My coaching clients often ask if there is a difference between marketing plans for solo practitioners and those created by lawyers who work in large firms. Ultimately, your marketing plan is based on your individual goals. Your plan may include tasks related to your practice group, or the geographic location of your office, but when you’re out in the world, you are selling your own relationship to potential clients and referral sources. There can be an advantage to being part of a firm or a practice group that can complement your expertise. Obviously, there are many clients who need full-service firms, but there are just as many clients who need only one specific set of skills at certain times.
Assuming that you have a written marketing plan (and of course, you have one), here are four suggestions for fine-tuning your business development efforts.
1. Differentiate Your Practice
For most lawyers, it is daunting to figure out a way to stand out in a large firm, particularly as an associate. Aurelio Perez, an associate at Littler, understood early on that he was competing for attention with more than 1,000 other employment lawyers within his firm. On the business development panel at the CMCP Annual Conference in October, he talked about building his practice. He found a way to market one unique skill and create an identity for himself: he has become “the guy who knows about the garnishment of wages in employment cases.” As he likes to say, “There are riches in niches.” He has found a way to differentiate himself in a memorable way. Even though he represents a large firm, he is, in essence, a solo practitioner. Unlike true solos, his potential clients include hundreds of internal colleagues in offices all over the country.
2. Implement Your Marketing Plan
If you are one of those lawyers who are reluctant to create their own marketing plan, you may be assuming that “someone else” in your firm will magically find clients and create work for you. If you start to plan like a solo, and know that you are fully responsible for revenue goals, you will behave differently. You will attend the networking events that you might have avoided in the past. You are more likely to join an association and volunteer for a committee, instead of letting one of your colleagues reap the benefits. To become more visible, you might even speak at an industry event. And you’ll continue to implement your marketing plan, even when the siren song of billable hours calls you.
3. Make Client Retention a Priority
Solo practitioners tend to focus on client retention. They have a clear understanding of the direct relationship between satisfied clients and a steady revenue stream. They know how difficult it can be to acquire new clients and how much effort it takes to replace a client. They don’t have the luxury of ignoring client service issues, from communication styles to invoicing formats to overall responsiveness. Even if you are sure that you handle these issues well, it is worth the effort to ask your clients for their evaluation. If you have seen the studies that compare in-house counsel opinions about client service and their outside counsel self-evaluations, you know that there is a significant gap in the scores, and not in a positive way.
4. Own the Relationship
For a solo practitioner, there is no question about who “owns” the client. Obviously, that is a more difficult issue in large firms, particularly when originations determine compensation. Setting aside the political issues about originations for the moment, if you market like a solo and provide client service like a solo, you increase the possibility of owning and managing the long-term relationship with your client.