Article of the Week

“Marketing Tips for your Practice Area”

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
Marketing for providers of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services is similar to marketing for attorneys. (In this short article, “ADR providers” refers to mediators, arbitrators, discovery referees and/or special masters.) Many people offer to sell their services to teach ADR providers “how to market.” There is not any one method to this success, and everyone’s marketing strengths differ. There are some basics to follow, and some useful technologies to help the marketing effort.

START WITH SOMEONE YOU KNOW—SOMEONE WHO KNOWS YOUR CAPABILITY
An ADR provider is likely skilled in a particular area of law. Work that skill. An ADR provider who has practiced extensive experience in construction defect claims and litigation should market to that skill set in offering ADR services. You have a natural base from which to work. The subject area does not matter. So what does matter? The ADR provider must possess skills in that subject. You do not have to find a niche, although many “marketing teachers” give such advice. Know what you know and, as important, what you don’t know. ADR clients want to know that the ADR provider they are hiring has skill and knowledge related to the dispute at hand.

IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE AND TAILOR YOUR MESSAGE TO THEM
Make yourself current, knowledgeable and relevant. Start with people who know you. Call, email, send letters — keep your name in front of them. Personal contact (coffee or lunch) is best. Encourage them to arrange for you to meet with groups of attorneys in their firms. Prepare a presentation on PowerPoint or similar programs, which are remarkably easy to create. Address recent case law that affects a particular practice area; open a dialogue with them about what ADR services they need, and whether those needs are being met; or present them with scenarios they might encounter in their practice areas in an educational way. Keep the presentations entertaining, short and sweet. Entertainers know to leave the audience wanting more. Marketing should be similar.

FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP!
First, confirm work that you’ve been hired to do — getting the confirmation letter out promptly tells your clients you want their work. Second, fight for work for which you’ve been “interviewed” — prospective clients like to know that an ADR provider is hungry for work, and they sense that such a person will provide a better service. Third, contact prospects with whom you have had a marketing contact — again, let them know you are hungry for work. Finally, call prospects for the first time who have not yet used your services — educate them on why you are better for the job than the next guy. One more tip: most computer software contact programs or calendars have “to do” features. Setting reminders to follow up with someone can be a valuable marketing tool.
There are no secrets to marketing — it just takes a steady commitment. Good luck!

Dave Miller, CCCBA’s ADR Chair, is a full time mediator and neutral. He has extensive experience handling construction claims, defect cases and real estate matters. Dave can be reached at dmiller@millermediation.com.

CONSERVATORSHIP, GUARDIANSHIP, PROBATE & TRUST
Many members of the C/G/P/T Section have used traditional, tried-and-true tools to develop their practices. First and foremost, it is important to have a thorough knowledge of the law in this area. There are several ways to inform yourself about this area of law. One way to get a glimpse into the workings of the local courts is to review the Tentative Rulings from the Contra Costa County Probate Court on a daily basis. These are available online and can provide a great deal of information about the issues of concern to the court, as well as how the court tends to deal with those issues. The probate examiners are also extremely helpful, especially to young practitioners. MCLE is another good way to become informed. While CEB and other MCLE providers are one way to go, the C/G/P/T Section also sponsors MCLE programs throughout the year that focus on issues relevant to practitioners in this area. Section events also provide a great way to meet your colleagues. These events can help you develop a network of established practitioners who can serve as mentors, and can be excellent sources for referrals.

REFERRALS
In terms of referrals, the single best source is a satisfied client. This is especially true in this area of the law, since a satisfied client is a source of future referrals and is almost certainly going to require additional services as time passes. In addition, other excellent sources of referrals include bank/trust officers, professional fiduciaries, accountants, realtors, professional/service organizations, and friends and family. New or novice practitioners interested in this area should also consider participating in pro bono legal work, programs for individuals with limited resources and the court programs for court-appointed attorneys. The wealth of experience gained by such participation is well worth the time spent.

TECHNOLOGY AND RESOURCES
As soon as a practitioner can possibly afford to do so, it is highly recommended that s/he hire the most qualified paralegal available. A good paralegal will greatly increase the timeliness and quality of the service being provided, as well as increase profitability.

The development and maintenance of a quality website is extremely important too. Great for marketing — as well as an administrative tool for the basics of contact information, lawyer credentials, directions and parking — it is an electronic brochure to educate potential and existing clients about the philosophy and nature of your practice area.
Also important is the selection and maintenance of a database program that allows the tracking of client information as a practice expands. You’ll also want software to manage word processing, email, scanning, and access to computerized Judicial Council Forms. It is strongly recommended that a new or novice practitioner acquire and use such programs as soon as possible.

Norm Lundberg, president of CCCBA’s C/G/P/T Section, primarily focuses on probate, estate planning and post-death trust administration. He also practices in the area of health care contract regulatory compliance.

CRIMINAL
So… you just got laid off as an associate from a corporate firm or you recently graduated from law school. You want to practice criminal law — or at least it seems the economy is carving out this path for you. The first thing you need to know (if you haven’t already figured it out): running a criminal law practice is not as “cool” as is portrayed by the likes of David E. Kelley or Dick Wolf. The next thing you need to know: you are competing with dozens of local attorneys in the same situation. You are all competing against long-established criminal defense attorneys in this county, not to mention out-of-county attorneys. Then there are those large criminal defense marketing machines from out of the area, with their big websites and mass marketing.

So what can you do to set yourself apart from your competitors and thrive as a criminal defense attorney? What can you do to generate clients? If you have the luxury of having access to unlimited funds to throw out to one of the law practice marketing firms, then more power to you. For the rest of us, however, the bottom line is that we have to build our reputations as strong advocates for our clients and as hard-working trial attorneys.

There are two formal referral resources in the county for criminal defense attorneys: the Criminal Conflict Program and the Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service (LRIS). Both the Conflict Program and LRIS are somewhat dependent on your level of experience. As a result, you need to gain experience in order for these resources to produce any real income. These are great places to start and provide needed services in the community, but they are not the only way to generate business.

Generally speaking, a listing or small ad in the yellow pages — both print and online — is a necessary tool for a new attorney. Another potentially productive source of revenue is direct mailing, such as so-called “jail mail.” A website is important and can be maintained at a relatively low cost. Many criminal defense attorneys are also becoming active in Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These are inexpensive resources for getting your name out there and putting you in touch with potential clients.

If you really want to thrive as a criminal defense attorney and develop your practice, however, you should engage in a more grassroots approach. Get in the courtroom. Make a name for yourself. You need to get to know experienced attorneys, follow them around, sit in their motions, trials and pre-trials. When you do get a case, pull the time-waiver, set it for trial, work the heck out of it, and then take it to trial. You need to be fearless. As a newcomer, you will not make a name for yourself as a criminal defense attorney unless you try cases. Sit second chair in motions and trials. Ultimately you will gain the confidence of the attorneys, enabling you to litigate for them. Not only will you gain valuable experience, but making court appearances can be a decent source of income for a new attorney. Eventually, attorneys will see how willing you are to work hard, and referrals will follow. Additionally, the experience you gain will help improve your possible revenues through the LRIS or Criminal Conflict Program.

Another way to set yourself apart from your competitors and build your reputation is by engaging in a great deal of advanced continuing education. While you can thrive with the use of nothing more than basic technology in your criminal law practice, it is critical that you have at least a basic understanding of today’s forensic sciences. This can help you obtain clients by impressing them with your credentials, while enhancing your reputation as providing a level of knowledge and sophistication to your defense that your competitors may not possess.

In order to build a viable criminal defense law practice, you must do so on a solid foundation — your reputation. You must build it carefully and not compromise it. Couple this foundation with the basic marketing tools used by all attorneys and you will be able to thrive as a criminal defense attorney.

Peter Johnson, Chair of CCCBA’s Criminal Law Section, invites you to join the section and attend its MCLE events. If you need assistance locating experienced attorneys for mentoring purposes, please contact Peter directly at 925.952.8900.

ELDER LAW
The first challenge in marketing a practice in “elder law” is clearly communicating just what it is that you do and answering the question: What can you do for a prospective client?

It is important to make clear what you do and do not do since the term “elder law” is so vast and vague. What you cannot do is just hang out a shingle that says “elder law” and expect people to know what you are about.
So what does “elder law” mean? While there is no formal definition of elder law, most attorneys who style themselves as elder law attorneys draft wills, trusts, etc. Some handle trust administration, probate proceedings or trust disputes and will contests. Some do Medi-Cal planning and/or handle Medicare claims. Some specialize in litigation — financial elder abuse or litigating against a nursing home for example. Still others focus on conservatorships and will petition the court to establish a conservatorship, represent a conservatee, a proposed conservatee fighting a conservatorship or even a professional fiduciary acting as conservator.

Once your objectives are clear in your own mind, there are two “best” places to start your marketing. One is with your fellow attorneys. The Elder Law Section is a great resource, but you do not have to join to attend our local MCLE programs. Other CCCBA sections also offer topical MCLE programs, and there are many more offered outside our county. Mixing and meeting with other practitioners and letting them get to know you and your practice area is a good start.

The other “best” place to market your practice is with your current clients. You may be litigating a trust dispute and learn that your client also has an elderly family member who may need to be conserved. If that is your kind of work, no pressure, but let your client know that you would be happy to help if there is a need. If s/he is satisfied with your work, even if you are not needed in the future, s/he may be happy to recommend you to family or friends.
Get active in professional organizations. Give talks to local organizations. Volunteer for activities that will bring you into contact with professionals in related fields. Elder counselors, social workers, care managers, investment advisors, other attorneys, etc., can all be helpful too.

Obviously, nothing suggested here is specifically related to an elder law practice. You need to develop your own modus operandi — one with which you are comfortable. If you do not like to speak in front of a crowd of strangers, for instance, do something else. Try to arrange one-on-one meetings. If you previously worked in a firm and now you are on your own, make sure your former colleagues know what you are doing. Even attorneys who practice in the very same area may find themselves with a conflict and in need of referring a case.

Are there any particular technology or management tools that one should have in his or her office to practice in this area? To say that I am not “up” on technology would be a vast understatement. Certainly you want to have a computer research program that includes elder law treatises, forms and other books tailored to your areas of practice. However, probably the most important resource is another attorney to talk to and bounce ideas off. Phone and email, in this regard, are among the best technological tools for your practice.

Important, too, is a “tickler” file. This is not something that you use just for filing deadlines and court appearances. You need it as a reminder to keep in touch with your clients periodically — even if you are not going to charge for the time spent on communication. Clients need to know that you are thinking about them, on the one hand, and they need to think about you, on the other. Trust and probate administrations and conservatorships are obvious examples of matters that can go on for years. You want to be sure your clients are acting as necessary. If they are not, you want to know as soon as possible to help redirect them as appropriate. Whether your system is computer-based or hand-written on a pocket calendar, it is one of the most important tools you can have.

The Elder Law Section is user-friendly. We do not have formal meetings. Member¬ship entitles you to our MCLE at reduced cost, early notification of upcoming programs — ours and others — and input into our planning. We generally sponsor several programs each year. Topics range from the substantive law with which we deal to the issues facing attorneys contemplating retirement. We keep the cost and location as accessible as possible and welcome all, including students, practitioners, and those in allied fields.

Arlene Segal, president of CCCBA’s Elder Law Section, focuses her litigation and mediation practice on real property issues, trust/estate disputes, and financial abuse of elders.

JUVENILE
Members of the Juvenile Law Section specialize in the practice area of Juvenile Dependency — dealing with children who have been removed from their parents by Children & Family Services due to abuse or neglect. Parents and children (and sometimes other caretakers) are entitled to legal representation in these types of proceedings. Since the bulk of the clients requiring our services are indigent, most of the attorneys who practice in this field are court appointed.

The screening of clients for economic eligibility and the assignment of counsel is handled by the Legal Aid Society, Contra Costa Dependency Project (LAS). LAS currently has 5 staff attorneys and 15 private independent contract attorneys to handle these cases. An attorney must be affiliated with LAS in order to be court appointed to represent a party.

The Administrative Office of the Courts has set minimum standards for court-appointed counsel. All private attorneys under independent contract have over 10 years of experience is this practice area.

Our section provides monthly lunch trainings for its members. Please email attyrwr@yahoo.com with any questions.

Rhonda Wilson-Rice is the Chair of CCCBA’s Juvenile Law Section. Her practice has evolved over the years from criminal, civil, juvenile delinquency and juvenile dependency to primarily juvenile dependency law.

 

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