When Looking to Market Your Firm, First Take a Look in the Mirror

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Before embarking on a comprehensive marketing campaign, you must first gain a clear picture of your firm's current condition and compare it to similar firms, so that you can define the steps you need to take in order to improve your position.

1) Ask for input on the firm's position.

Ask your firm's attorneys and staff about the firm's place in the current legal market, and include the following questions:

  • What type of services does the firm offer?
  • How effectively and efficiently are you providing those services?
  • Who else in your region provides those services?
  • Is the need for those services likely to change in the near future? If so, how?
  • What are the firm's strengths and weaknesses? What are your competitor's?

2) Research the competition.

Obtain data relevant to your planning by using the resources available through the American Bar Association, Martindale-Hubbell Directory, Westlaw, Lexis and other legal publications. Make the following determinations:

  • Number of law firms in your area, broken down by percentage of small, medium or large
  • Number of individual lawyers working in your practice area
  • Whether your primary competition is large firms, boutiques or even Internet-based services

3) Review and analyze your firm information.

Gather information relating to business and management structure, gross billings and receipts, expenses, office space, net worth, billing rates, salaries, information systems and growth. Use that information along with the input from your firm's attorneys to determine how your marketing position can be improved.

  • What are your sources of acquiring business and what percentage of your total revenue is attributable to each source (referrals, advertising, website hits, networking activities, etc.)?
  • What is the cost and response rate for each type of advertising and other promotional activities?
  • What kind of clients do you have (individuals, businesses, etc.) and what type of legal matters do they bring to you?
  • Which clients provide the bulk of your revenue?
  • What are your fees, by client, attorney and category?
  • Has your volume of work increased or decreased in the last year? Why?

4) Assess new market and practice area trends.

To determine whether you need to alter your marketing focus, learn about the trends affecting the market today.

  • What might the “hot” practice areas be in the coming year? In five years?
  • Who are the prospective clients in those areas?
  • Can the firm offer new services in response?

Some emerging practice areas are more easily identified than others, of course. The real estate slump was a fairly obvious sign that foreclosure and bankruptcy work would see a spike, but an aging population in your area might be a less apparent trend that, if spotted in time, could yield a boom in elder law work.

You can obtain information relevant to those types of statistics from government forecasting data, such as the U.S. Census Bureau.

Once you have used the processes above to gain a detailed picture of your firm's place in the current market, summarize and share the assembled information with all of the participants at your next planning meeting to create a shared vision of the firm, showing where it stands relative to the local competition, and where you want it to go.

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