Christopher McKinney

March 8, 2021

Lawyer Marketing? Just Work On Your Craft.

Ryan Holiday tells the story of a comedian who approached Jerry Seinfeld in a club one night and asked him for advice about marketing and getting exposure.

"Exposure? Marketing?" Seinfeld asked. "Just work on your act."

I had the pleasure of speaking with a young lawyer who is opening up her own firm after working for several years in another local firm. Starting your own practice is an exciting time -- exciting and terrifying. So much to do. So much to learn. So much that you know you don't know.

One issue she mentioned was her feeling overwhelmed with all the marketing decisions that are flying at her. She has done some research online and now her email box and social media feeds are flooded with solicitations from SEO gurus, practice coaches, law firm directory services, and social media marketing providers. They all promise they hold the golden ticket to what every new solo needs -- more clients.   

They say there is a sucker born every minute and I'll bet that more than half of them are lawyers buying "hot leads" or pouring thousands of dollars into some marketing program or social media service. And, more often than not, they end up with little to show for it. The amount of marketing opportunity garbage that comes at you as a lawyer is truly dizzying.

My advice to the lawyer opening a new practice is simple: Ignore all of it.       

As a solo or small firm practitioner, throwing gobs of money at SEO services, digital advertising, or buying leads is more often than not a bad idea. It sucks up valuable cash flow and often provides a dismal return on investment. Down the road after you get your feet on the ground, you have surplus’s cash, and you if decide to expand your practice and add additional lawyers (aka mouths to feed), then you may want to dip your toe into the dark arts of paid SEO and digital marketing. But for now it is a waste of your time and money. 

The things that you should do to market your new practice are relatively simple and cheap:

1) Get a simple website. It should be professional but nothing fancy. The big companies will try to sell you a website for between $20,000-$40,000. Ignore them. Hire someone local who has a good portfolio of websites you like to create a simple website for you for a few thousand dollars. Or, if you like messing around with website stuff, do it yourself with a service like Squarespace. You can upgrade down the road easily enough. Make sure they register your website with Google (they will likely will do this as part of the build but it is easy and free to do yourself if you need to.)

2) Register your business on Google My Business. Add in your business information, address, phone number and upload a few pictures of yourself and your space. This allows people to find you in the map section of Google Search. It costs...nothing.

3) Add content to your website over time. Writing articles and/or creating videos that provide helpful information to potential clients is one of the best ways that you can both increase your reach on Google and increase the trust potential clients will have in you from reviewing your materials. Every practice area has about 20 questions that come up over and over again when you speak with a new client for the first time. Write an article or post a video on each of those questions. Keep going. Never stop adding high-quality content to your website. Don't hire some marketing company to write watery garbage for your website. Write it yourself. The quality will be better and clients will get a real sense of who you are before they ever meet you for the first time. Remember that your website content should be about the client and their problems — not about you and your accomplishments. Websites that do nothing but brag that the lawyer is "tough" or "really cares" are a dime a dozen and really don't amount to much. But a website that shows a lawyer really understands the problems and questions that are keeping potential clients up at night will bring in the business.

4) Start building a referral base. Get some stationary notecards that look nice. Send a note to every lawyer you know and to anyone else you know who you think might be in a position to refer you business someday. Tell them the type of cases and clients you think you are best suited to help with and let them know you would appreciate any referrals they can send your way. Include your business card in the note. Create a list of these people and write them a note every 3-6 months. (Tell them anything relevant: Maybe send them case you read that you thought was interesting and relevant to what they do, let them know how your new practice is going, etc.) The specific content is not that important. The point is to touch base and remind them you are there and ready to help should the opportunity arise. After COVID recedes, go to lunch or coffee with at least one person on your referral list every week.

5) Work on your craft. This is the most important thing you can do to market your new practice. And it isn’t marketing at all. Spend the majority of your time focusing on your craft. Work on the files that you have. In fact, overwork them. Impressing your clients and opposing counsel with your preparation and dedication may lead to their becoming referral sources down the road. Spend time studying and becoming an expert in your niche area of the law. Join your local bar association and get involved on a committee or two.  Join legal associations focused on your niche area of practice. As your knowledge of your practice area becomes more and more solid, consider volunteering to speak at bar luncheons or a CLE event. These types of speaking engagements take a lot of work but if you do a good job they help solidify your reputation as an expert in your field.  

Keep this up for a few years and you will reap the reward of a steady stream of referrals from those who know you and respect the quality of the work you do. And no marketing has a better return on investment than referrals. 

What Seinfeld told the young comedian was true. Building a practice that you can take pride and that will support you does not require shoveling money and time at marketing. Don't let the digital snake oil salesmen sucker you out of your money or your time worrying about the thousands of different ways you can spend too much to market your practice. 

Instead, do the basics and then...just work on your craft. 

Chris McKinney is an employment lawyer in San Antonio. He represents clients throughout the State of Texas in employment civil rights matters.