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In search of the ideal client

They’re out there, but the trick is finding them
By Grant Cameron
April 10 2015 issue

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When a law firm is launched, partners are usually relieved just to see someone with a wallet come through the doors. Later on, though, when business picks up and the partners begin to plan how they want to grow the business, their focus shifts to the type of client they want to attract.

The challenge, according to legal, marketing and communications experts, is figuring out exactly who those “ideal” clients are and putting together a plan to attract them.

“The starting point is to look at your existing files and flag them for the ones that you want more of,” says Sandra Bekhor, a marketing and business consultant and president of Bekhor Management in Toronto.

“Twenty per cent of the files that you’ve worked on probably represent 80 per cent of your profit or the strategic type of work that you want. You have to find that 20 per cent. That’s where you start.”

Bekhor, who works with small to mid-sized law, accounting and other firms, says once partners have identified the types of clients they want, they have to mine deeper and ask why they prefer those files.

“Are those clients a certain demographic, do they like working with a certain style of lawyer, do they respond to something specific about you that makes it enjoyable, makes you more effective with them?”

If, for example, the files were all family law cases, the partners would obviously focus on family law, says Bekhor. In examining their files, she suggests partners look at what type of business and sectors their ideal clients might be in, then tailor their advertising to those areas.

Once the ideal client has been identified, Bekhor says partners should develop a tagline or simple message that articulates what the law firm can offer its clients, and build that consistent messaging into all advertising, marketing materials and on the firm’s website.

“They need one thing to be the flagship message. If they come up with three or four words for the tagline, everything that follows needs to continue to build on that message.”

Patrick Brown, partner at McLeish Orlando in Toronto, says law firms should concentrate on building relationships in order to bring in their ideal clients.

“Don’t be a volume operator,” he advises. “That just means that the quality will drop and you won’t enjoy the profession that you’re in.”

McLeish Orlando, a firm that deals strictly with personal injury cases, has had success over the years in bringing in its ideal clients by networking and reaching out to others lawyers, former clients and medical professionals.

“People would go and speak to their lawyer or their real estate agent or general practitioner and they would say, ‘Here’s the name, give these people a call. They specialize in that. They’re good at it,’” says Brown. “We certainly have had enough files coming to us in that way.”

Brown says the firm also attracts a lot of ideal client referrals because the firm’s lawyers do a lot of teaching at conferences for medical professionals who want to learn how to write reports or be an expert in court.

“We’ll market that way so they know we’re out there,” he says. “A lot of them have seen what we do and, eventually, if they know somebody that’s been extremely hurt sometimes they pass on our name.”

Lawyers from the firm also do a lot of teaching at conferences for the Ontario Bar Association and Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, and the firm keeps in touch with former clients via a newsletter, asking them to pass on the firm’s name to others.

Jacqui d’Eon, principal at The Communications Department in Toronto, says a law firm must be very clear on the clients it wants to attract because that will determine the business and advertising strategy.

To determine the ideal client, she suggests partners look at where they’ve been successful in the past and examine the characteristics of the clients.

“Think about who are the clients you like working with the most, what types of business that they’ve brought you and then, of course, you want to look at what experience you have to bring to those clients.”

Once the firm has a picture of its ideal client, d’Eon says partners then have to find ways to network with those clients.

“You start looking at where those clients play, what they read, where they go to socialize, and what places you can go to meet them. You need to know where those people are that you want to reach.”

For example, says d’Eon, if a partner is targeting a large company, the partner will have to figure out what level of management they have to connect with and tailor a message aimed directly at them.

“If you’re targeting the C-suite management level, that may be very different than going to the in-house counsel level.”

D’Eon also suggests that partners network by attending events and conferences that their ideal clients might attend.

To connect with those clients, she says partners must show they understand the client’s issues and can provide them with a solution.

“No matter whether you do full-scale television advertising and multi-media advertising or whether you’re just a small shop, you want to have the elevator pitch that says, ‘My law firm does this, we practise this area of the law,’ and give them a ‘for example.’”

And what if a firm isn’t attracting the clients it wants?

Marketing and business consultant Bekhor says partners of such a firm have no choice but to go back to the drawing board and identify the clients they want, then develop a marketing plan aimed at them.

Holding a staff retreat is a good way to brainstorm what is and isn’t working, she says.

“You really have to be sort of ruthless and open about putting on the table really what you want to continue with versus what you don’t.”

When a firm is going through the process of marketing to its ideal clients, Bekhor says it’s important they continue dealing with other files.

“You still have to pay your bills, you still have to stay in business. So, while you’re getting that new marketing machine up and ready, keep going with what you have while you get your marketing message out there.”

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