Clients come from people who work in and around your field of specialty, and from within this group, people who know and trust you and your professional competence. According to one survey, 62% of legal services consumers get a referral from a friend, family member, or another lawyer.
One successful environmental lawyer explained her classic networking approach this way, “There are 20 working days in each month; I have an in-person interaction with someone in my field at least 15 times per month. This could be a coffee, lunch (harder than ever to schedule), aperitif after work, a meet-up at a conference or charity event, etc.
In my specialty area, the people I meet are scientists, regulators, academics, corporate environmental managers, plant managers, etc. We just chat about the business, what’s coming up, mutual acquaintances – I have never asked any one of these people for a file, but after doing this for a few years now, I can tell you it has become very productive in terms of those people recommending me to others.
Well, there is a lot to unpack in that statement, and several natural hurdles can be imagined in this time of physical distancing, limited travel, cancelled conferences, and the like. How can this simple and successful approach be adapted for the current situation?
- Do not cancel meetings or stop scheduling them; replace your in-person meetings with a video conference or phone call.
- Create a LinkedIn Group for your area of interest; join and contribute to industry, academic or regulatory groups that may attract your target clients.
- Most importantly, maintain a discipline about your networking. Avoid one-time reach outs; identify your key contacts and groups and make your virtual check-ins recurring events.
Here are some additional ideas on how to improve your networking during the COVID 19 pandemic:
- Google yourself. Check up on what people will see when they search for you; update your information with key words and ideas that will help inform people about your interests and talents. Pay close attention to your LinkedIn profile, as this is the most popular business and professional social platform, with over 300 million monthly users.
- Understand the technology to get the most out of it. Zoom, Skype, Google, LinkedIn, Reddit — any can work for you, so dive in and set up a chat or a group with some former colleagues to get started.
- Do some writing. Submit articles to your firm or university’s blog, send them to your network, get a little buzz going about topics you are interested and knowledgeable in.
- Remotely mentor a younger person who is interested in your area of expertise. This will expand your network across younger generations and perhaps give you a writing partner.
A second, and as important question, is, if 62% of legal work comes from referrals, where does the other 38% come from? The internet and social media are primary generators, but only for those lawyers and firms that have an organized approach to that channel.
The American Bar Association survey of marketing practices of law firms concluded, somberly, “The 2019 Survey results show that law firms—and especially solos and small firms—have a long way to go. Unless they begin to develop marketing plans and budgets, establish an online presence and regularly analyze whether their firms are reaching their targets, they will continue to face increasing difficulty competing for business.” The survey offers specific and valuable information about how firms can improve their online marketing.
Briefly, here are three trends to keep in mind as you plan your online and social media marketing approach:
Validation. If a legal services consumer cannot find a referral, they seek some other source, along with “validation” that the choice from that source is a good one. The source is increasingly the internet, through sites such as Yelp, Google, Facebook, Avvo, and LinkedIn. Social media influencers have become an important marketing channel, with companies spending an estimated $225 million per month on Instagram alone. A survey in the consumer goods field found that an incredible 92% of consumers state that they trust recommendations from other people, “even someone they don’t know,” over information from the brand itself, and 70% rate online reviews as their second most trusted source. The takeaway for lawyers is to find ways to leverage positive client experiences into client contacts. Focus on validation through third party reviews.
Responsiveness. Today’s consumers demand responsiveness, expecting that their inquiries and complaints will be addressed almost instantaneously. Firms that respond to inquiries in minutes instead of hours have a documented and decided advantage in our fast-paced world.
Effortless interactions. Email, texting, online collaboration, etc. have all contributed to a connected, but personally distant, world of communication. People under 50 prefer an email or mobile communication to a phone call. Make it as easy as possible for potential clients to contact you, communicate with you, pay you and review your services.
Lastly, to help lawyers prepare & adapt to this new economy, we’ve created resources such as these ebooks: Turning Crisis into Opportunity, Guide for Law Firms Working Remotely and Using Social Media for Personal Injury Attorneys.
It’s never too late to learn new things, and in this rapidly changing world, one must adapt.
– by Aline Martin O’Brien