Do you ever feel that you’re just one small lawyer in a large sea? New lawyers often begin their practices wondering how to distinguish themselves from the hundreds or thousands of other lawyers occupying the same niche. And that feeling isn’t limited to new lawyers, by any means. Though the question may fade, it certainly re-emerges when a lawyer is preparing to grow her practice or is considering some shift in substantive areas. Clients are necessary for maintenance of a profitable practice, obviously, and differentiation can help to attract clients. So, how can you differentiate yourself?
Blog (but check your state’s ethics rules first). My background is in patent litigation, and I often referred to the Patently-O Blog by Dennis Crouch. Patently-O is known for, among other things, its full coverage of every patent case decided by the Federal Circuit. It became the go-to reference for what’s going on in patent law, and I’d venture to guess that an amazingly high number of patent lawyers and “civilians” who are interested in patent law read the blog on a near-daily basis. I was astonished when I learned that Dennis started the blog less than a year after being admitted to practice. He’s since moved on to academia, a move that was quite likely assisted by his blogging efforts as well as his other credentials.
A number of lawyers who blog boast that they attract clients largely through their blogs, and Kevin O’Keefe (a lawyer who has turned to assisting other lawyers with Internet marketing through lexBlog) is known for the trademarked assertion that “Real Lawyers Have Blogs.” (And, of course, Kevin has a blog as well.) Perhaps it’s a bit of overstatement to say, “blog it and they will come,” but it isn’t a bad starting point since blogging provides a platform through which a lawyer may share resources, analysis, and enough personal content to become known to readers. How to do that is, of course, well beyond the scope on this blog.
A word of warning, though: ethics rules absolutely apply to blogging, and some states (most notably New York, amidst much controversy) consider blogging to constitute lawyer advertising. If you’re going to blog, get educated about the ethical issues first.
Create a unique experience for your clients.
What can you offer clients that other lawyers don’t? The opportunities vary widely by practice area, but any value-added service is a good step toward differentiation. Don’t overlook the basics that may set you apart (though they shouldn’t): quick responses to phone calls and emails, regular case updates, or offering educational resources as necessary (i.e. on how to prepare to give deposition/trial testimony, what to consider when getting ready to make estate plans, etc.). And consider introducing your client to every member of your legal team who will be involved with the representation. Even something as quick as an introductory letter identifying other lawyers, paralegals, and office assistants that is signed by each can offer a client comfort when contacting your office. Consider, of course, what is appropriate for your practice: what will impress a personal injury client may be radically different from what will impress the CEO or general counsel of a multi-million dollar corporation.
Be active and visible in the community.
I’ve written about networking in the past and explained that networking is really about building relationships. Being active in the community — volunteering, serving on boards, working with non-profits in other capacities — is a terrific way to become known. It provides a context for networking that often makes it more comfortable for reluctant networkers, and it may present you the opportunity to offer guidance and suggestions that will reflect well on you as a lawyer. Moreover, you may have opportunities to speak or write through these channels, both of which will raise your profile.
Be clear about what makes you different.
If you want to differentiate yourself from other practitioners, it’s imperative to connect with an internal compass that will point to what does indeed make you different. If you don’t know what that is, you certainly won’t be able to convince anyone else.