How attorneys from small law firms can use their strengths in business development to compete for larger clients

“These bigger companies have well-known brands, and nobody really knows us.”

“We don’t have the staff or the budgets that they have.”

“We don’t know how to face them.”

Yes I am a mind reader. I know such thoughts swirl in the minds of attorneys from small law firms as they contemplate how to attract the kind of clients that often go to larger firms. Whether in a solo or small firm (or even a larger firm but with no clients of its own), these attorneys can Compete with the big girls and boys.

they also can create a level playing field by engaging in the right activities that bring them into the arena; and you can Build a reputation that will attract the next level of clients to work with.

Know what you want to do

Before we begin, however, we need to make some assumptions. If the type of work you seek as an attorney for a small law firm requires legions of attorneys you don’t have, then you’re fighting a losing battle. If you have little or no knowledge or talent in a particular field, you must first educate yourself before expecting to find work. However, if you decide on matters that you can handle in terms of manpower and skills, here are some things you can do individually to represent your case:

your biography — This is your first audition for the job, and most lawyers fail miserably. Most bios are cold, sterile lists of services that do little to inspire, intrigue, connect, or persuade. Start with an interesting statement that sets a tone, focus on the type of work you want to attract, add some (properly edited) success stories, add a dash of personality, and highlight a few traits that Distinguish you from other lawyers.

Identify your goals — After determining the type of work you want, clearly define your audience. What type of company would you like to work with? In which regions? What are the names of these companies and what decision makers do you need to meet? Where do they meet, what do they read and what do they listen to? These are your future business friends, the people you need to know. Few attorneys take the time to gather this information, but it’s a crucial step in making a name for yourself in the right crowd.

become famous — Once you identify your audience, find ways to get on their radar to build your reputation and build important relationships. Be omnipresent and saturate the market with your name. As they say in the Broadway smash Hamilton: “Be in the room where it happens.“Go where they meet, speak where they listen and write where they read. There are several ways to achieve these goals:

      • Speaking of: If you have the personality for it, come into the speaking circle. Get coaching and tutorial videos. This is another audition opportunity where people extrapolate your skills based on how well you present. If necessary, start small and build up. Use one lecture as a reference for the next. Give yourself a little practice so you’ll have your craft honed when you step onto these bigger stages. While your company may not be a household name, you can borrow their authority on the bigger stages to improve your personal reputation. Luckily for you, many lawyers are bad speakers. So putting in the time can not only become a key differentiator for you, but it also amplifies your presence in front of a large, targeted audience.
      • Write: Likewise, you can borrow authority from news publications, trade journals, blogs, or social media channels. Without too much strenuous work, you can create short posts that provide insight, add a little style, and find topics that not everyone else is talking about. If necessary, start small again. When I started my legal marketing career, I lived in Boulder, Colorado and I reached out to the local Boulder Bar Association to see if they wanted an article. That was a simple yes, and after it got published I used it as social proof to get an article in the Colorado Bar Association. I repeated the process and got published in American Bar Association publications – it took off from there and I have written 14 books and more than 60 articles to date.
      • Make personal connections: I don’t want to fool you into thinking that speaking and writing is the holy grail for magically attracting top customers. It’s good for reputation building, but you need to get into the trenches and go one on one to build personal relationships with the right people. You can do this by using your speaking and writing as reasons to reach your target audience. Poll some, ask some to write or present together, and ask others for feedback.
      • Leap: In the Leapfrog game, you use someone as leverage to get you from where you are to someone else. Likewise, you can ask people you know to introduce you to valuable people they know. For example, if you’re interviewing someone for an article, you might end up saying something like “Thank you very much, I really appreciate your insights. By the way, do you know others who might be interested in sharing their thoughts on this article?”
      • take leadership positions: I’ve heard it’s better to be the star of an off-off-Broadway show than to get buried in the chorus of a big production where nobody sees you. Get used to seeing yourself as the leader. Even if you start small, it gives you visibility, you gain social status through organization reputation, it provides access to others, it gives you reasons to target people, and it provides a launch pad for leadership positions in higher-level organizations.

Neither approach requires staff, a lot of money, or a pre-existing brand name. It takes planning, courage and consistency. If you follow these steps, you’ll soon find yourself shortlisted for the type of work you desire most. “Be in the room where it happens.”

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