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Lawyers Go to New Lengths to Compete

With more and more law school grads entering the workforce, competition for the available jobs is growing. Many lawyers are finding they need to come up with a new angle to win themselves some business.

"There are more lawyers than ever," says Larry Bodine. He is the operator of the Law Marketing Portal in Illinois.

According to the American Bar Association, more than one million lawyers practice in the U.S.

Because there are more lawyers, there is more competition for work. "There is more competition than ever," says Bodine. "At the same time, there is a shrinking client pool. As corporations merge, in-house counsel takes more work inside."

Many law firms are merging to become larger companies. "A recent trend that's been powerful is that law firms are either moving to become big multinational firms or are becoming specialized boutique firms," says lawyer Laura Watts. A boutique firm may specialize in areas such as health care or maritime law.

Whether a law firm is a large multinational, a small boutique or a general practice firm, there is an increasing need for all of them to market themselves to bring in new clients.

"The big firms need to promote international clients, and the boutique firms need to let potential clients know that they specialize in one area," says Watts. "The general practice firm has to market themselves against the other two."

However, advertising for a lawyer isn't as simple as it is for a local tire or paint store. "There are many, many restrictions on what they can say," says Watts. Restrictions vary from area to area and country to country.

For example, a lawyer in British Columbia can't advertise that she is a specialist in maritime law. "You can say that you limit your practice to maritime law, but you can't indicate special advantages over other law firms," says Watts.

Some of the ways lawyers advertise their businesses are by distributing business cards, placing ads in newspapers and specialized newsletters, speaking at conferences and by word of mouth.

Dana Young is a lawyer. She says that sponsoring events is an effective way for law firms to advertise. "For example, I just dropped off a $100 check that will be a prize in a golf tournament," she says.

Getting involved in the community is a good way to promote a law firm. However, Young says that traditional methods of meeting clients over golf or at lunches may not work as well for young female lawyers. "The problem is that women don't seem to do as well in these situations."

She says that young female lawyers may find other ways to network. "My advice to junior women lawyers is to get involved in nonprofit organizations."

"Getting business in person is the most effective way to win new clients," adds Bodine. "TV, newspapers, Yellow Pages ads, billboards and subway placards may work well for high-volume, mass market law practices like...personal injury, divorce and bankruptcy law practices.

"But to attract good corporate clients, other effective approaches are an interactive modern website, educational seminars and tailored e-newsletters."

Watts agrees that the Internet is an effective medium. "websites are increasingly important for both big and boutique law firms."

The Internet is helping with marketing, according to a Lawyers Weekly article called Marketing is a Contact Sport. The article states: "Thanks to technology, marketing is often cheaper than it used to be. It's also more varied."

"New research shows that in-house counsel do indeed use the web to find and evaluate law firms," says Bodine. "This makes a law firm's website very important."

A website should clearly describe what type of work a law firm specializes in. It should also look professional. "A law firm website should also offer visitors a chance to sign up for a free opt-in newsletter or news service. The website is the public face of the law firm. It should distinguish the firm from the rest of the pack."

The American Bar Association says technology is changing publicity for lawyers. In an article listing the top 10 myths about law firm publicity, the association states that it's a myth that publicity is local. "In the age of the Internet, there is no local paper. Stories that appear in the Miami Herald are read by producers at the BBC."

However, the Internet isn't yet a useful tool for all lawyers, especially those working in smaller communities. "We haven't developed a website," says Young. "In smaller locations, the Internet isn't as important as generating business by word of mouth."

Areas with increasing demands for lawyers include health care, intellectual property law, international law, elder law, environmental law and sexual harassment cases. In addition, an increasing use of legal clinics means that more middle-class Americans are hiring legal counsel.

"People with a two- to five-year call date [years of experience as a practicing lawyer] are mobile and can pretty much go anywhere in the world and find work," says Watts.

"In addition, lawyers are needed in certain fields, such as criminal law and wills and estates, on a consistent basis. You may need to market more or in a different manner, but opportunities are there."


Law Marketing Portal
A free website where marketers and lawyers can share information

American Bar Association
The association for lawyers in the United States

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