You must pay careful attention to your personal image if you ever want to receive referrals from your peers.
For small firm attorneys and solos, appearing credible is always an issue, especially in a B-to-B practice. You may be perceived as being less professional, or proficient, than your counterparts in bigger firms merely for being a small firm lawyer.
There are basic things that clients (and attorneys who refer clients) will expect you and your practice to have. These are signs on which your professionalism will be judged. Without these things, clients will not take you seriously and neither will referring attorneys:
1. A basic website describing your practice.
Unless your services are in such high demand, your skills so special or you only accept clients referred by trusted colleagues, you must have a basic website. This doesn’t require a $50,000 investment.
We’re talking about a nice, template website where prospective clients can learn more about who you are, what you do and how to contact you. It’s a place where referring attorneys can send clients to check you out. This is 1990’s stuff, and you can now do it with a minimal (under $500) investment.
2. An email address with a custom domain.
Nothing screams low-rent loser more than an AOL, Hotmail or Gmail email address. It may just be that you’re lazy, but clients and referring attorneys will either think that you’re too cheap to buy a custom domain or not technologically sophisticated enough to do so. If the former, expect to discount your rates, and if the latter count on the business being referred elsewhere.
If you can’t handle the most basic task of setting up a custom domain email address, clients will assume that you also can’t handle their complex legal matter.
3. A commercial office address.
Seasoned attorneys will think twice about referring clients if your business address is your home. Yes, technology has allowed us to work from wherever we choose, and in some cases, attorneys choose their home. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, clients who pay upwards of $250/hour for legal services expect that you will have an office where they can meet you.
For less than $100/month, you can get a Virtual Office package with an executive suite operator (like Law Firm Suites), where you can receive mail and packages and meet with clients.
P.S. If you live in an apartment building, changing your address from “Apartment 17J” to “Suite 17J” fools no one. The photo on the bio page of your website might as well be a picture of you working in your pajamas because that’s what your colleagues are thinking about you.
4. A landline telephone.
A big part of being an attorney is having confidential conversations with clients and adversaries. Have some respect for your client relationships and get a decent telephone. It’s disrespectful to charge your clients high hourly rates when your only means of communication is a cell phone or cheap VOIP phone with lousy voice quality.
5. A neat personal appearance and work environment.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, as a profession, we are not the most handsome group of people. Perhaps only accountants are worse off. There are some things about our personal appearance that are outside of our control, but we can do the best with what we’ve got. If you’re a slob, your work will be perceived as being sloppy.
6. “Dress to Impress.“
Keep your clothing neat and pressed. Get your shoes shined. Don’t keep a suit rolled up in a ball on the floor and then pick it up and wear it. Use a dry cleaner. Starch is a great thing. Don’t smell (of body odor or too much perfume). For better or worse, we are a superficial society. If referrals are important to you then make sure you look the part.
7. A mastery basic social graces. (don’t be an a**hole).
You may be a killer in the courtroom, but if you’re rude to clients, your lack of social grace will always get back to the referring attorney. Bottom line, if you’re a jerk, other attorneys won’t refer you business. These recommendations set a low bar, but at a minimum:
- Make Eye Contact.
You are being hired as a trusted advisor. Clients need to share sensitive things with you. Making eye contact allows you to make a connection with the other person. Not doing so is just weird.
- Firm Handshake
Clients are hiring you to advocate for them. A limp handshake screams insecurity and weakness. No one wants to hire a weak lawyer.
- Be Personable
You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but kindness and an ability to make people feel comfortable with small talk is important. Smiling once in a while helps too.
- Say Please & Thank You
Being appreciative still goes a long way
How you are perceived by your peers and clients will determine how successful your firm will be. Follow these tips and always make sure you are always putting your best foot forward, your practice will thank you for it.