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7 ways to make your firm stand out among your competition

The competition for clients is fierce and law firms are marketing heavily, says marketing expert Shawn McNalis. That means a firm has to make itself stand out among a deluge of marketing messages and try for “top-of-mind awareness.”

Surprisingly, that can be done without much expense and even without a marketing department. The key, she says, is to focus on the personal side of marketing and provide service, care, and attention that’s out of the ordinary and that clients don’t expect.

Follow the Disney formula for success

McNalis is co-founder of Atticus, a law firm development and marketing firm based in Mount Dora, FL. She is also a former Imagineer for the Walt Disney Company and supervised the training for employees in Tokyo Disneyland.

To a great extent, Walt Disney’s success was the result of what he termed “plussing” or giving people extra quality they don’t expect. And to a great extent, it’s plussing that gives a firm success in the market.

Here are seven kinds of plussing McNalis says a firm can offer its clients.

1. Designate a paramarketer for the office

It’s essential to name someone to take charge of the marketing. That doesn’t mean the firm has to hire a marketing person, McNalis says. Just name one of the current employees a “paramarketer.”

That person is responsible for putting client welcome packages together, arranging seminars and charity events, updating the website, writing newsletters and press releases, setting up a blog for the attorneys—whatever efforts the firm wants to pursue.

Mostly, the paramarketer needs to be someone “who likes people and likes to put together events.”

A staffer or paralegal may be able take on the job. Or bring in a college student majoring in marketing to do an internship—”for low pay or no pay,” says McNalis.

Somebody has to be in charge of the marketing simply to see that it gets done, she says. Don’t rely on the attorneys to do it. They may have good intentions and good ideas, but they don’t have the time to do the job.

2. Hold a reverse seminar

One of the most effective marketing activities to set up—and least expensive—is the reverse seminar, which is cross marketing that puts the client in the limelight.

Instead of the attorneys giving a presentation to clients, one or several clients come to the office and give a seminar about their businesses, why they started them, what the challenges are, what the work entails.

Tell the clients to bring other members of their teams who want to get to know the firm, and make it their day. Put a welcome sign in the lobby and make them guests of honor at lunch.

There’s a lot of mileage to be had from reverse seminars.

One advantage is that it gives the attorneys good information about those areas of business.

Another is that it provides cross-selling opportunities. If a client brings up a legal issue the firm is not currently addressing, a partner in that area can point out that the firm can provide representation there.

But mostly, it charms the clients. “That invitation to speak is a tremendous compliment,” says McNalis. “Those clients get to talk about themselves for an hour. Who wouldn’t be flattered? And what client won’t boast about it to business associates and friends?”

3. Produce an annual signature event

Community service is another good low-cost marketer, and the best return on the investment, McNalis says, is a “signature event,” which is an annual fundraiser the firm sponsors for a specific charity.

The event has a theme that people remember year to year and that over time becomes the firm’s signature program.

“The theme needs to have some connection to the partners,” says McNalis, and also needs to showcase something about the firm that is unique. To make it noteworthy, get some celebrity in that area involved each year.

If one of the partners is a chef, for example, the firm might hold a food and wine tasting open house where it sets up cooking stations for the chef partner and also for some well-known chefs.

Or if one partner has connections to baseball, the firm could hold a baseball clinic and bring in a professional player to lead the program.

Or if a partner is a golfer, hold a Barristers’ Cup tournament.

The event provides a service to the community as well as advertising that becomes associated with the firm.

4. Surprise clients with check-in calls

Above-the-crowd marketing also requires above-the-crowd attention to the clients. And one effective—and this time free—way to provide that is with regular check-in calls—that don’t get billed.

They can come from the attorney or from an assistant working on the matter. Make them once a month or more often depending on the amount of activity in the matter.

When the attorney calls, the script is “I wanted to give you an update of what’s happening and see if you have any questions or concerns.” Or, if a staffer is making the call, “Attorney A asked me to give you a call and find out if you are okay and give you an update on what’s happening.”

Sending the client copies of the pleadings and correspondence is good communication, she says, but it’s not enough. The personal calls are a necessity when a matter has long stretches of inactivity. “To the attorney dealing with many different clients, the long stretches aren’t obvious,” says McNalis, “But the client sees them as being left in the dark, or even as neglect. That simple human contact and a caring tone can change clients’ perception of how they are being served. They feel well taken care of.”

At the same time, the firm pre-empts the client upsets and eliminates the risk that a client will complain the attorney is getting paid to do nothing.

A point to note about the calls: don’t let them become routine. Change the purpose of each one, so the client thinks the call is more than a marketing exercise. One call might be to give directions to a deposition, another to outline what the attorney plans to do, another to tell the client about the work the paralegal is doing, and so on.

5. Assign a client services coordinator

To make sure the personal attention doesn’t get neglected, McNalis recommends appointing a client service coordinator to each matter.

The coordinator is the client’s first contact, the person who gets the intake information, makes sure the check-in calls get made, serves as the point person for the client’s non-legal questions, “and even sits with the client who’s crying and says ‘are you okay?'”

The attorney’s secretary or a paralegal working on the matter can take on the job, though it has to be “somebody who really likes people,” particularly if the attorney is not particularly people-oriented.

To get the client to accept and appreciate the connection, the attorney needs to endorse the coordinator as the “designated hitter.” Make the introduction in terms of “I’m often in court or in a meeting, but Staffer A here will always be available to you when I’m not. She’s my right-hand person, and you will often be hearing from her. Always feels free to give her a call. She can answer many of your questions and always knows where to find me.”

Solidify the position by giving the staffer the actual title of “client service coordinator,” and have business cards printed with the title and the staffer’s e-mail address.

Besides giving the client reassurance that “there is someone to whom you can always turn for help,” having the coordinator takes much of the communication work off the attorney.

6. Require three connections a week

Another inexpensive, albeit time-consuming, marketing is for the attorney to make three substantial marketing contacts each week.

These contacts include meeting someone for coffee or lunch, going to a bar event, meeting someone at a gym for a workout or just going to a movie with a potential client.

Done routinely, the outcome is significant marketing, McNalis says. After 50 weeks, the attorney has made 150 contacts.

The hold-up is often the fact that getting those events on the calendar requires planning as well as calling. But the solution is at hand: let the paramarketer do that.

7. Bring out the fine china

Finally, McNalis says, pull out what she terms “the silver tray service” at the client’s first visit.

It’s admittedly basic, but it’s also effective, because it starts a solid relationship with that client and is also something the client will tell other people about.

It’s simply a matter of making a to-do about the client. That doesn’t mean getting obsequious. Just give the attention that would please any person in the client’s shoes.

Do things such as print a sign of “Welcome John Smith” and set it at the front desk. Obviously, that won’t always be appropriate, but when it is, says McNalis, “it gets a great response from any person new to the legal world.”

Offer the regular coffee and tea, but add to it a few not-so-regular snacks. Get creative. McNalis cites one firm that not only gave its clients cookies but made them in the microwave so the clients could smell them being made.

Give a welcome package that includes the necessities as well as some extras. Along with the firm brochure and bios of the attorneys, put in a map to the office, parking recommendations, and the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the contact attorneys and staff the client will be dealing with.

Include educational materials about the law involved in the matter along with a page of Q&A on the issues clients most often ask about.

Make it an information package that’s more than clients get from other firms—and also more than they expect.

Related reading:

Marketing your practice: How to attract more clients by positioning your attorneys as “thought leaders”

Five simple ways to kill every tried and true legal marketing effort

Hold an open house and keep clients happy and referrals flowing









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