Career paths in the legal industry, like every many other industries are in a state of change. For ages, the the typical career path for lawyers went something like this;
- Finish law school
- Pay your dues for years at larger firm with the hopes of becoming a partner
- Eventually see your name on the sign outside the building
In the last 2 decades a variety of factors are disrupting an industry that has been notoriously averse to change and creating an opportunity for entrepreneurial attorneys.
What are the catalysts for these changes? Here’s some big ones;
- A decrease in entry level legal jobs
- A radical change in consumer buying behavior
- The emergence of Millennials (an overused and lazy term, but still) with buying power, who don’t want to hire ‘your father’s law firm’
- A new generation of attorneys who want quality of life AND a career (the nerve!)
- The meritocratic nature of the internet that has emphasized competency and de-emphasized resting on laurels (whatever those are)
And while some lament the good ol’ days of grad school internships, yellow page ads, billboards and mahogany lined meeting rooms with leather bound books, many young (and some not so young) attorneys recognize what this opportunity before them is: the best time in history to start your own law firm.
You may be asking yourself, what credibility does this non-lawyer have that I should listen to him regarding career decisions I am making?
The answer is that I’ve ridden shotgun with a number of attorneys (and spoken with dozens more) who have successfully transitioned to running their own practice and seen first hand how they did it. There’s some common denominators to the ones who did it successfully and it’s a science to it that I am happy to share. Here’s the commonalities I have found;
- Be highly competent
Everything begins and ends here. Good marketing, strategy etc, cannot overcome an uninspired or incompetent attorney. Unless your number one professional priority is to absolutely crush it for people who are spending their hard earned money and putting their livelihood, their family and even their health in your hands, then you’re not the sort of lawyer most people want to hire. I need my lawyer to care about my problems the way I care about my problems. In my experience, the good ones always do.
- Start in a niche, then expand
While your long term goal may be to be the pre-imminent personal injury firm in Florida or the top criminal lawyer in Los Angeles, don’t set your sights on ultra competitive markets like that right off the bat unless you have a massive marketing budget from the jump. The firms who dominate the top of the country’s markets often have six figure (sometimes 7 figure if we are talking statewide) marketing budgets which means you will be fighting for table scraps if you immediately try to slay the biggest fish. Identify some underserved markets in the towns or communities surrounding larger metropolitan areas and win there first. You can always expand once you have victories under your belt and it’s always easier to make big commitments financially and strategically, when you have an idea of what to expect.
- Find a marketing partner, not a vendor
Ok, remember everything we talked about in #1? Let’s apply that same scrutiny to whoever you hire to handle your marketing. Yes you want expertise, yes you want proof of past results, those are givens. But it’s critical that you hire an agency that will take your success (or lack thereof) personally. An unfortunately common story we hear from lawyers about marketing agencies are things like the agency ‘being on autopilot’, not taking accountability for results, phone calls regularly taking days to get a response and an inability to really explain what’s being done to make the firm successful. You need to hire a firm that will have a very close 1-to-1 relationship with your firm, that you can ask pointed questions to at any time and get an honest answer. Once you’ve identified the right marketing partner here’s a few things they should be able to help with:
- Build a website that wows your audience
We say it all the time; your website is the foundation for your online marketing efforts. Too many times I have seen a site built by a friend or relative who dabbles in web design that isn’t up to snuff and comes with a lot of guilt if you want to make a change. Don’t make this mistake. If you asked me where I would spend my bottom dollar to market a law firm, it would be on the website. It’s the foundation for everything you do online. If done right, it will increase the return on every marketing dollar you spent and if done wrong it will undermine your marketing efforts
- Understand Your Strengths And Market Them In An Authentic Manner
Again, I’m no expert, but speaking from experience, this one is important. Perhaps even some conversations with past clients about what they liked most about working with you (and what they did not like – ouch!). Having an understanding of these qualities about yourself professionally speaking will help you to take those strengths and market around them. Have you ever walked past a bakery and looked in their window? They don’t put their ugly cakes there. They put their most beautiful, most aromatic creations to lure carboholics like me into their store at which point it’s highly likely I am going to make a purchase. In that same manner, we want to take your strengths and put them front and center for your audience. For example, let’s say you’re the empathetic type of lawyer; play that up in your marketing. Make sure your all your marketing speaks to the personal connections you make with your clients and the empathy you have for their situations. Or if you have accolades no one can rival, play that up. Or if you’re the pit bull, aggressive personality type, play that up. The point is there’s a market for all types of attorneys in every practice area. Don’t get caught up in acting like what you think a personal injury lawyer should act like. Playing to those stereotypes is so #2000AndLate and it’s just plain corny. There’s two firms here in Austin that are constantly running the most unintentionally funny ads on TV you have ever seen. My wife (who’s not in the industry) laughs out loud every time they come on. If you live here you probably know exactly who I’m talking about. I’m digressing but the point is, the worst thing you can do with your marketing is set the wrong expectations by simply playing a caricature of the lawyer you think people want to hire. Play the best version of YOU and there will be a market who appreciates it.
- Do your own social media
We get asked all the time if we can help with social media and while we are happy to help get everything setup properly and make sure your content is posting to your platforms, the truth is this; the more real and authentic your social media posts are, the more engaging it will be for your audience. Your social media should reflect your firm’s personality and who else is qualified to project that on social media than you? So unless we are spending copious amounts of time with you or in our office, the most qualified person to put your message on social in an authentic manner is you.
- Build a website that wows your audience
- Demand reviews from clients
That may sound aggressive in contrast to ask for your reviews but it’s necessary to be as emphatic as possible when requesting a happy client leave a review. This is rooted the the law of reciprocity; if I do a great service for you, I have the right to make a small ask. A review takes very little effort and is exhibit A in the “Small Asks Of Clients” manual. A lot of lawyers get squeamish about asking for reviews but If you are following the first recommendation on this list and giving your clients your best, you should have no trepidation in making this request. In my experience, the easier you make this on your clients, the better. There’s a whole of bevy of apps that exist that allow you request reviews from clients using SMS text messaging and requiring only 1 click from the client. These reviews are going to be critical to ensure that people with similar problems to your happy clients can read about you and your services and connect with you.
It’s Not For Everybody
I don’t mean to make a complex decision seem so simplistic in this article and I understand that it may come off that way. There’s obviously countless opportunities to get invaluable experience and tutelage/mentorship at an established firm. If that’s your career path, more power to you. What intention is for this article, for those attorneys thinking to take the entrepreneurial jump, is to demystify the barriers to entry to starting your own firm.
Interested In Getting Started?
If you are one of those people looking to start your practice, we’d love to chat with you and answer whatever questions you may have. We work with firms big and small alike and we strive to be a true partner to all of clients. We even have some special pricing for solos starting out. So if you’re ready to chat, hit us up and we’ll schedule a call and share everything we know to help make your decision a bit easier.