Build Your Own Law Firm #2: First Clients

The ultimate question for a law firm’s viability is simply whether it can add clients on a recurring basis.  When an attorney launches a new firm, the stage at which that question can be resolved affects how the new law firm will market it services.

There are two ways that new law firms get clients, and it depends in part on whether those potential clients have a preexisting relationship with the principal(s) of the new firm.

If your intention is to leave an existing practice, where you have working relationships with clients, they can join you.  But, the notion that you ‘bring those clients with you’ is a false one.  It’s the client’s choice, not the lawyer’s; and, every jurisdiction has ethics rules related to engaging shared clients.  The outgoing attorney and the remaining firm should follow those protocols, which all inure to the benefit of the client.  While an initial joint communication to clients is preferred, it doesn’t always work out that way; but, a frayed relationship between the existing law firm and the current one does not prohibit the new firm from reaching out to past clients, neither does it diminish the primacy of the client in the decisionmaking process.

If your law firm will be buttressed by the bringing on of an additional ‘book of business’, then that makes your job a little easier.  At the very least, you’ll have a baseline income to work with.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should rest on your laurels, either.  In the majority of cases, that book of business is not, by itself, enough to sustain the new firm, which will necessitate the going out and getting of new clients.  So, there’s still an incentive to hustle, to reengage referral sources, to run targeted marketing campaigns — until you get to the income level you want.  But, let’s face it: You’re now an entrepreneur, and the next income level is only another rung on an unending ladder.

As you increase your book of business, you’ll likely approach the building process in the same way that a law firm starting with no clients would.  Many new referrals come from friends and family, in the first instance.  After that, it’s referrals from whatever existing professional contacts you retain.  As you begin to build or expand your professional online and in-person profile, you’ll begin to acquire clients from direct advertising, as well as referrals from people you don’t know.  This will feel like a natural process when you look back on it, but in actuality, it’s a great deal of hard work.  Even if you have an existing book, or an existing reputation, it may take 2-3 years for you to gain traction for a new brand, since your potential clients, like everyone else, are being bombarded by content from advertisers on a regular basis — and, it takes a number of ‘touches’ to acquire the realization and resonance necessary for a referral or inquiry.

Starting out, it makes sense not to overwhelm yourself, and to understand that establishing a new law firm is a process, never a Big Bang.  So, try to establish three marketing campaigns to get going, manage those for a quarter, and then reassess.

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