How can you successfully market a boutique law firm?

dreamstime_s_25805159 (2)The opportunity

“Many [BigLaw partners], perhaps half, could earn more than they do now and more easily in their own boutique law firm” according to George Beaton, Australia-based legal sector consultant, in a recent blogpost he authored.  I cited Beaton’s statement in a recent blogpost I wrote entitled: Should you leave BigLaw for a boutique?where I cited some of the challenges one boutique managing partner explained she’d faced when she began running her own firm.

The challenge

A comment to that blogpost by Mike O’Horo, Founder of RainmakerVT, a legal sector business development consultancy, highlights what is arguably the central question any lawyer considering opening a boutique must face head-on before doing so:  How do I generate new revenue?

As O’Horo wrote:  “How many BigLaw partners have any idea what it’s like to be self-financed, where the reality is that, unless you sell something, there’s no cash. There’s no “somebody else” to magically bring in enough revenue to make the biweekly checks good[?]  Most lawyers have spent their career avoiding business development. Suddenly, they’re ready to jump into an environment where it’s Job One? There’s a difference between building a sustainable business and building your own job.” O’Horo continued. “Few people, not just lawyers, understand what it takes to be in business for yourself. If it was easy, all the un- or underemployed in the world would be doing it.”

Three core solutions

There are three fundamental means by which lawyers can market legal services.  What most of us are familiar with is marketing via generating repeat referral business.  What is also used, often by firms of various sizes – from solos to BigLaw firms – is social media – to one degree or another.  And there is a third – outbound business development or “sales” as it is more often referred to in the business world – a rarity in BigLaw and even more rare in boutiques.

These three core initiatives form the backbone of what can be deployed – to varying degrees of sophistication – to generate new revenue for a boutique law firm.

What are best practices in all three of these?  Well – anyone currently operating a boutique or contemplating it – can begin by focusing on what are the best examples of each form of marketing I’ve just outlined above – then making the decision about which – or all – or some – you may wish to emulate.

  • In the case of traditional networking – which most of us are most familiar with:  I’d recommend reading a piece I wrote some time ago entitled: Effective networking for corporate lawyers.  Within that piece you’ll read information about how to make networking as time efficient and revenue positive as possible.
  • In the case of social media – I would direct you to a post I wrote entitled: American Bar Association (ABA) study:  Lawyers win new business from blogging – where I outline what I believe is the core social media initiative a boutique law firm can maintain – a blog – where I cite one of the leading boutique social media initiatives anywhere in the world: China Law Blog.
  • In the case of outbound business development – I wrote a blogpost just recently entitled: Top UK law firm BD team operates a “sales pipeline” – which cited Baker & McKenzie’s “sales pipeline” business development practices in London as reflecting the year’s best BD initiative.  Any boutique law firm can emulate this initiative, customizing it to the unique needs of your practice.

A boutique can succeed spectacularly

I believe a boutique law firm can succeed spectacularly.  But in order to do so – it must deploy the best business development effort it can.  Here I’ve provided what I believe are the best resources to guide anyone currently operating or considering establishing a boutique practice.  I hope they’re helpful.

John Grimley helps law firms, law firm practice groups, individual lawyers, financial services and governmental relations professionals develop and implement custom business development initiatives. To enquire about his services, contact him at +1.213.814.2855 or at jg@jgrimley.com.

2 thoughts on “How can you successfully market a boutique law firm?

  1. Good piece, John. (And thanks for the ink.)
    Most boutique founders (not just in law) who jump from a large firm do so with reasonable assurances from at least one anchor client that they can count on to cover their annual overhead. That keeps the initial stress level down, but it can also include predictable risks.

    Too many waste the financial honeymoon afforded by the anchor client’s commitment by having too singular a focus on delivering the service, putting off the marketing and sales part. Such unintentional monofocus results in complacency and stagnation that precludes robust revenue generation, and exposes the new boutique to potentially fatal risk if something happens to that anchor client or loyal buyer. In simple terms, their revenue is too concentrated in one client, which is a pretty dire risk profile that banks specifically prohibit in loan covenants, for obvious reasons.

    Lawyers would be well served to read “Only the Paranoid Survive,” by former Intel CEO Andrew Grove. He urges that we constantly assume that today someone, somewhere, is creating the disruptive innovation that will change our business. Extending that logic, lawyers should assume that today, somebody, somewhere, is creating something that will disrupt our anchor client’s business, putting our revenue stream from that client in jeopardy. If that disruption were manifest tomorrow and your client called you with bad news, e.g., “We have to reduce legal expense by 20% across the board,” what would you do? Have you thought about it?

    When you come up with what you’d do reactively, don’t wait, holding it in reserve against the day your client calls with the bad news. Instead do it now, proactively. As Mr. Grove said, “You can be the subject of a strategic inflection point, but you can also be the cause of one.” Whenever possible, you want to be the initiator of change, not one of those reacting to it.

  2. you make a superb point Mike. Any lawyer with his or her own law firm should pay close attention to your message. Loss of an anchor client can devastate a small law firm. And this is why constantly generating new potential client relationships is an imperative for the boutique practitioner.

Comments are closed.