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Choosing Your Market, Not the Low-Hanging Fruit on Your Client List

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're like me, you go to the produce section with a list.

That's because usually my wife tells me what I want: avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, and bananas. It's all good because at least I know I'm getting the right stuff.

But once in a while, I wander through the produce section with that rare air of knowing I can buy anything I want. Today I'm getting peanuts -- in the shell, roasted and salted!

So that's what marketing for your law firm will be like in the future. You will get to choose your practice area, and not just take the low-hanging fruit on your client list.

"Backed Into" the Market

Jordan Furlong, a legal market analyst and consultant, says in a new book that lawyers historically "backed into" a market by acquiring clients first and finding markets second. It was a natural process as their first clients referred other clients and so on.

"The law firm was effectively 'carried backwards' by its lawyers into its markets, and there the firm remains to this day," he says.

That process defined law firm markets then, he said, but the marketplace is turning things around. "Law firms will choose their markets first and their clients second, and their lawyers and other personnel will follow behind," he says.

By choosing practice areas, attorneys can better control their destiny. It will require "honest, clear-eyed and rational assessment" of their market potentials, Furlong says.

Old Fruit or New Fruit?

When it comes to business development, marketing consultants generally advise law firms to "start with the low-hanging fruit." That's your own clients, says Larry Bodine.

"These are people who trust you, they send you work, they send you checks," he writes. On a list of 1 to 10, Bodine puts targeting new clients at number seven.

However, clients are also changing the business of law. The good old referral days are becoming yesterdays. This is particularly true with corporate clients.

"Firms that try to hold onto work because they view it as bespoke will soon become irrelevant as in-house lawyers find other smarter ways to get the same outcome for less," says Paul Lippe, CEO of Legal OnRamp and author of Tomorrow's Lawyers. "It is the firms that embrace this New Normal who will succeed, by demonstrating their value to the client."

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