Your Individual Attorney Marketing Plan

by John Remsen, Jr.

In my opinion, every lawyer in private practice should have an Individual Marketing Plan. Your plan should be short, specific, realistic and achievable. It should play to your strengths and interests, and it should be fun to implement. A thoughtful, well-written plan will focus your time and attention on meaningful activities to build and maintain relationships with persons in a position to hire and refer you. And it’s in your best interest to have one, whether your firm requires it or not.

Over time, your marketing efforts will put you in position to pick and choose clients you want and work on matters you enjoy most. They enable you to build a “book of business,” which means more money and more influence at most law firms.

But nobody can make you market. It’s not something the firm or someone else can do for you. It’s something you should want to do for you because it will lead to a healthier and happier legal career.

This article offers my recommendations on how to develop your Individual Marketing Plan and the types of activities that will be most beneficial to you in the long run.

An Investment in Your Future
Think of marketing as your investment in yourself. Billable hours are important for today’s income, but what you do with your non-billable time determines your future. At the partner level, you should invest about 10% of your time — about 200 hours a year — in you. At the associate level, I recommend about half that amount of time.

It’s Not About “Stuff”
Lawyers need to understand that marketing is not about “stuff.” By that, I mean brochures, newsletters, advertisements and websites. It’s rare when a client hires a lawyer or law firm based on a fancy brochure or impressive website. Certainly, law firms need these things, but they are merely marketing tools. Many firms rely too heavily on these crutches.

Rather, It’s About Relationships
Numerous surveys and studies tell us that clients hire lawyers (not law firms) and they hire lawyers they know, like and trust. Well, there it is! Marketing legal services is all about being known, liked and trusted by people in a position to hire or refer you. But relationships don’t happen by accident. They must be grown and cultivated over time.

Market What You Want, Not What You Do
This is a very important distinction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of marketing what you do. After all, it’s natural and comfortable. However, when it comes to marketing and business development, it’s important that you invest your time and energy where you want to go, not where you’ve been.

Elements of a Good Marketing Plan
Your Individual Marketing Plan should set forth what you will be doing over the next twelve months to build, enhance and maintain relationships with key individuals. It should also include activities to enhance your credentials as an expert in your chosen area of law. Keep it short and simple.

Here are the elements of an effective Individual Marketing Plan.

1) Define Your Niche
Clients want specialists, not “jacks-of-all-trade.” Specialists command premium fees and practice law in the areas they find most challenging and fulfilling. You need to discover where your passion lies and go at it with all the gusto you can.

2) Become the Recognized Expert
Once you find your niche, your goal should be to become a recognized expert in your chosen area of law. Learn the law. Join and become a leader in that section of your local or state bar association. Attend appropriate seminars and conferences. Get board certified if your jurisdiction offers a board certification program. Write articles and give speeches on topics related to your area of specialization.

3) Focus on Industries
Marketing areas of law like “commercial litigation” or “tax” is tough. The target audience is much too broad and ill-defined. Yet, most law firms still market themselves that way. Innovative firms are following the lead of banks and accounting firms by marketing their services to industries. In fact, many of the country’s top law firms have set up industry practice groups. This approach helps you sharpen your marketing aim by clearly identifying your target audience.

4) Join One — Maybe Two — Industry Trade Associations
Lawyers tend to find comfort in bar associations, but I suggest that you get involved in an industry trade association. For example, if you are a real estate lawyer, find a real estate association where you’ll meet and develop relationships with key players in the real estate industry. Most lawyers I know are members of a half dozen or more organizations…problem is they tend to spread themselves too thin. Instead of being peripherally involved in half a dozen organizations, pick one (maybe two) and go deep.

5) Find the Right Organization
You would be amazed at the number and diversity of organizations out there. There are associations for just about anything you can think of. Do some due diligence to make sure you’ve found the right one. After all, you’ll be spending lots of time here. To find the right organization for you, talk to your clients. Go to a meeting or two before you join.

6) Get Active and Become a Leader
Joining the organization is step one. To develop meaningful relationships, you’ve got to become actively involved. Go to meetings religiously, join a committee and volunteer to chair a special project. Show others how effective you are at getting things done. It’s the reef where the fish you want to catch hang out and you have to go fishing to catch fish! Fish rarely jump in the boat.

7) Create and Maintain Your Personal Contact List
Your plan should include a list of people you know (or want to know) who are in a position to help you get where you want to go. Start with current clients and referral sources. Then expand your list to include others you know or want to know…prospective clients, newspaper reporters, association executives, for example. For each contact, make sure you have a current address, phone number and e-mail address. And, by all means, maintain your list on an ongoing basis. It’s embarrassing to send holiday cards to dead people and companies that no longer exist.

8) Invest in Key Relationships
From there, develop a short list of 20 or 30 persons you want to focus on over the next year. Then invest time in these relationships…lunch once a week, golf once a quarter, sporting and arts events. Get in the habit of writing hand-written notes. For example, “I thought you might be interested in the attached article about…” or “I enjoyed meeting you earlier this week at the…”. You get the idea.

9) Go Visit Your Top Clients
By far the most effective “marketing” a lawyer or law firm can do is to invest in relationships with current clients they want to keep. Go visit your clients at their place of business to show them how much you care about their company and its success. Do your homework before you go. Once you get there, ask smart questions. (My favorite question is simply, “How are we doing?”) Listen, learn and respond appropriately. Trust me, your clients will love it.

10) Even First Year Associates Should Get in on the Act
The ABA’s “Model Diet for Associate Attorneys” indicates that a first year associate should invest 225 hours a year in pro bono work, client development and service to the profession. Each of these areas has marketing implications. My advice to young lawyers: 1) Keep in touch with classmates (especially the ones who are go-getters and going places); 2) Figure out your “niche” and learn the law; 3) Join and get active in an organization or two; 4) Hone your networking skills; and 5) Find a rainmaker at the firm to be your “marketing mentor.”

In closing, here are a few additional thoughts and suggestions to help you through the process of developing and implementing your Individual Marketing Plan.

Characteristics of a Good Plan
A good Individual Marketing Plan should:

  • Be Consistent with Firm Goals and Objectives
  • Focus Your Valuable Time and Attention
  • Be Simple, Realistic and Achievable
  • Be as Specific As Possible
  • Change and Evolve Over Time

Be True to Yourself and to Others
As previously stated, clients hire lawyers (not law firms), and they hire lawyers they know, like and trust. Your objective is to focus your time and energy as much as possible on activities that create, enhance and maintain relationships with individuals in a position to hire or refer you. Importantly, your relationship-building efforts must be genuine and sincere. If not, people will see right through it. You’ve got to be passionate. You’ve got to care. It’s not about using people to further your career objectives

Just Do It
Finally, you’ve got to stop talking about it and, as the folks at Nike say, “just do it.”It’s a lot like joining the gym. You’ve got to invest the time and effort to achieve the desired results. And nobody can run the treadmill or lift the weights for you. Just do it. A little bit, every day.

About the Author
John Remsen, Jr. is President of TheRemsenGroup, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients they want. He is Past President of the Southeastern Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association and is a frequent speaker and author on law firm marketing topics. He can be reach at 404.885.9100 or