If the costs of marketing your law practice have you crying “Uncle,” why not call on Uncle Sam instead? Government funded resources and events – from reports, workshops and rulemakings – are a treasure trove for solos and small law firms who want to track trends, identify and educate themselves on potential new niche practice areas or are simply in search of interesting tidbits to share at their blogs or in client newsletters. Best of all, they’re free! Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite government resources along with suggestions on how to use them in your practice.
1. GAO Reports
The Government Accounting Office’s (GAO) reports are a great source of information for solos and small firms on a wide range of issues, like employment, veterans and social security benefits, energy and environmental and consumer credit. Recent reports addressed topics like Deceptive Marketing Practices on Herbal Supplements (could potentially help firms with a niche – either advising those who market supplements or representing victims of deceptive ads), Factors Affecting the Financial Literacy of Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (another potential niche area, not to mention interesting fodder for a blog post) or Debt Settlement: Fraudulent, Abusive, and Deceptive Practices Pose Risk to Consumers (great information for those who represent consumer clients). GAO Reports are indexed by topic and date back to 1971.
2. Census Reports
Though the census is getting a good deal of exposure since 2010 is a data gathering year, most lawyers don’t think of it as a resource for demographic data or trend tracking. But let’s say that you want to build a practice that serves elderly clients. Wouldn’t it be invaluable to know the population growth for this target? That’s the kind of information that you can find at the U.S. Census site. And you can also take advantage of projections that the Census provides for users.
3. FTC and Government Workshops
Attending conferences is a great way for solos and small firms to learn about new practice areas and catch up with colleagues and meet prospective clients. Unfortunately, many trade shows and bar association events can be pricey and the quality of presentations is mixed. So instead of attending one of these events to get your quota of face time and CLE, consider a government sponsored workshop. The Federal Trade Commission offers a variety of workshops on neat topics like privacy in the Internet Age. The FTC workshops are often attended by businesses and others with an interest in FTC policy, making them a great place to pick up clients.
The FTC workshops are held in Washington D.C., but if you’re not located here, not to worry. Across the country, many state and local agencies routinely hold workshops on upcoming RFPs or to announce new policies. In addition, local school and zoning boards hold hearings as well (conveniently, often in the evening) – and you might even be able to obtain additional exposure by covering a local event for the New York Times blog.
4. Federal Register and Regulations
If you represent clients in matters governed by federal law, then the Federal Register can supply a rich source of updates for your blog or website. In addition, by keeping clients up to date on proposed rules, they may ask you to intervene in the proceeding on their behalf. Tracking the Federal Register and new regs is easy these days; you can search the Federal Register or subscribe by email or RSS feed. Or check out the user friendly Regulations.gov, another source of information on government rules.
5. Pew Research
The Pew Research Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, not a government entity – close enough since it’s the beneficiary of government support through the tax code. I realize that’s a stretch, but I wanted to find some excuse to include the Pew resources and studies related to topics like technology, immigration and the law as well as coverage of social and demographic trends.
Now, readers, it’s your turn. What free government resources do you routinely use in your practice? Looking forward to your comments below.