Law Offices, Professional Image, and Marketing

Face it. Financial bottom lines are affected by the fact we live in a world that judges a book by its cover. Pretty singers sell more records, court cases rank higher in the news if the person is attractive, and politicians are elected based on their image as much any other factor.Looking at your own industry, don’t you have to fight the public’s perceptions? We see it on TV and in movies every day. More often than not, young lawyers, paralegals, and others just starting out in the profession are portrayed as cheap, petty, low-rent, and usually called “ambulance chasers.”It’s not right, but this issue of image is one that you have to live with and learn to work with.Let’s cut to the bottom line which is this: In today’s business climate, everyone should realize that a professional image is crucial to reputation and everyone could stand to improve theirs to some degree or other. It’s what you need to do to keep your individual firms alive. Therefore, let’s cover some opportunities for improvement using the acronym A.L.I.V.E.:Appearance – Your physical persona and the way present yourself.Letterhead – The level of professionalism demonstrated in your printed marketing materials.Information – Accuracy and honesty; the keys to presenting the data gathered during a case.Voice – How you communicate to everyone you’re associated with.Education – The continual improvement to your professional knowledge base.Appearance: People base a large percentage of their first impression on your appearance. When a client meets you for the first time, they’re sizing up your credibility, your ability as a legal professional, and deciding just how well you might conduct yourself in public. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, so let’s look at a few pointers.Always dress in a professional manner. For men and women both, the attire should be “business professional,” which for men means suit and tie whenever possible, and for the ladies, business suits, nice skirt and blouse, or dresses. If you look unkempt or “second rate” the client will wonder how you’ll represent them while working their case.A close cousin to dress is personal grooming. Simply put, make sure your hair, facial hair, hands, nails, and teeth are all clean and well kept. By the way, how’s your breath? Always keep some mints handy.Another key opportunity to exhibit a professional image is in court. Make your trial presentations well-organized and polished works of art. You’ll notice down in our bio box we have a link to a free ebook that will help you create a very professional trial notebook.Letterhead: In some cases, the first contact someone may have with you might be one of your business cards. For our purposes though, “letterhead” refers to any printed material (paper or electronic) anyone outside your office might see.Business cards are a must. Make them distinctive, but with minimal content. Let your website or brochure carry the heavy content.On business cards, stationery, and your website stay away from trite, cliché, or negative icons such as someone running after an ambulance. In your web address, phone numbers, or email addresses, stay away from negative phrases like “[email protected].” These might seem cute, but to many potential clients, they’re a turnoff.For stationery, choose quality paper and have your letterhead and envelopes, as well as your contracts, professionally produced by the same people who do your business cards. Make sure their color themes match. Your local print shop or office supply store should have everything you need. If there’s any one place you want to spend a little money, this is near the top of the list.Stay away from blank notepads and manila folders. They’ll both get too messy too soon and not only will that make you look unprofessional and disorganized, but blank notepads make you look unprepared, and lost or disorganized notes lead to inaccurate reports and invoices. Invest a little time and/or money into buying or developing a comprehensive set of forms or an organizer system to use while assembling your case.Information: In the legal business, the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s 50%. And, unless you know what’s in it, don’t speculate. “Just the facts Ma’am.” One of the biggest opportunities for a good impression, and naturally the most important, is the timely delivery of honest, accurate, information. Nothing will kill your image, reputation, and livelihood, like incomplete, inaccurate, biased, or late case work. Likewise, an inaccurate invoice can cost you by being either too low or too high.Rule one is, always has been, and always will be, “Use a good case management system.” Make sure everyone working for you uses the same system, and that your standards of accuracy start at the beginning, and continues through the whole case and through any follow-up you may ever have with that client. Then treat all of your other clients the same way.Use nice presentation folders for all your reports; even the “small dollar” ones. Each client is important to you from a marketing standpoint and therefore deserves to be treated with respect. Putting your work product on better stationery, in a well-organized format, and in an attractive presentation folder will provide a greater perceived value to your client. These people have probably paid a hefty sum for your service and a more professional report will help assure them that it was money well spent.Voice: Voice is a general term used to describe not only the actual verbal communication you have with your clients and others, but the “tone” your business has with those it deals with.When you answer the phone, do so cheerfully and actually smile. You can tell when someone’s not happy to be on the phone and so can others. This phone call might be your first contact with the next big client, so make it count.If you can’t personally answer every call, the next best thing is to have a receptionist or answering service. A person is always better than voice mail. Go with what you can afford, but since the phone call is one of your opportunities for a first impression, anyone answering the phone should be trained to be courteous, cheerful, informative, and as professional as possible.Education and intelligence are just as necessary as a cheerful hello. You want people to know that you are every bit as qualified and capable as they could hope for. Therefore, when speaking with people, speak clearly, and choose your words carefully. They don’t have to be big words, but they do have to make sense, and grammar is important.The written word should follow the same rule. Make sure your business cards, letterhead, brochures, reports, invoices, and all other written documents use correct spelling and proper grammar. Though your client may be enamoured enough with your abilities as a legal professional to overlook a minor grammatical error, you never know who else of importance might see your report or correspondence.Education: Here we continue where your writing skills leave off and cover the actual knowledge or skill base upon which your legal expertise is founded. Experience is the best teacher, but classroom education can certainly help keep you informed and up to date. Also, the fact that you are continually updating your expertise is impressive to most potential clients.Many states require continuing education. If your state does, you should publish this fact in your firm’s literature. If your state does not require CEU, you should still take it upon yourself to keep your own training updated and make that fact a prominent component of your marketing materials.Join professional organizations where possible. Many of them will offer various classes and training programs and the benefits of networking are considerable.Keep your library stocked. Many people learn as much from books and videos as they do in a classroom setting.As you attend some of these educational functions, take the opportunity to look around you and either further your own education on this issue of appearance by studying your colleagues, or help improve the way they represent you by helping educate them as to the benefits of a more professional image.

Starting a Law Firm – Ideas About Office Space

One of the things that you will notice when you first open your law office is that you will write a lot of checks. You will make a lot of payments. It will seem like there is much more money going out than there is money coming in and, at the beginning, that probably will be the case. Consequently, one of the major aims when you are staring out is to keep overhead costs as low as possible. That means you don’t need that corner office overlooking Park Avenue. Right now, you don’t have the client base to justify that sort of expenditure. With that in mind, below are some ideas for some “starter” office space, at least until you get your feet on the ground.1) Traditional Office.Traditional office space, while the most liberating and enticing, is also the most expensive. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t lease office space from the outset. The key is to put your office in a location where the cost is justified. For example, if you are a litigator and can get prime office space next to the courthouse (where everyone who walks by can see your sign: “Law Office of Blankity Blank”), then the investment could be worthwhile. Be sure to consult with other attorneys who have offices near the courthouse, and see how much business they get from walk-ins. Then evaluate whether the risk is worth it.2) Home Office.The home office is the least expensive of the options. Additionally, the expense is not ongoing – once you outfit your home office with furniture and technology, there really isn’t a further expense until something needs to be replaced. Be aware that some practice areas (i.e. criminal defense or family law) do not lend themselves well to practicing out of your home. However, others fit well into the warm environment that the home offers (i.e. elder law or estate planning), especially if you will be meeting clients there. You will need to create a separate office within your home, to separate work from home life and to maximize productivity.3) Office Sharing.Office sharing can be a great alternative to the traditional office. While still more pricey than other options, sharing an office with someone else creates a natural avenue for referrals. This is especially true if you are sharing with other attorneys who practice in different areas than you do, or if you are sharing with non-attorneys. If you choose wisely, the referrals alone can justify the cost. As with any option, the key is to do your research, and meet with the people who you could potentially share space with, prior to making any decisions.4) Virtual Office.A relatively new phenomenon is the virtual office. The variations on the virtual office seem limitless, but it is essentially a place where you can meet with clients, receive your mail, have your telephone answered, while not being tethered to the office space. Additionally, the cost of a virtual office can be much less than traditional or even shared office space. It is a great way to keep costs low while growing your law firm, and maintaining the look of an established law firm.At the end of the day, your office says a lot about who you are as an attorney, but also as a businessperson. Make wise choices now, so you can thrive in the future.

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