How to Get Your First 50 Clients When You Start a Law Firm

By: Terrie S. Wheeler, MBC, President and Founder

Starting a practice of your own is as exciting as it is scary. You are motivated to make your law firm a successful venture, but have pressing concerns about:

  • How to start a law firm of your own
  • How to market a small law firm
  • Marketing tips for your small law firm
  • Practice-specific marketing tips
  • 50 tips to land your first 50 clients
  • How to get your first 50 clients
  • How to sustain your law firm marketing efforts
  • How to add clients to your specific practice area

Starting a Law Firm: Tips and Recommendations

Owning a law firm has been somewhat glamorized on many movies and television shows. But behind the scenes are many moving parts that must be addressed before you announce your new firm to the world. These tips represent a partial list of what you will want to do before you open your doors:

Do Your Homework

Become a student of “How to Start a Law Practice.” There are many resources online to help you including your own State bar association. You can find step-by-step checklists on everything from renting space, to opening an IOLTA account.

Create your Plan

Now is the time to create a business plan for your practice. Take the vision you have for your firm and write it down into a document that will include a version of your mission statement (focus on WHY you do what you do – not just WHAT you do). Create a clear vision of where you are now, and where you plan to be in 1 year and 5 years. Create your realistic financial pro formas, and set specific and measurable objectives under The Four Pillars of Marketing:

  • Retain and grow existing relationships you have
  • Develop new business
  • Increase your name recognition in the marketplace
  • Pursue targeted communications with your contacts

Get a Free Marketing Assessment Using the 4 Pillars of Marketing

It is important to have an understanding of the economics of running a law firm. Consider taking a course on how to understand key financial terms and accounting documents like profit and loss, balance sheets, and other critical tools to help you measure the profitability of your practice.

Remember that each tactic – the things you will do in support of your plan – must directly support each of your primary objectives.

Your law practice is too important to just “go with the flow.” A strategy will allow you to ask important “what if” questions and plan your growth strategically.

You can read more in our free e-book entitled, Law Firm Marketing Strategy: A Complete Guide to Grow your Practice

Choosing Your Practice Area(s)

My first piece of advice is to choose the areas in which you want to become known over time and, if you can, stick to them. Know who you are and which clients are the best fit for your practice. Don’t be a dabler – thinking, “I’m a lawyer, I’ll figure it out!” Many times this behavior can lead to ethics complaints, if you don’t have true mastery over the areas in which you are advising your clients.

Forming an Entity

From LLCs to LLPs, to B-Corps, you have a choice on which entity will best serve your interests and protect your assets over time. Work with a lawyer – one well versed on law firm entities – and choose the entity that will form the foundation for your continued growth.

Your Financial Practices

It is critical you open a bank account for your law office. If you will accept retainer payments, you must have an IOLTA (trust) account established and not let your account become overdrawn. If this happens, there are ethics ramifications. Work with an accountant skilled at working with law firms to set up all of your financial statements. Set up a budget based on projected income and expenses, and make sure you set money aside for taxes, your lawyer registration and licensing fees, and other ongoing expenses like practice management software, time and billing solutions, contact relationship manager (CRM), and other business tools you will need for smooth sailing.

Location, Location, Location

Move into the selection of your location thoughtfully and strategically. Try to pick a location that you know has staying power. Once you have a website, you will want to fully optimize that website, and having a consistent location (and firm name) that is not changing over time will ensure you build strong Search Engine Optimization for your law firm. Consider one of the many co-working spaces as a cost-effective alternative of buying or leasing space. Here, you can rent a private office that has access to all the amenities of a large law firm including conference rooms.

Create a Website

I recently read that over 40% of small law firms do not have websites. I know that your website will be your most powerful marketing and lead generation tool. Even if you have to secure financing from your bank (or savings account), it is a priority in today’s competitive legal marketplace. The PSM website is chock full of website best practices for lawyers!

How to Attract Your First 50 Law Firm Clients: 50 Tips!

Don’t Dabble – It’s easy as a new lawyer to think you should dabble in many areas of law. Rather, pick an area of law or two and deeply develop your expertise in these areas.

Know the Ethics – As you know, there are many ethical issues to be aware of when bringing clients into your small law firm. Make it your job to know the ethics rules related to direct solicitation, communicating information about your legal services, and many more

Advertising is Not the Best Way – While it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you will generate clients by advertising, generally clients will choose you because they know you, like you, respect you, or you were recommended by someone they trust.

Awards and Badges – While you market your small law firm, remember that if you deliver services to consumers, some badges and awards like Super Lawyers, can be effective at differentiating you and your small law practice.

Blogging – Make it a point when marketing your law practice to become a thought leader. Blog at least twice per month on topics that show you know your stuff. Promote your blog on social media, on your website, and in e-communications to your clients and contacts.

Branding – Your law firm logo and branding needs to differentiate you from competitors. Make sure you don’t scrimp on your law firm logo and branding. You want your law firm to ooze classiness, sophistication, and professionalism

Business Development – It always amazes me how law firms do not track the new business they get in the door. As you develop your referral relationships, make sure you also stay focused on bring in new clients

Client Advisory Board – Client satisfaction for law firms is key. In order to keep your finger on the pulse of the satisfaction of your law firm clients, consider forming an informal Client Advisory Board to run new practice areas, new offices, and other protocols by. Your law firm clients will be appreciative that you asked.

Client Satisfaction Survey – I encourage all law firms to conduct a client survey at the end of a case or matter. These surveys are confidential and electronic and will allow clients to provide feedback on the expertise your firm brought to them, your communication and responsiveness, and if they would refer you to others.

Communicate – Build a database on MailChimp or Constant Contact and make sure you regularly communicate with your clients and referral sources. Keep them up to date on the work you are doing for your clients including examples of your successes.

Contact Mining – Use LinkedIn to make sure you stay up to speed on not just your contacts, but those people your contacts know. Your contacts would be happy to make an introduction to you – you just need to be strategic.

COVID Protocols – PSM has assisted many law firms with their COVID approach to serving clients. See our COVID Marketing Toolkit.

Cross Marketing – Make sure your law firm clients know the full extent of your practice. One example is that if you are a divorce lawyer who does estate planning, make sure your clients know every divorced person needs

Database – Invest in a database to track all of your law firm contact and referral source information.

Digital – If you want to bring clients into your law practice, it’s important to know that having a digital marketing strategy will be important to keep your name recognition high.

Elevator Speech – Every lawyer needs an elevator speech – a message that defines the value you bring to your law firm clients, not just what you do.

Email Introductions – If you know someone who has a connection you would like to meet, make sure you make it easy for the person referring you by creating an email introduction for your contact to forward to the person you want to meet. This takes the pressure off your contact, and allows you to include why you want to meet this person.

Facebook Advertising – We have had tremendous results with Facebook advertising. You create a series of headlines, body text, and graphics, and the Facebook algorithm will combine those that work best at generating click-throughs to your website.

Google Analytics – Make sure your SEO provider uses Google Analytics to regularly report the results of your SEO including unique visitors, most popular pages, and other important gauges that your law firm marketing efforts are working!

GoogleMyBusiness – You definitely need a GoogleMyBusiness page for your law firm. Your SEO team will be able to set this up for you. This is also where you will direct those you have asked to write a Google review for you.

Google Reviews – It is a worthy goal for any small firm interested in marketing, ask its clients and contacts to leave positive, five-star Google reviews for them. It makes a difference when a client is looking for a law firm, to have 50 or more 5-star reviews, when your competitors have far fewer.

Ideal Client Requirements – Think about what your best and worst clients have in common. Focus on only accepting clients that meet your A-level criteria, not just their ability to pay. Focus on how responsive they are, how much they trust you, if you like them, trust them and respect them. It’s better to turn clients away if you have red flags flying when you first meet with them.

Industry Groups – Once you have determined what clients you want to bring into your law firm, figure out what industry groups attract more like them. Join one or two groups that attract prospective clients and/or referral sources and make a goal of becoming a high profile member by volunteering to write for their publication and speak at monthly meetings.

Intake Experience – Think about the experience your law firm clients have when they become clients of the firm. Do you have a process designed to smoothly bring them into your firm with welcoming and affirmative messages?

Invoicing Practices – I always tell my law firm clients to think of their invoices as a marketing tool. Bill your time every day or you WILL leave money on the table. Focus on the descriptions you use and demonstrate the value of everything you are billing for.

LinkedIn – This social media tool is great for lawyers. The best marketing tip I have for small law firms is to spend time every day on LinkedIn connecting with new people, congratulating people on birthdays and anniversaries, and comment on others’ posts. LinkedIn is also great for introverts because you do it on your time.

Market Research – Before you meet with an important prospective client, take some time to do a news search for them on Google. Review their website biography and their LinkedIn profile – looking for what you have in common with them. This will prepare you to ask brilliant questions when you meet with them.

Marketing Coaching – Consider if you would benefit from marketing coaching services for lawyers. Working with a marketing coach will definitely fast-track your marketing success as a lawyer.

Marketing Materials – While most marketing is done online today, there are still times it’s important to have some printed materials. Many times clients appreciate tools and tipsheets that are printed versus electronic.

Networking – Your best clients and referral sources will come from people who know you and trust you. Take time every day to build your network of contacts. Make a point of always having a next step with these important contacts. If you build your network consistently and with persistence, you WILL be successful as a lawyer.

News Releases – If you are involved in a case that is newsworthy – that which affects many people very significantly – consider drafting and distributing a news release. Work with a pro and distribute using a service like PR Newswire.

PowerPoints – If you are delivering a seminar, CLE, or webinar, make sure you have a branded and professional PPT template. This level of professionalism will help you attract clients into your law practice.

Practice Area Marketing – There is a different strategy, as you will see below, to successfully market different practice areas. The messages and audiences are different and to attract clients, you need to “speak to” the legal decision makers.

Proposals – There may be times in your practice where to win a new client, you should use a proposal that discusses our understanding of your needs, our approach to meeting your needs, then moves into the lawyers who will deliver services, and the fee schedule.

Public Relations – Also referred to as PR, this service will help you build your name recognition by building relationships with reporters who will interview you, quote you, ask you to write a bylined article, or write a feature story on you, your client, or your law firm. PR is a great way to attract new clients to your law firm.

Referral Source Development – Referrals will be the bread and butter of your law practice. Make a point of tracking how your best clients came to you. Maybe you get referrals from bankers, accountants or other professionals. Know how your clients found you then create a strategy to attract more referral sources like those you have.

Sales Strategies – It doesn’t hurt to take a basic sales training class. Lawyers can use euphemisms like practice development or business development, but what lawyers need to do to be successful is to master the basics of professional sales techniques

Sales v. Marketing – There is a difference between sales and marketing. Sales is about asking the right questions. Marketing is about the messages out there in the marketplace about you and your law practice. Sales without marketing is too hard (because no one knows who you are), and marketing without sales is too expensive (throwing money at advertising and billboards is very expensive).

Search Engine Optimization – If you have a website, your law firm must have Search Engine Optimization with a goal of increasing the organic search engine rankings for your law firm.

Social Media – Lawyers should be active on social media, especially LinkedIn. Make sure your LInkedIn profile reflects your law practice, selectively add contacts to LinkedIn with a goal of achieving more than 500 connections, then engage on LinkedIn by liking, sharing and following your contacts activities.

Strategic Planning – Your law firm is a business. As such, your law firm needs a strategic plan that identifies your key marketing objectives, as well as target audiences, key messages, and a strong focus on the tactical implementation plan that will support the business goals your law firm has developed.

Tracking Referrals – Not only should you track the referrals you receive from your network, as a law firm you need to be tracking the referrals you send to others in your network. The goal is to build mutually beneficial referral relationships.

Trade Associations – Joining a trade association that attracts clients or referral sources can be a great marketing strategy for your small law firm. If you want to attract clients into your law firm, you need to be where your clients are – and many of them are committed to and belong to the association that supports their industry. Join. Write. Speak. Become a high profile member.

Marketing Training – Lawyers don’t learn how to market in law school. If you want to add clients to your law practice, consider attending marketing training programs with a goal of educating and providing marketing tips for small law firms who want to grow.

Videography – Add video to your website. It brings you to life as a lawyer. Your relationships are with people and they like to see you on video before they hire you. Add videos to each of your practice area pages, and to your law firm biography. Videos create the opportunity for you to make a great first impression with your law firm marketing messages.

Volunteering – Clients appreciate seeing their lawyers volunteering in the community, serving on a non-profit board, doing pro bono work, and in other ways giving back. Many times clients bond with their lawyers through volunteer activities. Volunteering shows prospective clients that you have a soul – and that soul cares about other people.

Webinars – Delivering webinars is a great way to educate your clients, contacts and referral sources. Webinars should focus on “how to” tips and not be a sales pitch. Make sure you have a professional PowerPoint presentation to accompany your webinar. Webinars can be 15 minutes or last an hour. The most important thing is to fill the time with timely, relevant information that will benefit your clients and contacts.

Website Development – Your law firm must have a website. If it doesn’t you will lose out on new clients and overall market share. Particularly during the pandemic, websites provided the “go to” resource for clients, contacts and referral sources. It is your job to make sure your law firm website provides relevant information for all who visit.

Writing Opportunities – As a lawyer you know how to write – briefs and motions and other corporate documents. It’s important when trying to attract new clients to your law firm that you write with your clients in mind and avoid legal jargon and citations. Your writing style should be clean, clear, and informative.

Marketing for your Practice Area: Tips to Bring Clients In

While you have reviewed a list of marketing best practices for law firms to develop new business, special attention needs to be paid to the practice area(s) you choose to attract clients into. While everything above will work for any type of practice, there are some things that will differentiate your practice based on the type of client you want to attract, who will refer those clients to you, and the services you will perform as a lawyer. The following section will focus on the unique differences when attracting new business into your practice area.

Personal Injury – Tips to Bring in Clients

To attract clients in the personal injury area, it is important to build relationships with chiropractors and other healthcare practitioners. In addition, remember to stay in touch with all of your past clients. They will remain excellent referral sources for you. In the high-touch area of personal injury, it’s extremely important to be responsive to your clients. Return their phone calls and emails the same day if possible. If not, have someone who can answer client questions in your absence. You know the legal process clients must go through when they have a personal injury case. But for your clients, it’s likely the first time they have needed to hire an attorney. They are generally hurt, scared, and think there will be a big payoff for them. To attract clients to your personal injury practice, you need to focus on educating them on the process. Write blogs, post on social media, and make sure you have descriptive and informative on your website. By focusing on these areas, you will be able to attract clients to your personal injury practice.

Criminal Defense – How to Expand your Law Practice

As a criminal defense lawyer, marketing for new clients will be something you do every day. Generally criminal defense clients need you for a mistake they made. It’s less likely you will have repeat business from them. That means you will always be in marketing mode. Other lawyers are probably the most common referral sources for criminal defense lawyers. Many law firm’s don’t have a criminal defense practice, and rely on firms like yours to assist their friends, family and clients when they need a criminal defense lawyer. Other referral sources for criminal defense lawyers can also include bail bondsmen. I have heard this from multiple attorneys that this profession is in a great position to refer clients in need of a good criminal defense lawyer. Friends and family will also be good referral sources. As with every practice it’s also important to have an informative website to attract criminal defense clients, with a focus on educational and legal process-oriented content. Network on LinkedIn and make sure you add your blog posts to the Featured Content section on your profile.

Divorce and Family Law – How to Differentiate your Law Practice in a Competitive Area

If you want to attract more clients to your divorce and family law practice, you need to build relationships with therapists and other mental health professionals. Generally when a marriage is rocky, a couple will begin marriage counseling or couples therapy. Oftentimes the therapy works, but many times it does not. That’s why you want to know as many therapists as possible; particularly those focused on working with married couples. Divorce lawyers can also market for new business by focusing on building relationships with other lawyers in firms without a family law practice. While having an excellent website, social media, communications and blog writing routine, growing your family law practice is all about the contacts you build. LinkedIn can be a great way to build relationships with other professionals by engaging with and posting new content to your connections

Business and Corporate Legal Services – How to Attract New Clients

Attracting new clients in the business and corporate realm requires you to build relationships with – you guessed it – business people and other influencers like accountants, bankers and consultants. Just like other more consumer-facing practice areas, building relationships with those you like, trust, and respect will help you grow your corporate legal practice. There are many areas in corporate law that perplex your clients. One way to remedy this is to host educational webinars that focus on providing digestible information business owners will be interested in. Join business groups and associations that attract your clients, and become an active, contributing member of that organization.

Litigation – How to Market your Litigation Practice

Effectively marketing a litigation practice can be a challenge. Truth is, no one wants to have to hire a litigator. To attract clients as a litigator, it’s important to have a niche where you can really become known. It may take you a few years to develop a true niche, but when you do, put time and effort into writing about it, speaking on topics related to your niche, create blog posts, post on social media, and communicate with your clients and referral sources. Build relationships with other professionals who serve your niche area. Other lawyers can also be great referral sources. Many corporate law firms do not offer litigation services. Market your practice to other lawyers and you will find you have many advocates who know your work, and will regularly refer litigation cases to you.

Employment and Discrimination – How to Market Your Plaintiff’s Employment Practice

Marketing a plaintiff’s employment law practice requires you spend time building your name recognition. The more you can focus, the easier it is for clients to find you. I worked with a lawyer who happened to have served a lot of physicians. We developed content “for physicians” for his website including a practice summary, representative cases, articles and blogs about topics physicians are interested in, made presentations to groups of physicians and residents, and broadly communicated via e-communications and social media that the firm served physicians. Today this firm is the go-to firm for physicians. Marketing your employment law practice will be successful when you target both your messages and your audiences

Real Estate – How to Build your Law Practice

As a real estate lawyer you help your clients buy or lease space. Your referrals likely come from brokers, realtors, contractors, and others in the building construction industry. It’s important when adding clients to your real estate practice, to be involved in the industry attracting your best referral sources. Set a goal of becoming a known resource for information of interest to buyers, sellers, and those seeking to lease space. You’ll notice in all of the practice-specific marketing recommendations, I have not yet uttered the word “advertising.” That’s because advertising doesn’t work when you are looking to grow your real estate law practice. It’s all about your contacts and being able to turn those contacts into clients.

Estate Planning and Probate – The Art of Marketing Success

The great news is that every person needs an estate plan, and it’s only a matter of time until families need a probate lawyer. Estate planning can be cross-marketed to every client in your law firm. You can also develop a focus for your estate planning practice including physicians, business owners, professionals, young families – you get the idea! As with any area of law, the key to marketing your estate planning practice is to build relationships. With whom you might ask? Start with financial planners. They are not generally lawyers and need to partner with an estate planning attorney to create the binding documents, wills, and trusts to implement a client’s financial plan. Estate planning lawyers also get work from CPAs and accounting firms. If you can, develop a focus or niche for your estate planning and write blogs, website content, give webinars and post on social media to promote your estate planning practice.

Meet Terrie Wheeler, MBC

Many people have a part-time job while in high school: flipping burgers, working at the mall, selling tickets at the movie theater. I did, too, and my job was a bit different: A disc jockey on a real radio station in Anoka, Minnesota, KTWN AM-1470. Not only was it fun, but I learned how to relate to my audience. Now, I help attorneys and other professionals relate to their clients. I’ve been working in and with law firms and attorneys since 1985.
In 1997, I saw several unfilled business development and marketing needs in other service professions and leveraged my 12-year legal marketing career by launching PSM Marketing (PSM). Our focus is two-fold: We deliver an outsourced marketing department to law firms of all sizes and business development coaching for individual attorneys and practice groups. Our clients are primarily in the legal and financial services industries, but we also work with other professionals and service companies in other industries.

Learn more about Terrie.

PSM Marketing