Guest Column: Getting New Clients at a Small Law Firm or as a Solo Practitioner

Oct 29, 2014 by William D. Hartsock

Clients are the lifeblood of any legal practice. Without them, your practice simply does not exist. And unfortunately, client acquisition is one area where most attorneys, particularly those at small firms or who work as solo practitioners, struggle. As a San Diego tax attorney with more than 30 years of experience running a successful practice, I can tell you that there are many ways to get new clients in the door—and some are much better than others. Of course, knowing which cases to take on and which ones to walk away from can potentially have a greater impact on your success than anything else. However, you really need a steady stream of opportunities before you can afford to become picky. So, that is really the best place to start. Here are some tips for finding all the clients you can handle.

One good way to get new clients is to promote your practice at events such as trade shows, conferences, seminars and networking events. Based on your particular area of specialty, there are likely to be a variety of industry events that can give you a platform to introduce yourself to specific types of clients. Choose an event that caters to your target market, show up and start networking. This is a strategy that will allow your people skills to shine. Remember, you are not there merely to tell everyone about yourself, but rather to get other people to open up about themselves—and to listen.

small-law-firmCollect business cards and follow up by connecting on social networks and sending emails that reaffirm your understanding about whatever you may have talked about. This is critically important because showing that you were listening and genuinely interested is the best compliment you can give someone. It’s the fastest way to become a person that people like and will remember.

You should also utilize the state bar to get to know other attorneys, and then promote your area of specialty to other attorneys that don't specialize in that area, especially among lawyers that are approximately your age. Over time, these relationships can develop into a powerful channel of referral business. Think about it this way: if you were in need of knee surgery, you very likely would ask the doctors you know and trust for a referral to a good knee surgeon. Well, people do the same thing when looking for lawyers.

Another important strategy for young attorneys is to get to know the older, more experienced attorneys within your area of specialty. They will often be willing to pass on the smaller cases that they themselves don't want to take on. These cases can still provide good experience and be profitable for you, even though they may not be profitable for a larger and more established practice; that firm may have a large support staff, more overhead and other related costs that make smaller cases a financial liability. More experienced attorneys can not only be a great source of referrals for young lawyers, they may also become mentors that can prove to be valuable in a myriad of ways beyond the referrals.

Community organizations, chambers of commerce, service groups like the Rotary Club or even social activities that give you an opportunity to meet and get to know people and business owners within your community may be well worth your time. The people you meet may not have a current legal issue, but if you make a good impression on them, you are likely to set yourself up for referrals from friends of friends. These are often the best types of clients because recommendations typically come with some level of established trust.

In my opinion, the key here is to have a specialized practice so that your new contact can remember your specialty and articulate it when the opportunity for the referral presents itself. If you present yourself to a new contact simply as a “lawyer,” you are immediately putting yourself at a disadvantage because most people already know a few lawyers—better than they know you. Also, when someone has a problem, they typically feel the need to seek out a specialist. So, present yourself as a specialist and become the go-to person for people who have that specific need.

Of course any professional in the market today must have a website and take advantage of tools such as search engine optimization, local optimization, social networking, content marketing, link building and online advertising. When people have a problem, they go online to research it and look for potential solutions; it is important that you are easy for them to find and present yourself in a professional manner. For tips on how to get your web presence started simply, affordably, and ensure that you are on the right path, I recommend It is a great resource for getting up to speed with online marketing best practices.

Using the various strategies mentioned above, you will find that there are many people in need of legal services. After doing this successfully for more than 30 years, I can tell you that the biggest hurdle is always establishing trust. When you meet someone new, the best way to quickly establish that trust is to connect with them as a genuine person. As a lawyer, you are already in a position of authority. Let them feel that they are being heard and establish authentic rapport. This leads to people liking you, which leads to them trusting you, which leads to them calling you or referring their friends to you when they are in need. For smaller firms and solo practitioners, those skills are the cornerstone of a successful practice.



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