twitter page, she said.

While social media can make it possible to reach a wide swath of potential clients, Young said it’s still important for attorneys to employ targeted marketing strategies.

“In immigration practice, a lot of attorneys will target a particular ethnicity, particularly if they come from that ethnic community, or they might target particular industry or particular type of case,” Young said. “Before you start your marketing efforts, you want to think about who your target is; you don’t want to just cast a wide net.”


About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.