The internet continues to dismantle institutions. Two decades ago, consumers would buy everything they needed from one or two department stores. Then the internet came along, and that became the store: Consumers searched first for the product they wanted, hardly caring at all which retailer it came from. If it came from Sears, great. Amazon? That was great, too.
It’s similar with the law. Clients today want lawyers as much as firms. People at least as much as institutions.
Firms realize this. Our communications agency just finished re-engineering a large firm’s website to move all the lawyers to the home page. The attorney directory used to be buried behind information about services, practices, industries, awards, and company history. Now the first thing clients see is a search bar where they find a firm lawyer by name, specialty and/or industry.
It’s about individuals as much as the organization.
This evolution means lawyers everywhere are more responsible than ever for bringing in business. In fact, 97 percent of lawyers in Burford Capital’s 2016 Litigation Finance Survey (PDF) identified increased business development as a challenge – up from 68 percent in 2013.
But many lawyers don’t like to sell. They’d much rather concentrate on being the best lawyer they can be and winning the case. Unfortunately, they are expected to be rainmakers, too.
Becoming a thought leader
The good news is that lawyers are very smart people with a lot of expertise and a lot to say. That makes them natural thought leaders, which is more than half the battle of business development. I have a lot of thoughts, you might be saying. How do I start being a thought leader?
Here are some ideas:
Content – You may already have written a few articles in your career that were published on your website or in an obscure publication. The new method, however, is to listen to what your target clients are saying, asking, and struggling with. Social media – e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – are good places to listen if you don’t already know. Once you’ve identified the challenges, start addressing them with blog posts.
Write – I use the term write as a metaphor for having someone else write for you. The National Law Review’s Jennifer Schaller recommends taking a handful of questions that clients typically ask, recording your spoken answers to them, getting those questions and answers transcribed, and then having a copywriter pretty it up. At that stage, you can come in and make final tweaks.Now you have a blog post (or series of them).
Make it shareable –Such content “can lead others to helping you with your business development,” writes Schaller. What’s shareable? Concise, clear, brief, and pithy information a client can use on a topic they care about. Or maybe it’s a strong point of view.
Focus – Brand yourself crisply. What type of law do you love, excel in, would like to do more of, or would find most lucrative?Medical device liability? Software IP? Securities? Focus on that. Tailor your writing and content distribution to your unique brand.
Distribute –Publish your posts on your firm’s blog, your own practice page, your own micro-site if you have one, LinkedIn and Twitter. Turn stats into info graphics. Send everything to your email list of clients, prospects and friendly influencers. Need help? Then…
Visit your marketing department – Law firm marketing departments are always looking for attorneys like you who are motivated to be thought leaders and understand the basic principles we’re talking about here. They should be able to help you substantially with all of these steps.
Birth of a salesperson
It’s just not enough anymore to bill hours and be a great lawyer. Sales, if you’ll pardon the term, is now a big part of your job. The good news is that it can be fun and rewarding, and as a very smart person, thought leadership will come naturally to you.
“Don’t just lurk in the background,” write Guy Alvarez and Lee Garfinkle in Law Practice Today. “Connect to your clients and prospects and ‘listen’ to what they are discussing online. Share and curate relevant content on these networks. Finally, create your own thought leadership platform and use it to push your own content, curate others’ relevant content, and engage with your clients.”
To be clear, word of mouth still works. It just works best when clients have heard of you.