Clients buy legal services from lawyers, not law firms. Firms invest heavily in their brands, but primarily for the purpose of empowering their attorneys to develop business themselves. Law firms lay the foundation. Individual lawyers need to build.
Selling legal services is relational not transactional. It takes time. It requires consistency. Unless you’re selling a commodity, which means you’re competing on price, you need to invest in relationships to attract and keep clients.
In their book, The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John David Mann explain that, “All things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”
Building a personal brand that allows prospective clients to know, like, and trust you is particularly important when it comes to selling legal services. The attorney/client relationship is an intimate one. Lawyers are often privy to a client’s darkest secrets, biggest fears, and most important aspirations. If there are not high levels of trust, respect, and rapport between attorney and client, then it’s tough for the lawyer to do their job, for the client to get the result they desire.
Think about your own past experiences trying to hire someone to help out with an issue. It’s hard, right? Hiring a service provider, be it a carpenter or a lawyer, is difficult because, as the buyer, you’re forced to make a commitment in advance based on someone’s promise to deliver a result in the future. It’s not like “kicking the tires” on a product prior to a purchase.
Before committing to someone, therefore, you probably felt a certain level of unease. You asked yourself: “Does this person know what they are doing? Is the price fair? Will they do what they say? Will they complete the task on time and on budget?” Anxiety is heightened when the service provider starts using platitudes to describe their alleged expertise, and making vague claims and using jargon to describe the problem and potential solution. This is meant to impress you, but it only frustrates and confuses you.
On the other hand, a service provider who communicates a calm and measured description of expertise, experience, and the approach to addressing the problem increases your own confidence that you are speaking to the right person. You focus less on price than you would if you still felt unsure about the person’s abilities. After all, you likely care more about the outcome than you do the price, and you’re probably willing to pay a bit more if you trust that the problem will be addressed correctly the first time, without having to go through the process again.
New business engagements of any variety that begin well, with high levels of mutual trust and respect, tend to end well. A clear and compelling personal brand, therefore, helps to overcome buyer’s remorse. A personal brand that allows a prospective client to know you, like you, and trust you helps them to take the leap of faith required to hire you and move forward with a higher level of confidence.
Here are some ways to build a “know, like, and trust” personal brand:
Know: Have an active presence on social media. Connect with people, share valuable content, and engage with other people’s content on platforms like LinkedIn. Write and publish thought leadership articles about topics of interest to your audience.
Consumers of legal services desire, above all else, expertise. Unless and until expertise can be conveyed and validated through referral or reputation, one of the best and only ways that it can be demonstrated is through written thought leadership expressed in the marketplace of ideas. Generating and disseminating compelling content builds awareness, and positions the content creator as an expert. It’s a long-game tactic with a focus on relationship building, not the hard sell. But while it’s not the hard sell, content marketing is selling in the sense that it attracts people to you.
Like: Clients don’t buy legal services, they buy the lawyer who provides them. Before you’ll ever have the chance to show that you’re a good lawyer, you need to demonstrate that you’re a good person. Speak in a way that clients can understand. Don’t use legal jargon to try to appear smart; it will just make the client feel uninformed and turn them off.
Show some personality and vulnerability. Clients want to hire a lawyer who understands and empathizes with them. If you can communicate in a way that makes clear that you know what it’s like to walk in your clients’ shoes, they’ll feel understood and trust you to solve their problems. In every interaction, lead with understanding and empathy. This will put the client at ease. Then you’ll be in a position to demonstrate expertise and authority.
Trust: Once the client is comfortable with you as a person, you’ll then have the opportunity to build trust that you’re the right person for the job. Trust is established by making commitments and then fulfilling them. Say you'll get the draft done by Tuesday, get it done by Tuesday. Establish a budget, stick to the budget. Doing what you say you'll do builds trust; failing to do so erodes it.
The same is true when it comes to business development. A prospective client is apprehensive, and is taking her prospective lawyer for a "test drive" before an engagement. Accordingly, "little things" that a lawyers does or doesn't do during this courtship phase matter greatly. Show up two minutes late to the conference call, send the proposal a day later than you said you would, spell the client's name wrong in an engagement letter, or fumble through your notes during a meeting, and you'll erode trust. Fulfill every commitment you make with a sense of urgency and you'll establish trust and confidence that you're the right lawyer for the job.
Could you use a bit of help in defining your target market, and positioning yourself as an expert with clients, potential clients and referral sources within a niche?
I am currently accepting applications to my Elite Lawyer Coaching program, which involves one-on-one strategic consulting and coaching to help lawyers set and reach their business goals in 2018. If you’re interested in dramatically growing your practice this year, contact me at 313.432.0287 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to define clear goals, create a specific plan of action, and ensure accountability as you work toward achieving your objectives. Let’s chat soon, as I only have a few slots remaining for new applicants. Also, please check out my new book, The Essential Associate, which is now available for purchase.