When the Phone Stops Ringing

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The past five years have been financially painful for the two-thirds of the nation's 1.2 million attorneys who practice in firms with five or fewer members.

Small-firm lawyers often make $60,000 to $100,000 a year and generally represent individual clients and small businesses in issues such as personal injury, family disputes, criminal defense and personal debtor claims, among others, which tend to pay less to begin with.

Couple that with the reduction in number of clients and number of matters and the slower payments that firms of all sizes are experiencing, and the result is an office phone that isn't ringing the way it used to ring.

Too many small-firm attorneys believe they're not marketing-oriented or skilled. The reality is that there is no single personality type that makes for the ultimate rainmaker. But personality aside, getting the phone to start ringing again requires planning and effort.

There is no "one-size-fits-all" strategy. Many cost-effective tactics exist, all offering the smaller-firm lawyer ways to generate awareness among potential clients and to encourage them to call. These are some of the simplest, yet most effective:

  • Return all phone calls. Too many lawyers feel time pressures and generally feel overwhelmed and stop returning phone calls. Failure to return phone calls is still the No. 1 complaint against lawyers. Thus, the most elemental way to increase business is to return phone calls to a client or even to a vendor who might refer business to you.

  • Determine your sweet spot. Do you like to write or speak? What are you good at? Most lawyers are good at writing. If so, write. Write a blog post or articles that are then reproduced or published in newspapers and magazines. As a result, your name, expertise and reputation will get greater recognition and generate more inquiries.

  • Figure out what you like to do. Are you a sports person, a theater-goer or musician? Spend time with people who like to do the same things. That's always the first source of business.

  • Be visible to your personal network. Call friends, business associates or past clients and offer to help them with any problems. Communicate with law school friends to discuss war stories and develop referral sources.

  • Attend industry trade shows and association meetings to show potential clients that you know their business, understand their concerns and can offer solutions. After meeting potential clients, review every business card received and contact the person by phone within one week of the show. That builds on the personal relationships established.

  • Use social media, whether that encompasses blogging, a Linked In or Facebook page, a Twitter post or any number of such iterations as effective, low-cost marketing channels, and incorporate them into your marketing routine. Establish a regular posting routine that keeps you engaged with prospects and opens the door to further contact.

Developing personal relationships with potential clients takes time. The proper approach to the marathon identifies prospects' needs and builds confidence that you can address them. So put on your running shoes and listen for that phone to ring.

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