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Solo Practice: Garrett Worley's Blawg
Marketing Begins with Your ?Product? - PART THREE: Packaging Legal Services
By Garrett Worley
In the first two parts of this series, we discussed identifying problems and providing solutions. The third part of this series focuses on packaging legal services.
Packaging is all about how clients access the legal services you provide. Traditionally, a client would find your phone number in the yellow pages and call your office. Other clients might access your services through referrals from other attorneys. Thus, the conventional means of accessing legal services is through telephone and in-office consultation.
There’s nothing wrong with the established approach, and for many clients it is the simplest and most efficient way to get the legal advice they need. To be competitive, however, solo and small firm attorneys should consider offering other ways for clients to access their services. Much of the population (and certainly the business community) has enough internet savvy to access legal services online. In fact, many clients prefer online communication with their attorneys when it comes to progress updates and simple questions.
The most comprehensive way to offer clients access to your legal services on the internet is to provide them with online client accounts. Most clients will be familiar with password-protected online bank accounts, especially business clients. Once logged in, the client would have access to her case file, notes and messages from the attorney working on her case and bills. Clients would also be able to message you through the online account instead of e-mailing or phoning the office. Another account feature that some lawyers are offering is instant messaging. This provides the client with the ability to communicate with their attorney in real time and may be a useful alternative to phone conversations.
The online account approach affords the confidentiality necessary to give legal counsel to clients online. Another approach is to speak to the masses and provide them with general commentary on the law and information about the legal system, rather than specific legal advice.
Of course, a blog is one way of doing this. I’ve written a post or two on blogging as an outbound marketing technique, but haven’t said anything about it’s inbound marketing potential (product development). That is to say, usually we hear how blogs enhance your web presence and demonstrate expertise in your practice area, but we don’t hear very much about the actual reader experience. Most clients’ knowledge of the legal system begins and ends with what they see on television and in films. If a client has been charged with a crime, injured or sued, he’ll likely be completely unaware of the steps of the legal process. Lack of knowledge can be a frightening prospect and there’s a good chance the client will turn to the internet to learn more about what he’s in for. You can provide that information and gain his trust.
Social networking sites are another great way for clients to access your legal services. Sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn allow you to build up a network of contacts, create groups, blog, message members and more. Online social networking offers lawyers two advantages: (1) You can build, maintain and interact with your network of professional contacts more often and in a more efficient manner, and (2) You can meet future clients (especially younger clients) in an informal, comfortable setting.
Each social networking site is unique, so you’ll want to consider your target audience before choosing which ones to join. MySpace is the oldest and largest. You may reach a larger crowd on MySpace, but there’s a chance it will be less targeted. Membership to Facebook was originally limited to college and graduate students. Facebook later allowed companies, and then the world at large, to join. Even so, Facebook remains the social networking hub for college students and young professionals. Finally, LinkedIn is the site of choice for those with no other concern but professional networking. You will reach a smaller audience on this site, but those you reach will be serious about networking.
A final way to provide clients with access to your legal services is what I’ve termed the multimedia approach. Audio and video clips are becoming more and more popular on the internet and (believe it or not) many people prefer them to reading. Think of it as starting your own radio or television show where you comment on the law and the legal process. Simply record these programs and air them as podcasts on your website and YouTube.
While your detailed commentary on the Jones Act might not be as popular as an English bulldog riding a skateboard, you’d be surprised how effective podcasting can be. This is particularly true if you have a transactional practice that caters to business clients or investors, because they will listen to or watch your program to acquire valuable and timely information that improves their businesses and portfolios. Who are they going to call when they need legal advice?
In sum, packaging legal services in creative new ways will enhance your client relationships and help you introduce yourself to future clients. Packaging is not about “getting your name out there”; it’s about providing access and providing value. While you’ll certainly want to focus on outbound marketing in later stages, packaging is a robust, cost-effective (mostly free) way to build a solid, long-lasting marketing presence.
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