Today, I will be speaking at the 4th Annual Recent Call Conference alongside Daniel Brown, and Anne-Marie McElroy on the topic of business development and marketing in law. The title of the panel is “Creating an ethical brand and presence”. Its intent is to answer questions and provide tips on best and ethical business practices for lawyers seeking to start, or optimize the business side of their practice.
Neither the panel today, nor this article will do very much in itself to make your business or brand everything it can be. Not even close. However, there are some essential lessons and tips that will start you on your path towards business, marketing, and branding success.
Lawyers are used to years of academics where one works very hard to get good grades. With good grades and hard work comes the expected return of job opportunities and expertise for that person. That individual lawyer then may even achieve favourable results for their clients in applying this knowledge. The focus is always back on the lawyer and the focal point of success. The attitude is one of hard working lawyer = great results for client. While this is very true in law, business does not follow the same rules.
Unlike law, business is rarely about one person taking control and spearheading success.
Similarly, profit is not necessarily correlated to hard work – indeed, the more efficient your business system is, the more profitable it is likely to become. Business is about effective systems of client acquisition, work delegation, profit maximization, sustainability, and replication of this system.
Despite this, lawyers very rarely have any sort of system in place on any of these essential steps. Most lawyers, particularly sole-practitioners, have a business model that reverts back to the law student mentality of “work hard, and everything will fall into place.” This is not only naive, but often fatal to a financially successful practice. This is particularly true in the area of law where the is an infinite amount of pro bono work that can be done if the lawyers chooses. Worse still, the lawyer often does not realize they are doing work pro bono by ignoring the actual costs of assisting client or potential clients without proper compensation.
The discussion on how to properly assess costs or structuring a business is far too broad and complex to fully master in an entire university degree, let alone a blog post. However, running a financially successful law practice perspective must start with some basic principles in a way that is different from the “work hard and good things happen”. A proper business perspective might look like:
“I am a business owner and I sell a service (product). How do I market my service to the clients I want (marketing)? How do I deliver that service efficiently and profitably (infrastructure systems)? How do I ensure that this is sustainable and replicable over time? (scalability)”
With a proper perspective, your model should be transferable to any area of law, or any service for that matter. Those who run a financially successful law practice would be able to turn around and run a successful yoga practice, or plumbing service the next day. Law is just the product, not the goal of your business.
In another post, “The Impossible Task of Marketing a Criminal Law Firm” I argued that marketing a law firm is particularly challenging for a number of reasons. While this is certainly true, it can be done with the right approach. One simply has to look at things from a different and sophisticated perspective.
Above all, and similar to the challenges of running business noted above, you can’t just try to wing it for marketing.
Marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry and just as nuanced and complex as any other advanced profession. Good marketing draws upon advanced theories in psychology, sociology, statistical and big-data analysis, mathematics, case studies, and the unforgiving end result of the market itself.
While appearing simple, marketing is one of the most complex and high stakes industries in the world; and probably more so than law itself.
Notwithstanding, lawyers approach marketing as some sort of obligatory box to check off before they can get back to law.
In practice, it often manifests in the most basic and unsatisfactory of methods: get a few business cards, get on Twitter, start a website, start a Facebook page, and spread the word. It is not that simple. Approaching marketing in such a way (obligation instead of a well thought out and studied strategy) is equivalent to a person engaged in complex litigation without counsel: words are being spoken, but neither are persuading their audience.
You therefore have two choice: 1) Learn about marketing (read, study, attend conferences, …), or 2) hire a professional.
If either of the topics above motivate you to change your business, and you don’t have the means to hire professionals to assist you, the only option that remains is to start reading. Study.
There is no simple answer to running or marketing a successful law practice. If you wish to succeed, you have to put as much effort as you did in graduating law school and maintaining your legal expertise. You must understand if you are running a law practice, you a business person first; law is merely the product you are selling. Being successful is an ongoing, complex, strategized, and demanding process. Yet it is a process that is immensely rewarding on a personal and financial level if you you commit to it.