Marketing yourself as a young lawyer without breaking the rules
Okay, so you put in three or more years of hard work in law school, you have your J.D., you’ve passed the bar exam, and you’re now a practicing lawyer. Now what?
One of the best ways to advance yourself professionally is to get really good at marketing. All law firms are interested in maintaining and expanding their client base, and if you’ve started your own firm you probably wouldn’t mind growing your practice either. Sure, marketing yourself requires a lot of hard work, but the eventual rewards can be life changing.
Many lawyers are not natural salespeople, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve our marketing skills. Like briefing a case in law school or learning how to properly cross-examine a witness, marketing in a learnable skill. The more effort you put into this enterprise, the more skilled you will become.
Starting to Promote Yourself and Your Practice
In order to attract new clients to your practice, you have to find people who are in need of your services—and then serve them. The best place to start your search for people in need of legal help is your current network; i.e., everyone you know right now: family, friends, former classmates, acquaintances, and the new people you meet every day of your life. One of your goals should be to make sure everybody you know, knows what you do for a living and how you can help them (either now or in the future). Are you a divorce lawyer? Everyone you know should think of you as the “family law guy.” Do you handle residential real estate matters? Everyone who knows you should immediately think of you when they need to hire an attorney for their closing. You get the idea.
One of my mentors, Leonard Amari, would tell you every time you get into a cab (or an Uber), tell your driver what kind of law you practice and give them your business card. If you got a haircut today, did you make sure to tell your barber you’re a criminal defense attorney specializing in DUIs? Always keep a handful of business cards handy wherever you go. You never know when a conversation at cocktail hour of your friend’s wedding could lead to your newest source of business.
Most of your marketing efforts will never lead to any new business for your firm, but the more you market, the more you will see the rewards of your efforts over time. You may not hear from the first 99 people you handed your card to, but the 100th person could make all of your effort worthwhile.
Following the Rules
As lawyers trying to provide value to our firms by generating new business, there are special limits placed on us by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, particularly by Rule 7. Young lawyers should study this entire Rule in detail, but the following are some key takeaways.
Rule 7.1 – Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
Basically, this rule says a lawyer should never lie or make misleading communications about the lawyer or their services. You will gain much more respect from people when you are completely honest with them. It might be tempting to stretch the truth a little about how long you’ve been practicing or how much experience you have in a particular area of the law, but if you tell potential clients the complete truth about yourself and the legal services you are capable of providing, they will see you as someone they can trust.
Rule 7.3 – Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
Lawyers can’t solicit potential clients through in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact when a significant motive for doing so is the lawyer’s monetary gain, with a few exceptions. While energy and ambition to generate business is generally a good thing, as lawyers there are limits to how aggressive we can be. As the Comment to the rule states, there is an inherent potential for abuse in these types of communications made by lawyers to potential clients known to be in need of particular legal services. You will want to use an abundance of caution in these situations.
Attorneys are permitted to make written, recorded, or electronic communications soliciting professional employment from prospective clients known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter—but if you do, you’re required to include the words “Advertising Material” on the outside envelope (if any) and at the beginning and ending of any recorded or electronic communication, unless you are communicating with a lawyer or someone with a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with you.
If you’re unsure whether you need to mark a certain communication with the words “Advertising Material,” do it. As Leonard Amari also would say in these types of situations, “It’s always better to side with the angels.”
Rule 7.4 – Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization
You can communicate the fact that you do or do not practice in a particular field of law, but lawyers are prohibited from using the terms “certified,” “specialist,” “expert,” or any other similar terms to describe their qualifications as a lawyer or in any subspecialty of the law.
The ARDC imposes special rules on communications of lawyers to protect the public from dangers like false or misleading communications about lawyers and legal services. Your professional reputation is one of the most valuable things you own as a young attorney, so make sure you know how Rule 7 applies to you before beginning your marketing efforts. Provided you avoid any violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, marketing and generating new business is one of the best ways for you to provide value to your firm as a young lawyer.