I’ve been working closely with attorneys who are launching web-based virtual law practices powered by VLOTech. I provide them with marketing suggestions and tips based on my own virtual law practice experience and share lessons I’ve learned from such wise attorneys as Lisa Solomon, Susan Cartier Liebel, Grant Griffiths, and others who have been generous in sharing their time and marketing wisdom with me.
One of the most frequent questions I receive from attorneys considering opening a VLO is “How can I be sure that I will get online clients once I set up a VLO?” I thought I’d share my response here for the benefit of others who are interested in learning how to obtain online clients for a web-based virtual law practice.
How do I get paying, online clients to my VLO?
The goal of a VLO is to provide legal services to the public online. From the attorney’s prospective, the primary goal of a web-based virtual law office is to generate online client revenue for his or her law practice. My VLO is my law office. I handle everything through the web-based system. It is the sole place where I retain, meet with and work with my clients. Some attorneys are combining VLOs with traditional law practices, so they will do a combination of meeting with clients online and in a physical law office. Others are taking their VLOs completely web-based.
So how do I get prospective clients in the virtual door? I use many of the same marketing techniques that any attorney would use after hanging his or her own shingle, except I market my VLO website address rather than a physical law office address. Most of the advertising I use for my VLO is free. Instead, I pay with my time and dedicated energy.
I’ll use my own virtual law practice as an example of how I began pulling in paying online clients. Right after my VLO launch, I emailed simple press releases to local papers and then to the technology, legal and news editors at the papers in larger cities in my state announcing the opening of my VLO. There are media lists that you can purchase online that will tell exactly who to email the press releases to, but you can do the footwork yourself which is what I did. I announced in my release that I was opening a virtual law office and explained why this was beneficial for the public, their readers. Editors realized that this was useful information for the public and helped spread the word. Once you get one article or even a blurb written about you, that article has the potential to be picked up by other media outlets. This is what happened in my case and the press spread from there.
The press releases are just one example. Each publication that came out regarding my VLO resulted in about two weeks of new online client activity. I also used and continue to use a lot of free online postings that direct people to my VLO. Of course I am careful about my wording in these posts so that I comply my state bar’s rules for advertising and avoid the unauthorized practice of law in other jurisdictions.
Some Early Mistakes
Initially I made the mistake of entering into a contract with Lawyers.com for a $2,000 a year listing that came with a tacky splash page to my VLO. Because I didn’t have the advertising budget of BigLaw or even a smaller established firm, I couldn’t pay them enough to get a “top” listing under any practice area categories and was limited to listings in the city where I am physically located only. The result was a total cost of $2,000 for one paying client the entire year from that service. Today I have the free listing with them which is satisfactory. I also have a free listing with FindLaw. These companies will try to scare you by saying that without a listing clients will never find you online in any search engines. Not true. You can build your own web presence if you stay dedicated to your marketing strategy.
Today I boost my search engine ratings for my VLO by blogging about my practice, by using free listings and by sharing my legal knowledge with others through forums, listservs and other social networking sites. Recently, Grant Griffiths wrote a blog post over at Home Office Lawyer about using blogs to pull clients into a home office which you might want to check out. I also donate estate planning packages or small business counseling sessions to silent auctions or raffles for organizations, such as MOPs, SBCs or other groups that might be interested in estate planning or small business assistance. This leads to referrals, but often not for several months after I’ve donated the legal work. Again, these methods take time, but they are free and have resulted in a growing client base that’s built on referrals from other attorneys and existing clients.
Ongoing VLO Client Development
Just as with any solo practice, I have to make an effort every week towards client development. What I do this month may not pay off with online clients until three months from now, but as long as I keep it up I have a steady client base. I think that’s pretty typical of most small businesses whether law-related or not.
Currently, the only traditional advertising that I commit to is for a local parenting magazine ad for $190/month. It has consistently and easily paid for itself so I keep it. Other than this local publication, the rest of my marketing is conducted online on a regular basis and is geared towards the entire state since my potential client base extends outside of the town where I reside.
I have created an online client development to-do list. At the end of every other week, I commit to going through each of the steps to maintain a steady client base in the future.
How Long Will It Take To Build A VLO Client Base?
To be honest, a VLO is not much different than hanging a shingle on a traditional law practice. It will probably take six months or longer of marketing the virtual law practice before there will be a steady online client base. However, it depends on what state the virtual law practice is located in and how dedicated the attorney is to his or her online marketing plan.
The clients are not going to magically waltz into the VLO just because you set up a website or blog and add the web-based VLO. It takes time and significant effort. However, in my experience, it is worth it. After three years of practicing law online from my home office, I find that most of my new clients come from referrals from other online clients. I can stay busy now working with clients on the VLO and be less aggressive with my marketing strategies. That said, I still keep and revise a business plan and marketing strategy, and stick with my client development to-do list to ensure that my practice will keep growing.
VLO Marketing Strategies
As I mentioned above, I provide VLOTech clients with more detailed information and tips for how to specifically market a VLO using online methods. I ask others attorneys practicing with a web-based VLO to provide me with the strategies that they have found work best with pulling in paying online clients to their VLO. Then I compile these tips to share with all of the VLOTech attorneys.
In addition to these tips, there are a great number of marketing resources online for attorneys to learn from. Many of these resources are geared towards the traditional solo practitioner, but they can easily be modified to apply to marketing a VLO. My next post will provide a list of these blogs/websites and resources.