Jun 16, 2010

Marketing by the Checklist

If you've come to this post expecting a checklist of criteria by which to evaluate your current marketing efforts or implement a new marketing initiative, then you've come to the wrong place.  Those kinds of checklists (especially a task list) are useful to be sure, because they make it easier to delegate marketing to a subordinate or assistant so that it doesn't go by the wayside when your schedule picks up.  But today, I'm addressing another category of checklist:  the kind that lawyers use, or at least should use, that outline the steps or procedures involved in handling the substance of a case.

If the "checklist" concept sounds familiar to you, it's because it's the focal point of Anul Gawande's book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, which has been the subject of many-a-recent blog post.  I recently finished the book myself and was convinced by Gawande's thesis:  that the "humble" checklist can minimize error in carrying out complex tasks by helping with memory recall and setting out the minimum necessary steps in a process.  Moreover, by committing routine procedures to a hard and fast list, a checklist frees up professionals to devote more time to the kinds of judgment calls that they always have to make, whether there's a list in place or not.

Gawande draws on examples from medicine, engineering and aviation to demonstrate how checklists can minimize error.  In the medical profession for example, a study showed that by using a checklist for placing a central line (comprised of seemingly mundane tasks like wearing a mask or body-draping a patient), the  the ten-day infection rate was reduced from 11% to zero.  But you can probably imagine situations in your own practice where a checklist - such as the essential elements of a personal injury complaint to a list of documents required to file a bankruptcy petition - could also help avoid error and eliminate the risk of dismissal of a case.

OK.  So you're convinced of the importance of checklists.  But what's that got to do with marketing?  Plenty.  Consider these potential ways to use checklists to market your practice educate your clients and keep your firm at the forefront of their mind.  Here are some ideas:

1.  Create a task-oriented checklist of all of the steps involved in a particular type of proceeding -- for example, a typical divorce dispute.  Post the checklist on your website or blog, or publish it online as a mini-ebook.  The checklist will help clients understand all of the steps involved in even a so-called simple divorce.  As a result, the list can help weed out prospects who aren't really serious about divorce, but nevertheless, eat up your time at a free consultation.  And where a client does hire you, a task-oriented checklist helps clients know what to expect, and also familiarizes them with the amount of work that their case may potentially entail - which can help reduce complaints about excessive fees down the line.

2.   Create a client "to do checklist" - for example, a list of documents that clients should bring to the first meeting or gather together for a bankruptcy filing or preparation of an estate plan.  A client to do checklist will help you to market your practice because it makes clients' lives easier.  Going through a bankruptcy or preparing an estate plan is stressful enough for busy clients; it's even more stressful if they need to keep providing additional information because they forgot to write down a particular item that is required.  Clients will appreciate a checklist that they can work from and they'll appreciate it even more if you offer it on your website and in both paper and computerized format, so that they don't have to keep calling for another copy if they lose the list.  Satisfied clients will provide positive testimonials, which if accurate and sincere, are one of the most effective ways to attract new clients.

3.  Create a post-engagement checklist for clients to use after you've finished the matter for which you were retained.  Even after you've finished a case for a client, there are still matters for which they are responsible, or that may trigger further legal action.  For example, even after an incorporation is complete, the client retains responsibility for filing annual reports and other documents to keep the corporation in good standing.  Creating a checklist of these post-representation matters will help the client avoid problems down the line.  And if you put the checklist on your law firm letterhead (or if you're feeling particularly ambitious, create a branded mobile app for a client to download a checklist on his or her phone), clients can always get in touch with you for follow up questions or problems.

For other matters - like a bankruptcy discharge or a divorce and child custody agreement - you'll want to create a checklist to help clients determine whether they need further assistance.  For example, after a bankruptcy, clients shouldn't be getting calls from creditors whose debts were already discharged - and if they do, they should call you.  Likewise, for divorce matters, a lawyer might identify a list of events - such as loss of a job or an ex-spouse's remarriage or relocation - that may trigger the filing of modification petitions.

Checklists are an ideal marketing tool:  they educate clients and enable lawyers to serve them more effectively.  Checklists aren't as flashy as a T.V. commercial or even a fancy website, but they're inexpensive and most of all, something that lawyers should be creating for their practices anyway.  So when you get around to making a list of the tools that you want to use to market your practice, be sure to include the humble checklist.