Some of the most important marketing advice you can find doesn’t come from law marketing gurus who counsel lawyers on what they think clients want. Rather, it comes from articles such as this one, How To Hire A Lawyer (NJ Star Ledger, 3/27/05) that advise prospective clients on what to look for in retaining a lawyer. After all, if you know that clients are out shopping for a lawyer using this kind of checklist, you’ll be a step ahead if you can provide them with exactly what they’re looking for.
So for starters, where should clients go shopping for a lawyer? The article recommends either asking a friend for a referral or calling the local bar. That means that lawyers’ marketing efforts should focus on actively seeking referrals from existing and former clients – and also signing up for bar referrals. That’s not to say that Yellow Pages or Internet listings shouldn’t be considered. But if prospective clients are being advised to look to referrals to find attorneys, then lawyers are best off marketing where clients will be looking.
Next, the article tells prospective clients to investigate whether “the lawyer is any good,” by checking background on a website or calling the bar to find out about disciplinary action. What does this mean for a lawyer? First off, it shows that a website is necessary – if not for advertising, than simply for establishing credibility and providing information about your credentials. Second, if clients are concerned about ethics violations, why not put their minds at ease up front and either volunteer information about your disciplinary method – or give clients a number to call to check you out for themselves. Asking about violations can be awkward for a clients – so why not help put their minds at ease and give them the information that they want?
Finally, the article encourages clients to broach the issue of fees in advance – and to negotiate fees. As an aside, I’m not sure why the article encourages clients to negotiate fees – I can’t think of any other service profession where people bargain on price. In any event, it’s my own opinion that lawyers should not engage in negotiation over fees with clients. Those prospective clients who question a lawyer’s fee and try to bargain it down most likely do not value the lawyers’ service and will persist in asking for discounts or write-offs as the case progresses or if they are unhappy with the result. A lawyer can simply offer a “take it or leave it” rate, but my preferred alternative to opening the door to client fee negotiation is to offer different fee options (hourly rate, contingency, flat fees, volume discounts) and explain them fully to clients. When clients have a choice, they are less inclined to negotiate – and when lawyers have given a choice, they’re less inclined to engage in negotiation over fees.
So the next time you see an article advising folks on how to hire a lawyer, don’t skip over it. Clip it, save it and use it as a blueprint for the types of service that you want to sell.