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A Road Map to Self-Respect, Prosperity, and Stability. Establishing a Prosperous Law Practice

A Road Map to Self-Respect, Prosperity, and Stability New client flow is the lifeblood of every law practice. If you don t attract a sufficient number of new clients on a steady, predictable basis, you
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A Road Map to Self-Respect, Prosperity, and Stability New client flow is the lifeblood of every law practice. If you don t attract a sufficient number of new clients on a steady, predictable basis, you can t control your destiny. No matter how exemplary the service you provide your clients, your practice won t grow unless you regularly acquire good-paying, high-quality new clients. Being more talented or skilled than others in your area of expertise has zero value if you cannot attract new clients in a practical way. Many attorneys deny or ignore this reality, inevitably harming themselves and their practices. They desperately want to believe that being better, having better credentials, graduating from a better law school, having more experience, or having more integrity should be enough. But it s not. In this written road map, I present a different vision and an architecture for making that vision a reality. The vision I m talking about is that of a respected and prosperous attorney. An attorney who does not suffer from random or episodic income events and does not need to worry about where the next new client will come from. An attorney who enjoys certainty, security, and stability and a continuous and steady stream of new, high-quality clients. Establishing a Prosperous Law Practice My name is Harry Williams, and I started my law practice in Peoria, Illinois, more than 30 years ago. I was 25 and fresh out of law school, and I didn t know anything about running a practice or attracting new clients. Peoria is a small community of about 120,000 residents and is located about 180 miles downstate from Chicago. It has twice the number of lawyers per capita than almost anywhere else in the United States, so it s a particularly competitive environment. When I graduated from St. Louis University School of Law in 1982 and moved back to Peoria, I realized we were in a real recession. Practically no one not even large law firms was hiring. In fact, businesses were laying off people left and right, and many Peoria residents were fleeing to seemingly greener pastures. During the previous three years, Peoria s primary employer, Caterpillar Inc., had laid off approximately 16,000 employees about half of its workforce. One well-known local attorney told me that everybody was looking over their shoulders (instead of looking ahead) and that the only new business for lawyers seemed to be bankruptcy cases. There were no jobs available for lawyers or anyone else in Peoria at that time. There was a popular saying among local residents: The last one to leave Peoria, turn out the lights. Because my wife and I had one child and another child on the way, I needed to do something quickly, so I decided to start my own law practice. To learn exactly what I needed to do, I referred to Gerald Singer s How to Go Directly Into Solo Law Practice Without Missing a Meal. The book s central advice was to walk into other lawyers offices (without an appointment) and 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 1 of 10 ask whether they had an office available for rent. If they did, I was supposed to ask whether I could trade my research and writing skills for rent. If they didn t, I was supposed to ask whether they had any research and writing work for me to do for an agreed-upon hourly rate. I did exactly as the book instructed. I dressed up in a suit and drove downtown to the First National Bank building where my dad s lawyer s office was located. The name of his lawyer was Bernie Ghiglieri. He was the first lawyer I talked to. Bernie told me that he didn t have an office he could rent to me. He referred me to another lawyer in the building who didn t have an extra office, but was willing to let me follow him around and sit in on appointments so I could get a feel for what it was like to operate a private law practice. I divided my time between shadowing this lawyer and asking other lawyers if they would rent an office to me in exchange for work. I felt like a door-to-door salesman. After doing this for a couple of weeks, I found a very generous and good-hearted lawyer who was willing to do exactly what the book had recommended: rent an office to me in exchange for work. I still remember the day he agreed to rent the office to me: Friday, January 21, The First Five Years After I found an office to rent, I stopped by Bernie Ghiglieri s office to tell him the good news. He was genuinely happy for me. Bernie was an older, establishment-type lawyer who was well-connected in the community. He always wore a three-piece suit and looked like a lawyer you would see on a set in Hollywood. He had a beautiful office, with walls that were lined with walnut panels. He smoked like a chimney, so his office was always filled with cigarette smoke. The name of Bernie s secretary was Lois. She was in her fifties, and she too looked like she d walked off the set of an old black-and-white movie. She worked fast and was ultra-professional. If I could have cloned her, I would have. One thing stands out in my mind about the conversation Bernie and I had after I told him I had found an office to rent: Sitting in his smoky, hazy office, he said, Harry, it s going to take you five years before you re established, so try not to get frustrated. You need to be patient and stick it out for five years. After that, you ll be home free. For the next five years, I repeatedly replayed in my mind exactly what Bernie had said to me: Five years. Five years. Five years. I ve got to get my five years in and then I ll be home free. The Hurricane Years During the summer of 1988, I saw Bernie waiting to cross the street at the corner of Main and Jefferson in downtown Peoria. It had been five and a half years since I had started my practice, and I had not seen Bernie for several months Harry M. Williams Page 2 of 10 I walked up to him and shook his hand. Hey, Bernie, I said. It s been more than five years since you told me that it would take five years to get established. I made it. I did what you told me to do. I stuck it out for five years. Bernie laughed so hard, his shoulders started shaking. Then he looked at me and said, You know, I told you that because I didn t want you to get discouraged. The first five years are actually the hurricane years. It really takes 20 years before you feel like you ve got everything under control. So you have another 15 years to go. Then he laughed again. I didn t think what he said was funny. I was furious. What he said about the hurricane years took me completely by surprise. I wanted to wrap my hands around his neck and choke him. It took me a few weeks to cool down. I had to talk myself out of being angry at Bernie. I forced myself to remember that he had always been generous with his time and was a great mentor and role model. Over the years, he had referred several clients to me. When Bernie passed away in 2002 at the age of 80, I felt guilty that I hadn t shown or told him just how much I appreciated all he had done for me. It s because of Bernie that I always try to set aside time to help or advise young attorneys. That s the least I can do to honor him. A Flourishing Law Practice I beat Bernie s 20-year timeline by 10 years. I hired my first associate attorney in August At that time, I had a staff of four employees, and new clients and money were pouring into my office. For the next 10 years, it seemed as though nothing could go wrong. I ran television ads and twopage ads in the Yellow Pages for my personal injury and bankruptcy practice. I had a network of Realtors, mortgage brokers, and bankers who referred me business for my real estate and title insurance practice. By the early 2000s, I had two associate attorneys and eight additional support staff. Business was booming. Meanwhile, advances in computer technology, combined with the advent of the Internet and online advertising, were chipping away at my practice. But I wasn t paying attention to any of it. I was actually ignoring it. I was too comfortable and content with where I was. Unfortunately, by 2004, I realized I was being forced back into an environment that was unstable and uncertain just like during the hurricane years. Death From a Thousand Cuts My personal injury practice was the first to take a beating. Auto insurance companies had begun 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 3 of 10 using computer technology to share information on settlements and trial results. The sharing of information was facilitated by a software program called Colossus, which included multiple injury codes, past settlements, and jury verdicts. Prior to the widespread use of computer technology, insurance claims were valued by humans adjusters who went out into the field and met face-to-face with parties and witnesses, reviewed bills and records, and made settlement offers based on their own experiences. Colossus basically automated claims adjusters jobs. All adjusters had to do was plug in information about a person s injuries and treatment, and Colossus would produce a figure that was much lower than what a real (human) adjuster would have traditionally come up with on his or her own. And the insurance companies didn t flinch when my clients refused to settle for these reduced offers. After all, Colossus told the companies something else: When lawyers were forced to litigate smaller cases, they ended up losing money by spending more time and resources on the cases than was justified. The data from Colossus showed that after attorneys were forced to try smaller cases, they eventually learned their lesson and either declined future cases or reduced their fees and convinced their clients to accept smaller settlements. So of course the insurance companies won this battle. Their new system resulted in a substantial reduction in the amount of fees I was able to collect from my injury cases. While all this was happening, the profits generated by my title insurance practice took a dive. My main competitors, Chicago Title & Trust Company and Illinois Title Services, decided they could make more money by cutting prices, so they launched three waves of price cuts over the course of two years. They announced these by sending faxes to local Realtors, mortgage brokers, and bankers. And each time there was a price reduction, the people who referred business to me these very Realtors, mortgage brokers, and bankers called to ask whether I d match my competitors new prices. I had no choice but to say yes. My referral sources had to go with the cheapest price because they wanted to provide the best deal for their customers the individuals who were actually paying the title insurance fees associated with the purchase of property or the refinancing of a real estate loan. After the three rounds of price cuts, if I was making any profit from providing title insurance services, I was lucky. I closed down my title insurance department in I should have done it two years earlier, but I refused to see the writing on the wall. It turned out to be an extremely expensive experience. I won t bore you with the details of how my bankruptcy practice suffered in the wake of Internet advertising. Suffice it to say that my profits declined substantially because of my fellow attorneys predatory pricing Harry M. Williams Page 4 of 10 A Shift in Mind-Set During the second round of the hurricane years, I became a serious student of marketing. For those of us who are experts in dealing with clients, we know what to say and do when we get on the phone or meet face-to-face. What we struggle with is how to get potential clients to contact us in the first place. That s where marketing comes in. Marketing is what you do to get potential clients on the phone or in your office, properly positioned so that they are pre-interested, pre-motivated, prequalified, and predisposed to do business with you. One of the first marketing conferences I attended was put on by Dan Kennedy, a well-known marketing expert whom I later hired to assist me with my marketing. Kennedy opened the conference by holding up a $100 bill and saying, I m going to give $100 to the first person who identifies what business he or she is really in. Several of the 100 or so people in the room raised their hands. I heard a variety of responses: I m in the real estate business, and I specialize in selling commercial real estate. I m a cosmetic dentist. I m the owner of an Italian restaurant, and we ve got the best pizza around. I m in the business of marketing my CPA practice, said an older man. Kennedy looked at the man and said, That s the right answer. Come and get your money. Kennedy went on to explain that before a small business can really grow in any significant way, the owner must first change his or her belief system about what his or her primary job is. A business owner s primary job is not to provide the service that the business is set up to perform. His or her job is to market the service that the business is set up to perform. I immediately grasped the point Kennedy was making. Despite the fact that I was a much better trial attorney than the two attorneys in town who got the lion s share of personal injury cases, I was struggling. But they were getting so many cases because they were engaged primarily in the business of marketing their law firms, while I was in the business of providing legal services. And that s when I realized I had to adjust my focus. The Right Kind of Marketing The first things most lawyers do when they get around to marketing is look at what other lawyers are doing and then copy what they see. People do this in every industry dentists copy off of other dentists, chiropractors copy off of other chiropractors, and attorneys copy off of other attorneys. And it s a mistake and one that you should not emulate. If you look at what your competitors are doing, you ll see that their advertisements regardless of the type of media all basically use the same images and the same boring content. The 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 5 of 10 lawyer s name is in bold letters. There s a statement that brags about the number of years the lawyer has been practicing law. The wording focuses on the attorney rather than on clients needs and desires. Most attorney advertisements are nothing more than glorified business cards. The most important thing I learned about marketing was that I needed to have a message that focused on my potential clients needs and desires, not on how great I was or how much experience I had. This type of advertising is commonly referred to as direct response advertising, prompting individuals to respond to an ad rather than simply read the ad and move on. Here s an advertisement I came up with that followed the direct response advertising formula: Note the offer to listen to a free recorded message on a Bankruptcy Hotline. I got the idea for the hotline from a company that offered dating advice. I went outside the legal industry for marketing ideas rather than limiting myself to what other attorneys were doing in our own industry. I initially placed this ad in the Yellow Pages, when the Yellow Pages were still a good place to 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 6 of 10 advertise. The ad stood out among all the other attorneys ads, which had images of buildings and text about years in practice and offices proximity to the courthouse. I followed the same direct response formula for my websites at and If you go to one of my bankruptcy websites and click on any of the links Advantages, Bankruptcy Options, Questions & Answers, and Free Online Review you ll see how the content on each page addresses the needs, fears, and anxieties of people who are searching for solutions. Pay special attention to the Free Online Review option. When a person fills out and submits the free online review, the information is ed to my office. We frequently receive completed online reviews in the middle of the day from people who are at work searching for a solution to their financial problems, or late at night when they re at home worried about their problems. Of course, I ve also utilized Google Adwords and search engine optimization to dominate the first page of Google for local searches. Here s a screenshot of the first page of Google that appears as result of a search for a bankruptcy attorney in Peoria, Illinois: 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 7 of 10 The area that is circled in red is a pay-per-click ad that I m running through Google Adwords. There are two additional pay-per-click ads under my ad. As you will note, the headline of my ad Get A Fresh Start is an emotional benefit-driven headline that attracts the searcher s attention and compels him or her to click on the ad. The area below the pay-per-click ads that s surrounded by the blue border is an organic listing that does not cost me anything. The positioning of this particular Google result is in the top position because of various search engine optimization (SEO) strategies that I ve used to generate favorable positioning on the first page of Google. The area that s surrounded by the black border is the first listing of the local area search results. The top positioning of this listing is the result of a process that we use to optimize Google s local and map rankings. I ve made similar modifications to my website for injury cases. The changes have proved to be extremely effective in generating new client calls. An Accelerated Way to Grow a Law Practice In 2002, I joined a mastermind group organized and led by marketing expert Dan Kennedy ( The group consisted of three attorneys, a cosmetic dentist, a few Internet marketers, a painting contractor, and several other business owners. We met three times a year in Phoenix for two days each time. We each had a chance to stand up in front of the group to showcase the marketing we were doing and to bring up any issues we were concerned about in our businesses. Kennedy and the group provided phenomenal feedback. All of us benefited from the group 2014 Harry M. Williams Page 8 of 10 members wide range of knowledge and skills. Kennedy regularly stressed the importance of diversifying our marketing. Diversity equals stability the more diversity that is built into your marketing, the more financially stable your business will be, he d say. He didn t want any of us to rely on only one or two ways of marketing our products or services. He instructed us to use as many different marketing systems as possible to ensure that we wouldn t suffer if one or more systems stopped working. Kennedy insisted that I add additional marketing methods to my law practice so that I could achieve greater financial stability. One method he pushed was direct mail. During one of my presentations, he asked, Why aren t you mailing letters to people who have been injured in auto accidents and to people who are being sued and are in need of your bankruptcy services? I had no answer. But I did have questions: Wouldn t mailing letters to people who were injured or being sued make me seem like a high-tech ambulance chaser? Wouldn t the local judges and my fellow attorneys think I was unprofessional and desperate for clients? If you ve ever read Dan Kennedy s No B.S. Marketing Newsletter or any of his books, you can probably guess how he reacted to my concerns. If you re not familiar with the no-nonsense Kennedy, here s a summary of what happened: He launched into a mini tirade. He chastised me for being concerned about what judges and lawyers might think. And he made a valid point when he said, Most of those judges and lawyers would take pleasure in seeing you struggle and go out of business. The lawyers you re concerned about are your competitors! They want you to fail. You know that, so why do you care what they think about you? They re not going to give you any money when you can t pay your rent or make payroll, are they? Are you going to let fear stop you from doing what s best for you and your law practice? It was cla
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