A law school buddy of mine was boasting that a news reporter asked him to comment on a celebrity's legal troubles. It was a general legal question that any first year law student could have answered. "What did you tell them?" I asked. "Nothing" he replied. I immediately took my briefcase and rapped him over the head. "Frank" is a solo practitioner who spends exorbitant sums of money on yellow page and newspaper ads. Despite his misguided efforts, he complains that he doesn't have too many people walking through his door. In comparison, my law firm does not have a yellow page ad. We don't advertise on billboards or buses. What was he doing wrong?
Frank couldn't understand why I was getting more clients than him. Our practice areas were nearly identical. We went to the same law school. We both had great locations for our law practices. What was I doing different? He was convinced I sold my soul to the devil. Obviously that is not the case. Everyone knows lawyers don't have souls.
Truth be told, our firm did once advertise in the yellow pages. We had a full page ad in a city newspaper and even did a commercial for the local television market. It was a short lived experiment that made me feel dirty. To be honest, the return on our investment didn't seem to pan out. While we were blowing a significant amount of money on advertising, we were not seeing results.
The Turning Point.
A few years ago, I had a client that made the newspapers after her car had been found after a high speed police chase. Inside the wrecked car, officers found 130 bags of heroin and various stolen items including an elderly woman's wheel chair. A reporter called me seeking a comment on her case. I decided not to give one. The next day, the article ran. Not surprisingly it was rather one sided and full of inaccuracies. My client was portrayed as a pariah on the community. I had missed an opportunity to give my client's version of events. To be frank, I also missed an opportunity to get some exposure for my firm.
As the case progressed, I received another call from the newspaper.
This time, I gave the reporter my comments. I wanted the paper to see that my client really wasn't a bad person. She came from a good family and was a straight A student. She did not have a record. She was not a drug dealer. She did not steal the wheel chair. A boyfriend had been the culprit. She had foolishly covered for him because he had an extensive criminal history. My client was given the opportunity to give her side of the story. She would eventually be exonerated in criminal court and in the court of public opinion.
After the article ran, calls came pouring into my office. Although I was a young attorney, I began being recognized in court. At a local community fair I was approached by a group of bikers. "Hey, aren't you the heroin lawyer?" The exposure to our firm was tremendous.
I began realizing that an article about our firm was far more powerful than any ad I could place. I decided to let Frank in on my secret. I now share these tips with you. Here are my thoughts on how you can give your firm an added boost in exposure to the masses.
1. Don't Be Afraid to Give Comments: This should be done on a case by case basis and ethical considerations must be taken into account. If you happen to stumble into a high profile case, it may be in your client's best interest to give a comment. The court of public opinion can be just as important. Just remember, the reporter is on a deadline. He could also just as easily call the next schlub on his list. Don't "dilly dally" with your response.
2. Become a Resource for Local Media: After my first contact with the city paper, the same local reporter asked if I would be willing to give comments on stories that required a legal opinion. I obliged. Since that time, I have been contacted by various media outlets for my opinion on a variety of subjects ranging from the Constitution to the Katyn plane crash that killed the president of Poland. You don't need to limit yourself to local papers. You would be surprised at the response you can get from television or radio as well.
3. Help the Media Out: Other lawyers wonder why my firm is in the media so often. What makes us so special? To be frank, some reporters have a hard time coming up with local news stories on a daily basis. Most media outlets actually look for news tips. They often have an email or fax address set up for community news. If your firm has done something interesting, why not let them know? Did you open a new office? Are you celebrating an anniversary? Are you planning to provide a legal seminar for area residents? Did your firm take part in a local charity event? Even if the article doesn't lead to a client referral, you have gotten some great exposure for your firm. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a small ad, you have just gotten two pages written about your firm at no cost. It allows potential clients to see your firm outside the confines of an advertisement. An article about your firm is much more personal and will have a much farther reaching effect. My advice is to contact them only when you have something of real interest. No need to pester the local news to let them know about your purchase of a new copy machine. If we have a story of particular importance, our firm will even use a press release service.
4. If You Need to Advertise, Consider Smaller Local Papers: Of course, this depends on the type of practice you have. If you are a general practice community firm, why would you spend thousands of dollars on an ad in the NY Times? Our firm's sole ad is in a free local Polish language paper. A month of advertising costs less than one hundred dollars. The paper reaches a targeted audience that makes up a large base of our clientele. I have gotten far more clients from a small targeted newspaper ad than from our larger, more expensive former yellow page ad. Besides, when's the last time you looked in a phone book?
5. Start a Legal Column: A local newspaper asked if I would be willing to write a legal issues column. I happily obliged. Each week I write on a general legal topic of interest to the paper's readers. The column is basically a free ad for our firm. If they add your picture, don't be surprised when people approach you in the supermarket. If you don't want to be a rock star, avoid this suggestion. Depending on the type of column you write, you should also check with local ethics rules.
6. Use the Internet. The internet has countless resources that allow you to post your law firm's information at no cost. It's not a bad idea to claim your profile on sites like Avvo.com or start a Linked In profile. Setting up a Facebook page for your law firm is also free. Use a twitter account to network with other lawyers.
Of course, you should always check local ethics rules to make sure you are in compliance.
Editor's Note: You may also like to read an earlier post we did on the subject by guest author Donna Giancontieri. Donna is a former NY Reporter and author of "Mastering Media Relations" . She gives some great tips on dealing with the media. I also suggest a post done by Attorney Lee Rosen over at the Divorce Discourse blog. As always, we appreciate your comments.