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Law Offices, Professional Image, and Marketing

Marketing is and always has been the number one factor that helps your legal practice succeed.  One crucial aspect of marketing is the image you portray through some often overlooked areas.  In this short but comprehensive article, we point out a number of simple steps you can take to polish your professional image, and make your firm grow.

Face it.  Financial bottom lines are affected by the fact we live in a world that judges a book by its cover.  Pretty singers sell more records, court cases rank higher in the news if the person is attractive, and politicians are elected based on their image as much any other factor.

Looking at your own industry, don’t you have to fight the public’s perceptions?  We see it on TV and in movies every day.  More often than not, young lawyers, paralegals, and others just starting out in the profession are portrayed as cheap, petty, low-rent, and usually called “ambulance chasers.”   

It’s not right, but this issue of image is one that you have to live with and learn to work with. 

Let’s cut to the bottom line which is this:  In today’s business climate, everyone should realize that a professional image is crucial to reputation and everyone could stand to improve theirs to some degree or other.  It’s what you need to do to keep your individual firms alive.  Therefore, let’s cover some opportunities for improvement using the acronym A.L.I.V.E.:

Appearance – Your physical persona and the way present yourself.

Letterhead – The level of professionalism demonstrated in your printed marketing materials.

Information – Accuracy and honesty; the keys to presenting the data gathered during a case.

Voice – How you communicate to everyone you’re associated with.

Education – The continual improvement to your professional knowledge base.

Appearance:  People base a large percentage of their first impression on your appearance.  When a client meets you for the first time, they’re sizing up your credibility, your ability as a legal professional, and deciding just how well you might conduct yourself in public.  As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, so let’s look at a few pointers.

l        Always dress in a professional manner.  For men and women both, the attire should be “business professional,” which for men means suit and tie whenever possible, and for the ladies, business suits, nice skirt and blouse, or dresses.  If you look unkempt or “second rate” the client will wonder how you’ll represent them while working their case.

l        A close cousin to dress is personal grooming.  Simply put, make sure your hair, facial hair, hands, nails, and teeth are all clean and well kept.  By the way, how’s your breath?  Always keep some mints handy.

l        Keep jewelry at a minimum.  Jewelry should follow the rule on colognes.  It’s best to smell of nothing than to overpower with the wrong thing.  A general jewelry guideline is no more than 2 rings per hand, no more than 2 thin necklaces, and either post or small-ring earrings.   And... you guessed it, visible exotic piercings or tattoos are out if you’re going to be taken seriously by the legal community.   The “Professional Image Dress” website at http://www.professionalimagedress.com has some good articles and checklists.  Also, you’ll find some good books and magazines on business and professional image at your local library.

Letterhead:  In some cases, the first contact someone may have with you might be one of your business cards.  For our purposes though, “letterhead” refers to any printed material (paper or electronic) anyone outside your office might see.

l        Business cards are a must.  Make them distinctive, but with minimal content.  Let your website or brochure carry the heavy content. 

l        On business cards, stationery, and your website stay away from trite, cliché, or negative icons such as someone running after an ambulance.  In your web address, phone numbers, or email addresses, stay away from negative phrases like “makethempay@mylaw.com.”  These might seem cute, but to many potential clients, they’re a turnoff.

l        For stationery, choose quality paper and have your letterhead and envelopes, as well as your contracts, professionally produced by the same people who do your business cards.  Make sure their color themes match.  Your local print shop or office supply store should have everything you need.  If there’s any one place you want to spend a little money, this is near the top of the list. 

l        If your stationery has a particular logo or color scheme, it should be reflected on your website, or vice versa.  As with business cards, your website should be an exercise in minimalism after it’s done its job of relaying all the necessary information about your firm.  Avoid animation, sound files, heavy graphics, flash, or anything else that makes your site slow to load.  Slow loading or “busy looking” sites are more an annoyance than an attraction.  Relatedly, though they might provide a tiny bit of pocket change per year, try to stay away from banner ads and other outside links on your home page.  If you have outside links, put them all on your links page.  You don’t want your client clicking off into cyberspace before they’ve read what a good job you can do for them.

l        Stay away from blank notepads and manila folders.  They’ll both get too messy too soon and not only will that make you look unprofessional and disorganized, but blank notepads make you look unprepared, and lost or disorganized notes lead to inaccurate reports and invoices.  Invest a little time and/or money into buying or developing a comprehensive set of forms or an organizer system to use while assembling your case.

Information:  In the legal business, the glass is neither half full nor half empty.  It’s 50%.  And, unless you know what’s in it, don’t speculate.  “Just the facts Ma’am.”  One of the biggest opportunities for a good impression, and naturally the most important, is the timely delivery of honest, accurate, information.  Nothing will kill your image, reputation, and livelihood, like incomplete, inaccurate, biased, or late case work.  Likewise, an inaccurate invoice can cost you by being either too low or too high.

l        Rule one is, always has been, and always will be, “Use a good case management system.”  Make sure everyone working for you uses the same system, and that your standards of accuracy start at the beginning, and continues through the whole case and through any follow-up you may ever have with that client.  Then treat all of your other clients the same way.

l        Use nice presentation folders for all your reports; even the “small dollar” ones.  Each client is important to you from a marketing standpoint and therefore deserves to be treated with respect.  Putting your work product on better stationery, in a well-organized format, and in an attractive presentation folder will provide a greater perceived value to your client.  These people have probably paid a hefty sum for your service and a more professional report will help assure them that it was money well spent.

l        With any kind of information transfer, the key word in today’s legal climate is “PRIVACY!”  Reassure your clients in your contract, and in your final report that your relationship with them is as private as the law allows, and everything you do in connection with their case, before, during, or after the fact, will remain confidential.  Loose lips not only sink ships, they destroy good client relationships.

Voice:  Voice is a general term used to describe not only the actual verbal communication you have with your clients and others, but the “tone” your business has with those it deals with.

l        When you answer the phone, do so cheerfully and actually smile.  You can tell when someone’s not happy to be on the phone and so can others.  This phone call might be your first contact with the next big client, so make it count.

l        If you can’t personally answer every call, the next best thing is to have a receptionist or answering service.  A person is always better than voice mail.  Go with what you can afford, but since the phone call is one of your opportunities for a first impression, anyone answering the phone should be trained to be courteous, cheerful, informative, and as professional as possible.

l        If voice mail is your only option, make the best of it.  First, be smiling and cheerful when you record the message.  Second, have the message convey your high standards.  Say something like “As we’re extremely devoted to all our clients, we’re probably working a case on their behalf right now.  However, YOU are just as important to us so please leave us your name and number and we’ll get back to you within the hour.”  Then, if you say you’ll be back to them within the hour, actually do it.  Prompt personal attention is a major plus in any business.

l        Education and intelligence are just as necessary as a cheerful hello.  You want people to know that you are every bit as qualified and capable as they could hope for.  Therefore, when speaking with people, speak clearly, and choose your words carefully.  They don’t have to be big words, but they do have to make sense, and grammar is important. 

l        The written word should follow the same rule.  Make sure your business cards, letterhead, brochures, reports, invoices, and all other written documents use correct spelling and proper grammar.  Though your client may be enamoured enough with your abilities as a legal professional to overlook a minor grammatical error, you never know who else of importance might see your report or correspondence.

Education:  Here we continue where your writing skills leave off and cover the actual knowledge or skill base upon which your legal expertise is founded.  Experience is the best teacher, but classroom education can certainly help keep you informed and up to date.  Also, the fact that you are continually updating your expertise is impressive to most potential clients.

l        Many states require continuing education.  If your state does, you should publish this fact in your firm’s literature.  If your state does not require CEU, you should still take it upon yourself to keep your own training updated and make that fact a prominent component of your marketing materials.

l        Join professional organizations where possible.  Many of them will offer various classes and training programs and the benefits of networking are considerable. 

l        Many online communication forums are professionally dedicated and will provide educational information and opportunities through either on-site or on-line courses, or through the hints, tips, and suggestions offered by members.  One good online communication forum is found through “Yahoo Groups” at www.yahoogroups.com.  The free registration is easy to complete, and all you’ll need to do is search through the groups using the phrase “private investigator” or other keywords associated with your specialty.

l        Keep your library stocked.  Many people learn as much from books and videos as they do in a classroom setting. 

As you attend some of these educational functions, take the opportunity to look around you and either further your own education on this issue of appearance by studying your colleaguesFeature Articles, or help improve the way they represent you by helping educate them as to the benefits of a more professional image.

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


About the author:  Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based investigative trainer and case management specialist.  In addition, he’s the creator of the case management system “The Case File” (found at www.thecasefile.com).



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