Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Elise Buie back to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
Part of building a successful law firm is growing a client base of people who need and want your help and who you can help, all while remaining profitable. Though not every client will be the same, the collective is what is often referred to as the ideal client.
Ideal clients come in different shapes and sizes, so to speak. Therefore, to operate a law firm ( or any company for that matter) successfully, it is important first to figure out who these categories of clients are.
It might sound straightforward. However, this isn’t a seamless process. And, if I’m being perfectly candid, you will misstep along the way, as I have many times. After all, getting into your clients’ heads and your own is no easy feat.
But fortunately, I have found through trial and error that you can take definitive steps to make your search for your ideal client a more directed one. Here are a few steps I recommend you take to find yours.
Step 1: Create A Profile Of Your Ideal Client
Finding your ideal client, and there may be a few, as mentioned above, requires you to revisit your brand to make sure your ideal client is on point with the message you are sending into the world. This means first isolating your law firm’s mission, core values, and strengths. If you haven’t determined what these are yet, sit down to create a brand book that will encompass all of this information.
To get started, I suggest asking and answering the following questions:
- What are my values individually?
- What are my firm’s core values?
- What is my mission as an individual?
- What is my firm’s mission?
- What are my strengths as an individual, both personally and professionally?
- What are my firm’s strengths, including those who work at the firm?
Once you are solid on your brand, determine who your ideal client is — that group of individuals who best fits into the model you have created and who you are positioned to help. A helpful trick for homing in on your ideal client is to create, for each of the client profiles you want to take on, an avatar that can include demographic information such as age, location, net worth, and issues they may typically face.
When you have this standard baseline from which to work for each of your ideal clients, when you meet with potential new clients, you should be able to more easily (and in less time) determine how well they fit into your paradigm. However, there is a caveat to creating models such as these: It would be an unrealistic expectation to find a client that fits your avatars to a T.
In practice, there will be nuances that make every client deviate from the theoretical perfect client. Your job as a lawyer building a practice is to discern to what degree these deviations are permissible. To that end, you will need to exert a degree of flexibility in working with any client, even those who you deem ideal.
Also, you may have to make subtle adjustments to your avatars along the way, especially if more global issues, such as the recent pandemic or inflation, could have a bearing on an existing avatar. Again, a certain level of flexibility will be necessary, but not too much, as the purpose of the avatars is to provide you with a certain modicum of focus. Balance is key here.
Step 2: Market Yourself To Your Ideal Client
Now that you have an idea of the profile of your ideal client, you next need to market yourself. Whether you are using more sales-y direct marketing strategies, such as ads and email funnels, or more subtle ones, such as podcasting as either a host or a guest, webinars, or providing valuable information via a blog, your branding and message should remain consistent.
Since you have helped many clients that have similar issues to those your ideal client may currently be facing, they will most likely pose questions (whether in person or online, directly to you or indirectly through searches) that you know how to answer. Regardless of the forum, provide those answers thoroughly and thoughtfully, setting yourself apart as intelligent and insightful in addition to being friendly, charming, and empathetic.
By exuding authority repeatedly and over time and putting yourself “out there” in a positive light, your ideal client will be more likely to say a positive word about you in return, as well as seek you out in the future for their legal matters. The more you market, the more familiar you become with the people you want to engage with.
This response, aka payoff, usually won’t happen overnight. Marketing is a long game and gains momentum the more you engage, even if it feels like you are engaging with nameless, faceless people at the start. Hence, the avatars and the profile of who your ideal clients are.
Step 3: Become More Selective In Choosing Your Clients
Common logic is that more is typically better in the context of customers. However, what you have likely found managing your business is that every time a client comes knocking at your door asking for your help, while you want to say yes and let them in, you sometimes simply lack the resources, employees, and hours in the day to do so.
In other words, you already know from running your business that you may have to turn away clients. The issue arises when you have a full roster of clients, some ideal and some not, and you have to turn away an ideal client. Therefore, the key is to know which clients to turn away and when.
Many attorneys running small firms may try to maintain a full roster of clients as often as possible. But if they continually choose to take on clients that are a poor fit for their firm, then the quality of their firm may dip over time, while attorneys who are selective in who they choose to work with end up building law firms that can endure and ride out other market stressors. Again, the recent pandemic or a recession are perfect examples of this.
That said, when a client who is a poor fit for your firm approaches you, you still need to be empathetic. Your reputation and, hopefully, your integrity is on the line. So, listen to them, take notes, and redirect them to a different attorney who can more effectively help them.
In this way, you can help a potential client and another attorney while demonstrating compassion. Hopefully, the universe, via another attorney or someone who knows the person you helped and what you did for them, will redirect an ideal client to you in the future.
Step 4: Look At The Services You Offer Holistically
Law firms generate buzz through word of mouth, but being memorable requires more than just “winning” for your client. As Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So, instead, think of your clients as customers and provide exceptional customer service beyond the legal work they contracted with you for.
You can do this in various ways. For starters, promptly return calls. Next, listen to your clients’ issues empathetically and with compassion. In other words, be kind. Lastly, provide resources to help clients in other aspects of their lives, ways that can improve the quality of their lives overall. Your clients are more than clients; they are individuals like you who just happen to be facing a difficult time.
It is human nature to want to be seen and heard. Discovering who your ideal client is can help you define what it also means to be an ideal lawyer. One who is profitable not only because they are different but because they can make a difference.
Elise Buie is a Seattle divorce and family lawyer and founder of Elise Buie Family Law Group, a law firm devoted to divorce and family law and estate planning. A champion for maintaining civility throughout the divorce process, Elise advocates for her clients and the best interests of their children, helping them move forward with dignity and from a position of strength.