My Shingle

A lawyer who still has to market: shameful confession or practical reality?

by Carolyn Elefant on November 19, 2012 · 8 comments

in Encouragement, MyShingle Solo, Solo Inspiration

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After I shared this quick video clip from the Avvo Conference on my Facebook page, a high school acquaintance remarked:

Sounds like you’re a lawyer that needs to market, what stress!

Though intended sympathetically, the comment stung. Because yes, after almost 25 years of practicing law, 18 as a solo I suppose that I do still have to market myself at a time when I imagined that my career would be on auto-pilot.

That’s not to say that I’m not busy or that I spend the bulk of my week at networking events and conferences or emailing contacts on Linked-In who might send business my way.  But the truth is that if I don’t get myself out in public or touch base with colleagues or introduce myself to folks at bar events or CLEs instead of sitting quietly in the corner that a large portion of my work would dry up. Sure, I get referrals, sometimes from people who’ve never even met me, but it’s not as if a steady stream of paying clients is banging down the door 24/7.  And so, I do what works at least in my industry to keep in people’s faces: newsletters with substantive analysis, an industry- focused blog, presentations or attendance at conferences and industry activities, and serving on a couple of boards.

Sometimes, the marketing isn’t exactly geared at getting clients, but rather, at staying at the forefront on a certain issue. In my industry, reputation matters and there are dozens of lawyers poised to poach on any practice area. So it’s not just enough for me to be out there in the areas where I focus, but to be out there as one of the top authorities on that topic.

At times, I’m proud that I’m not too proud to hustle.  That I eat what I kill and don’t have to rely on others for my next meal.  And that even though I don’t always know when that meal will come or what it will be, I know that I won’t starve.

Other times though, the constant grind can be wearing. Scott Greenfield captures it  poignantly:

The thrill of scoring the next big case diminishes, while the knowledge that there will be a check every other week becomes comforting. A couple of kids in college, the cost of maintaining the big house and a few cars hangs over you.  Where before you felt compelled to accumulate the things that bring you pleasure, you begin to wonder why you need all this stuff, and what you’re going to do with it.  You begin to feel as if it owns you rather than the other way around.  And big kids need big things. And eat a lot more than little babies.

The worst days, though, are when the hustle takes a toll on my confidence in my legal skills.  When I start to wonder if I could handle a career-making case if it did walk in the door.  Or if the reason that I’m one of those lawyers who always has to market is because I’m simply not good enough.  These are the kinds of things that are hard to think about, and even harder to publicly admit.  But I suspect that many of us have those days even though few want to talk about it. (Except here – since MyShingle is an “I have no shame” zone!)

Most of the time though, you just shake it off and get back in the game.  It’s all you can do.  Marketing all the time isn’t fun (at least for me) and it’s stressful, but particularly in these uncertain times, I trust myself with my fate more than I trust it in someone else’s hands.   If selling my services 24/7 is my reality — the price I pay for my autonomy and independence — then I have no choice but to pony up when the bill is due.  No shame in that.  At the end of the day, I’d rather sell my services than sell my soul.

  • Guest

    There are plenty of attorneys that don’t have to market. They’re called associates. And even those have to market if they want to make partner or open their own office.

  • Vivian Rodriguez

    I agree with Guest, below.  And it’s not just lawyers; successful authors go on book tours to market their latest book, and actors do the same for their latest film. 

  • http://constructionlawva.com constructionlaw

    No shame in marketing.  Without it, we solos would have a lot of trouble keeping the doors open.  I have always been befuddled by those that still find marketing by lawyers distasteful.

  • Sandra

    Nice post – good for us old folks who hate marketing but know it must be done and also to let newbies know that being a solo, while rewarding, is many years of hard work and not to be discouraged that it feels like its going slowly (cause people who say it doesn’t are lying!!)

  • http://twitter.com/ipinfocus Kelli Proia

    Career on auto-pilot?  No one’s career (lawyer or otherwise) is on autopilot. While I understand your point, the idea that lawyers could be ashamed because they need to market their services upsets me.  At no point do I feel bad or doubt myself when I need to hustle to get noticed.  The big guns in my practice area market themselves, so why should it be different for me. 

    What bothers me more is an insinuation that lawyers shouldn’t have to market themselves.  Every profession and business in the world markets itself.  Even Apple spends millions marketing a product that is guaranteed to sell.  Yes, we lawyers were never taught to sell our services, and it is not an easy skill to master, but don’t make it sound like it’s a bad thing.

    Lawyers have always had to hustle.  It’s called Rainmaking and it is nothing new. 

  • myshingle

    Well, clearly the current condition of large firms is evidence that lawyers need to market and can’t just practice law. But in my industry, there are lawyers who really don’t. They simply rely on a steady stream of business from within the firm. Not saying I’d want to rest my fate in someone else’s hands, but after late nights out at networking groups and weekends on law firm newsletters and afternoon strategy talks with other lawyers, sometimes that seems like a vacation. But I do like your point and others about Apple

  • Carol Cadiz

    I love what you wrote but especially the last sentence! I want to FRAME it! :)

  • Carol Cadiz

    I agree. I blame the various bar associations for perception that marketing is shameful.  Everyone has to find a way to make a living and provide for the financial security of ourselves and our families. Why is it that lawyers are the only ones who are frowned upon for treating a business like a business? Things improved for me when I started really treating my law practice like a business; i.e.: Someone stops paying me, that’s it- I withdraw. Make more time for clients who honor the contract they signed wherein they agreed to pay me in exchange for my work- which, oh- don’t even get me started on that…. :)

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