Steps even small firms can take to promote themselves

Issue February 2007 By Sally C. Stratman

Sally C. Stratman is the executive director of Rubin and Rudman LLP in Boston and a member of the MBA’s Law Practice Management Section Council.

QI run a small three-attorney general practice in the suburbs. We have very few resources for business promotion. Do you have any ideas that would work for us but not cost an arm and a leg?

A:Sure. First, start with the clients you already have, and give them the very best service and attention you can. This means returning their phone calls and keeping them in the loop. I’m told that a frequent complaint of clients to the Board of Bar Overseers relates to the failure of attorneys to keep their clients up to date on the progress of a case and to respond to phone calls. Make it a rule in your office that no phone call goes unanswered for longer than 24 hours.

An even better marketing tool is to contact your clients proactively at least once a month with a quick phone call to let them know where their case stands and what to expect next. If you are handling a roster of cases for one client, a monthly up-date is a winner.

I’ve been told that on average one relates a story about a job well done to three others, but passes complaints on to at least 17 others. Those numbers may be the stuff of urban legend but you get my point. You want clients saying nice things about you and your response to their needs.

Consider doing client surveys. Clients like to be asked for their opinions of your service. It lets them say something nice if that’s their experience; more importantly, it gives them a forum to pass on a complaint. Listen carefully, and, if appropriate, change your ways. How annoying to be asked for an opinion only to have nothing change in response.

I suggest a client survey be done in person rather than by mail or telephone. It gives you a reason to visit and relate to your client. They should also include questions that elicit more work, like “would you recommend our office to your friends, family or business associates?” “Do you have legal work you give to others? What is the nature of that work?”

Other marketing efforts include holiday cards, informational bulletins and seminars. Distinguish your firm by sending a card on the anniversary of a client’s firm’s founding or a birthday card to a referral source. With database programs like Access in your Microsoft

Office Suite, there is no reason for any small office not to have a marketing address data base to use for mailing labels and critical dates. This database should include every attorney you know, every client, consultant, expert witness, family member, school alum, and every fellow club member, always assuming the contact is not prohibited by conflict or other ethics rules. It will build over time, and provide you with a surprising wealth of contacts.

Bulletins and seminars may seem out of reach of the small firm, but that is not always the case. An informational bulletin may take the form of a letter informing your clients of a new wrinkle in the law that may affect them.

Write it up and use that mailing label data base. Get fancier with a newsletter produced by one of the many reasonably priced software packages designed for the job. A newsletter delivers the message that you are abreast of changes in the law that might impact your clients and reminds them of your name. Seminars can be as informal as inviting half a dozen clients to donuts and coffee in your office conference room some morning to discuss an issue of common concern.

Never pass up an opportunity to speak on a subject about which you are knowledgeable. This advice also includes serving as a faculty member for bar-sponsored seminars. Your peers are a source of referrals, and you will benefit in unforeseen ways from growing your network among fellow attorneys.

Don’t try to do all of these things. Do one of them well, until it is an intrinsic part of your office procedure, and then expand your efforts by taking on another until it, too, is standard operating procedure.

So much of practice development depends on timing, reminding the world out there where you are so they think of you first when they need legal services. Successful business development is a slow and steady process that pays off in the future.

Recommended reading

• “The Lawyer’s Guide to Balancing Life and Work: Taking the Stress Out of Success,” 2nd ed., by Kaufman

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