Finding Your First Clients: Law Firm Marketing Tips for New Sole Practitioners and Small Firms

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Starting your own law firm can come with big rewards, but if you’re a sole practitioner or small firm, figuring out your law firm marketing plan can feel intimidating. One of the most common concerns lawyers have before making the leap to work as a sole practitioner or start a new small legal firm is how to attract and find legal clients. 

A solid law firm marketing plan can help massively. The good news is, you don’t need prior marketing experience or a big budget to get started. The even better news is, no matter your comfort level with law firm marketing, there are activities you can start doing immediately to attract clients. 

Read on for an overview of the most common methods sole practitioners and small firms can use to gain clients.

Networking

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You might not think of legal networking as law firm marketing, but it can be hugely important for building your personal brand as well as your law firm’s brand. For anyone starting or growing their own firm (or frankly any legal professional seeking to attract more clients), legal networking is a must.

You’re likely already used to legal networking, but are you doing it in the right circles? A common mistake legal professionals make is to network only with fellow legal professionals. While they can be a great source of referrals, it’s also important to build your network outside the legal profession. The real key to networking is to build a network of people outside of law but within your target industry.

For instance, if you are focusing on employment law for business, it could serve you well to attend or have a booth at business conferences. Similarly, if you plan to specialise in employment law for the food-service industry, you should attend mixers, events, and networking sessions aimed at restaurateurs, food growers and producers, and other food-service professionals. Eventually, if you are good, your reputation will spread in your community and you will become known as the “go-to lawyer” for that type of case.

If you are unsure how to begin networking, look for events listed on social media sites, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, and sites dedicated to networking and events, such as Meetup.com and Eventbrite. In the UK, the Entrepreneur Handbook has an extensive list of networking organisations. The Sole Practitioners Group (SPG) is another fantastic resource for networking as well as support and training. Northern Legal Alliance, a Clio partner, is also a great option for lawyers in the north of England. For additional options, including outside of the UK, speak to your local bar association or law society.

Online listings can also be a useful stream for referrals. Lawyer 365, an app through which prospective clients can be connected to matter-relevant lawyers, is one popular option to consider. 

Keep in mind, networking is a lot like sales—it’s all a numbers game. The more people you have in your address book, the more likely you are to find new clients. That said, this doesn’t mean you have to pitch yourself like a salesperson. Get to know people, ask about them and what they do, and talk about what you do. Just being friendly and kind and building relationships will make you memorable. 

Remember, networking is a long-term approach to gaining new business. You won’t land a new client at every single event you attend—but if you can make the right first impression, people will seek you out down the road. 

Referrals

For most legal practitioners, particularly sole practitioners and small firms, referrals are what keep them in business. Many firms who are striking out on their own want to get to this level of sustainability quickly. In order to do that, there are a number of things you must do to get there.

If you’re well known in your area already, you may be lucky enough to already enjoy a positive reputation. In this instance, one of the smartest things you can do is to reach out to your existing network (via email, in person, on social media, or ideally a mix of all of those). Let your contacts know that you are now practising as a sole practitioner or have opened a small firm. Ensure you mention your areas of specialisation. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals: you may be pleasantly surprised by how eager your contacts are to support you. 

Put in the work to keep building upon that reputation. Cultivating quality relationships with both clients and other legal professionals is the key to building your legal firm through referrals. That means going above and beyond the bare minimum. Be a therapist when necessary. One way to really impress your clients: offer exceptional client-centred customer service.

As Clio founder Jack Newton outlined in his #1 bestselling book, The Client-Centered Law Firm, how legal clients expect to interact with their lawyers is rapidly changing—especially since COVID-19 and the shift to working from home. Take the time to consider what impression you’re giving to your clients. Law firms who go the extra mile to serve their clients typically see greater engagement, repeat business, and referrals. 

Little things can make a big difference in this regard. For example, you might consider sending a handwritten thank you note when a client chooses your firm for their legal issue. The personal touch, rather than just taking their money, goes a long way, including for referrals and positive reviews. (For some more tips on building a positive reputation online, see this blog post.)  Do the same when another practitioner refers a client to you. Show people you care and that you truly value their business and you will see that returned.

Another good way to increase your referrals is to focus on a niche legal field and become known as the specialist in that field. 

If you are known as the go-topersonal injury solicitor for road-traffic accidents,” “the conveyancing solicitor for first-time buyers,” or “the best family law solicitor for custody matters,” then you will be the first person who comes to mind anytime a referral is needed. Specialisation is the best way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the field.

One important thing to note here: You get what you give when it comes to referrals. Where possible, you should be referring clients and friends out to other lawyers and practitioners at every chance possible and working to establish a reciprocal referral practice with other firms. It’s not worth taking on a client who isn’t right for you just because you could use the income. It will likely mean more work for you and potentially an unhappy client—neither a solid outcome while you’re trying to build your firm. 

Public Appearances

Public speaking may not be the first thing that comes to mind when lawyers brainstorm on how to generate new business, but it can be a very effective tool. The key to a good relationship with your clients starts with trust, and the best way to build trust is to establish your credibility in your community.

Share your experiences and knowledge with a local university. Volunteer to talk at events about your field of work, even if they’re not legal events. For example, if you are an immigration lawyer, you might offer to speak at a conference of non-profit organisations that work with migrant people; if you are a corporate law firm, you might offer to speak at your local small business association. Not only will you gain trust, but you’ll also add more skills to your CV and clue you in to gaps in the market for the services you provide.

Speaking events won’t always lead directly to finding immediate clients, but it can happen. A member of the audience at your speaking engagement might be struggling with the exact topic you’re discussing. That could lead to a direct conversation at the event. Generally though, this is a long term play. In the future, those who attended the event will likely remember your name when they need legal assistance.

If you choose to do public appearances, always make your contact information easily accessible (share your LinkedIn profile and contact details especially) and make yourself available for questions after the event. You are sure to make at least a few good connections at each speaking engagement.

When juggling a lot of work while setting up, public speaking may not be the first avenue a lot of new sole practitioners or small firms use to gain new clients. Don’t overlook it, however. It can be an excellent way to build rapport and grow your business.

Online Marketing

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Online marketing for law firms has become a hot topic, and a highly competitive space, over the past decade. That’s because, more than ever before, people are turning to the internet to seek legal help and find a lawyer.

If you want to have any chance of succeeding in today’s legal world, you need to have a presence online and use technology to help grow your law firm. Here are some common ways to market your law firm online and gain new clients.

    • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – This is the process of optimising your website for organic search results (i.e. showing up on the first page of Google for free). It’s the holy grail for many law firms, but the cost to hire a top SEO firm to get you there can be high. If you don’t have room in your budget to hire outside SEO help, this Clio guide to SEO for lawyers may be of help.
    • Blogging and Email Marketing – Starting a law firm blog with lots of useful content is a great way to establish credibility with your target clients. You should also collect email addresses and send out periodic updates to your subscribers to keep them engaged with your law firm. A bonus is that this comes with major SEO benefits (see above).
    • Social Media – Facebook and Twitter are great places to share updates from your firm and post the content you create. There are huge benefits to having a good LinkedIn profile as well. Some lawyers in the UK are also having success with posting explainer videos and other engaging content to social media sites TikTok and Instagram. A note here: Don’t try to master all social media at once. You’ll quickly burnout. LinkedIn is a no-brainer for building your profile in your professional network, but when choosing other social media sites, try to figure out where your clients are and meet them there. Whatever social media outlet you choose, aim to build up your followers and update them frequently. The more you stay in touch with current or prospective clients, the more likely they are to think of you when they need a legal professional.
    • Google My Business – This is a free online tool that allows you to promote your business and your website on Google. It allows you to connect with your clients, post updates to your profile and track how clients are interacting with you. It also integrates with the Clio Scheduler so clients can easily book appointments with you from your Google My Business profile.
    • YouTube and Videos – YouTube is one of the most heavily used search engines on the internet, so it’s an avenue to consider if you’re comfortable on camera. Creating free video guides is a great way to generate awareness and get people to your website or blog. Using video introductions of yourself and your law firm on your website is also a good idea because it helps clients feel more comfortable about approaching you.
    • Online Reviews – In the online space, positive reviews are essential. The Google My Business tool mentioned above is one avenue for engaging with and attracting reviews. Another good avenue to consider is ReviewSolicitors, a Clio integration partner, which automates the client review collection process for your firm. Whatever approach you take for reviews, be sure to read the SRA’s guidance on soliciting reviews.

One final consideration, whether you are focusing on online activities or in-person activities, familiarise yourself with the SRA guidance on advertising. (If you’re outside the UK, check with your local regulatory body for advice on the guidelines to follow in your region.) A key sentence from the SRA guidance to remember is, “you are allowed to advertise your services to the public so long as this is done in a non-intrusive and non-targeted way.” If ever in any doubt, contact the SRA’s Professional Ethics helpline for additional guidance.

Conclusion

Building a legal firm or starting out as a sole practitioner takes time and hard work, but by focusing on the strategies above and thinking about your approach to law firm marketing in advance, you can get your legal firm on the right track and land your first clients. The key is to just jump in and get started.

Pick a strategy and run with it, and be patient. While it isn’t going to happen overnight, given enough time, and with a consistent effort, you will build a successful business—and Clio will be there to help you manage your client intake and onboarding and practice management needs every step of the way. 

Additional Resources

If you’d like more tips and insights on starting your own firm, check out our Making of a Law Firm Hub. It features free, on-demand webinars and expert advice as well as tips from four fearless leaders, who set up their own law firms in a challenging market. With sessions on everything from law firm marketing to funding and financing to PII and more, it’s essential viewing for new firms.

Visit the Making of a Law Firm Hub.

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Categorized in: Business, Legal Marketing

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