Legal Marketing & Consulting

Branding and storytelling help lawyers find and keep clients


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Peter Shankman. Photo by Jacob Kepler.

Lawyers can use personal branding, storytelling and even romance (in a metaphorical sense) to create a base of loyal clients that will help bring in additional clients and work.

On Thursday, the second day of Avvo’s Lawyernomics conference in Las Vegas focused on how small-firm and solo practice lawyers can improve their marketing and distinguish themselves from their competitors. The conference, being held at the Venetian Hotel, got under way on Wednesday as attendees learned how to maximize their presence on Avvo, which allows lawyers to claim and add to detailed profiles of their practice, lets attorneys answer legal questions posted on the website and allows potential clients to connect with the lawyers they choose.

The Thursday sessions focused on marketing and branding, and how quality content can attract clients and turn them into loyalists. Keynote speaker Peter Shankman kicked off the sessions by telling humorous anecdotes from his career, which included forming AOL’s newsroom in 1995, creating Help a Reporter Out (HARO), and making a snarky T-shirt about the movie Titanic that got him invited onto the Howard Stern Show, among other things. Shankman, author of Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over, and Collaboration is in, had said he intended to speak about how being nice to clients would help lawyers generate business.

However, Shankman spent more time advising the audience on how to create a strong brand. “All you have is your brand,” said Shankman. “Make sure you brand everything you do. There’s nothing worse than creating amazing content and then finding it on another website because you didn’t bother to brand it.”

Shankman advised lawyers to be transparent, telling them that mistakes are inevitable. Instead of lying about or ignoring those mistakes, if lawyers own and promise to learn from them, their clients will trust them more. “You will create loyalists, and those loyalists will do your public relations work for you,” said Shankman. “If you aren’t transparent, you will get caught.”

“There are so many ways to reach an audience,” Shankman said, “but how do you know how your clients like to get their information? It’s simple: ask them. If you can give them information they want the way they want it, then they’ll be loyal to you.”

Lawyers can also use storytelling to establish their brands. Jay Shepherd, former lawyer and owner of Shepherd Law Group in Boston, talked about the value of narrative devices in connecting with potential clients.

“Most lawyer marketing looks the same,” said Shepherd, who is now writing legal thriller novels. Potential clients will connect with an attorney more if that lawyer has an interesting story to tell, he said. “Storytelling allows lawyers to differentiate themselves and connect with clients and make them want to work with you,” said Shepherd. “We’re hardwired to learn through stories.”

Indeed, Shepherd maintained that lawyers should take advantage of their natural storytelling skills and create a powerful narrative that resonates with clients. Avoid using jargon and legalese, he advised, and write the way you talk and as if you were writing for a good magazine or newspaper.

For instance, Joleen Hughes, principal at Hughes Media Law Group, relies on her background in the music industry to brand her firm’s lawyers as “lawyers who rock.” Hughes, who served on a panel with Cozen O’Connor family law partner Jennifer Brandt and Saper Law principal Daliah Saper, wrote on her firm’s website that she once ran a management and production company that worked with several legendary Seattle bands, including Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. “Your lawyers should rock, and our brand is that we rock,” Hughes said. “We want to do the best for our clients and rock for you.”

And nothing resonates with people like a love story. “Don’t kiss your clients, but market like you want to,” said Avvo CEO Mark Britton.

The lawyer-client relationship is a lot like a romantic one, said Britton, and like singles looking for love, lawyers are looking for a long lasting, loyal partnership with their clients.

“There are only three questions a lawyer needs to ask a prospective client,” Britton said. “Can I satisfy your needs? Can you satisfy mine? How do I contact you?”

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