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Ten Things to Consider About Potential Clients

A potential client walks in your front door, or sends you an email from your Web site. How did that client find you? How did that client choose your firm from dozens of other competitors that could offer him similar services? Whether you are designing a Web site, developing a brochure, or even considering the layout of your lobby, everything you do affects the way a potential client thinks of your firm. It seems silly, but even the smallest things can have profound impacts. Leather chairs and a mahogany armoire in your office may impress some clients but scare away others.

As you read over these points, ask yourself two questions: first, who is my ideal client? Second, how do I need to change my marketing to conform to that client's thought process?

  1. Understanding of the Legal Process
    There are some people who - though not lawyers - live and breathe the law everyday. A tax accountant, for example, may not have a JD, but she no doubt has a pretty good understanding of the Tax Code, the IRS, and judicial proceedings. Contrast this knowledge to a person injured in a car crash. The car crash victim may have never given a moment's thought to law, or what lawyers do. Suddenly, the pain and medical payments have forced them to seek representation. Depending on the type of client you are interested in attracting, your marketing needs to reflect the level of understanding your clients bring to the table. For people looking for a lawyer for the very first time, consider providing basic information, "how to guides" and "frequently asked questions" materials. For experienced clients, recently published articles on a particular area of expertise might be more appropriate.

  2. Urgency
    A person is arrested for drunk driving and is in the local jail, waiting to be bailed out. The arraignment is set for 10am the next day. This client needs help fast! Now consider the in-house counsel of a large corporation looking for outside help on an upcoming patent issue. The DUI defendant has about 48 hours to find a good attorney; the in-house counsel might spend months. If you are serving DUI defendants, do you have a 24-hour answering service? Does your Web site state that you'll return calls within a certain period of time?

  3. Skepticism
    It is a sad fact that some Americans either fear or dislike lawyers. At least until they need one, at which point they grudgingly contact an attorney. How do you combat skepticism? Some people feel more comfortable if they can 'put a face to the name', which may be an argument for including attorney photos on your Web site. Client testimonials can also help. And prominently advertising "free consultation" may also go a long way (if you offer that, of course).

  4. Personal Relevance
    How personally involved is the potential client in the case? For issues like bankruptcy, divorce, and criminal law, the legal matter at hand may be one of the most important moments in a person's life. Your initial interactions with that potential client may be vital to getting a signed client. If you recognize the significance of the case to the client (regardless of how many similar cases you have had before), you may put the client at ease. If you immediately point them to your paralegal, they may look for an attorney who cares.

  5. Quantifiable Needs
    Sometimes, choosing a lawyer comes down to simple 'yes or no' questions. Does the firm have more than ten years of experience? What's the win/loss record? Will this cost me more than $1000? Is your office within 25 miles of my house? The more of this information you provide upfront - whether on your Web site, brochures, or other advertising - the more likely it is that you will answer important questions a potential client may have (and choose you over a firm that doesn't provide this information).

  6. Qualitative Needs
    Some clients want an attorney who is "compassionate" and "understanding of their needs." Others are looking for someone who is "a pit bull" and "aggressive." If your firm has a distinct personality, why not advertise this to potential clients? After all, if all of your attorneys are really 'pit bulls,' a potential client that wants someone to hold their hand isn't going to choose your firm anyway.

  7. Internet Experience
    Are your clients tech-savvy engineers from Silicon Valley who get excited by the latest gizmos, or hard-working blue-collar folks who want basic and straightforward information? Create your Web site to reflect the values of your potential customers.

  8. Alternatives
    Are there alternatives to using a lawyer for your potential clients? For example, instead of hiring you to draft their will, could they use a software product instead? If so, do you have an explanation for why a potential client should choose legal representation over the alternatives?

  9. Preferred Method of Contact
    Some people prefer to talk on the phone. Others only want to communicate by email. For some practice areas, the initial consultation may be followed by fancy dinners, tickets to theatre, and golf outings. Think about how potential clients prefer to engage with your firm.

  10. The Tip of the Iceberg
    The suggestions above are only a few of the hundreds of factors that go into a client's decision to retain an attorney. The best way to really understand your clients' behavior is to ask them - ask past clients, ask current clients, and ask potential clients. Gleaning this information now will help you win over more clients in the future.
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