9 Where to Begin?

There is a difference between the technology that will run your business and that which is unique to law practice. Just as there is a distinction between enterprise and consumer software available to you, your firm will probably focus primarily on business software and fill the gaps with applications created in the so-called legal vertical market.

When you think about what a law firm does, and not about what a lawyer does, it makes sense. Take this scenario:

Someone’s neighbor cuts off a limb on his cherry tree. The tree dies and a whole bunch of cherries are lost. The now-dead tree owner wants to get his tree and his cherries back. He searches the Internet. He looks at online directories (unless he’s in a rural location, in which case he may prefer the Yellow Pages book). He posts on his Facebook page or emails friends to see if anyone knows a good lawyer.

He finds you.

You represent him. His neighbor pays for a replacement tree, for a 25% cut of future cherries. Everyone is happy. Your client goes off and refers others to you.

First, you may have spotted the marketing. Sometimes it’s online, sometimes in print. It’s most often in person.

I don’t personally consider marketing technology critical to law practice and so I won’t be looking at social media or social networking. You may engage with potential clients on Twitter, or Facebook, or on your law firm’s blog. You may have an active presence on LinkedIn and both identify potential clients and interact with them there.  I’m still waiting for data showing any consistent connection between clients using social media and lawyers income.  Differences between types of clients (clients needing criminal representation immediately, for example, contrasted with a corporate client who may have a $50 million case) can impact how they choose a lawyer.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re going to engage in these sorts of promotional activities, do it because you enjoy it and understand how the tools work. They are not a replacement for in-person client development and networking for most lawyers.

Why? People find lawyers through friends and family. This was one finding in the ABA’s Finding Personal Legal Services from 2011. It was backed up by a survey done by a Florida law firm. A legal publisher found that the Internet had become a more popular source by 2014, although their business interest in developing Web sites for lawyers should be taken into account.

In any event, a law firm Web site is important but your personal relationships and customer service will have a greater impact on the long term success of your practice.

What about when the client calls to set up an appointment? How do you manage that first contact? Do you know how he heard about you? How do you capture the information – his, details about his matter, other people involved? How do you capture the appointment?

Once you’ve met him, how do you check for conflicts? Take in additional detail so you do your research? What happens if you do not want to take the matter? What form does the agreement take between you and your new client to spell out what you are being retained to do and what it is likely to cost? How do you communicate the results as well as the other activities that you’ll be undertaking for him? How do you manage and take care of the information the client provides, the work product you create, and that is generated from other parts of the matter (witnesses, opposing party, etc.)? How do you bill him and for what? How do you collect?

These are all fundamental business challenges. When a client walks in your door or Skypes with you for the first time, you need to have business systems in place to handle all of the transactions that will occur over the lifetime of this client’s matter. Many of those have nothing to do with the law or what you learn in law school.

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