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March 16, 2009

Why Cold-Calling Is a Hot Idea for Marketing Your Law Firm

phone.jpgLawyers are supposed to be fearless, yet the thought of cold-calling for business is enough to send shivers of fear down most lawyers' spines.   Many lawyers believe that cold calls reek of desperation, while others reject them as undignified or unprofessional. 

But for all of the criticisms that cold calls receive, they're a hot way to market your law practice, if only because so few lawyers are willing to make them.  Moreover, cold calls offer an immediacy that even many social media sites can't replicate.  For example, let's say that you call a family law attorney to let him know that you're available for conflicts cases and unbundled matters.  The attorney may not have anything that fits the bill but may need someone to help out with overflow work on a contract basis.  Because of its interactive nature, a phone call allows you to explore these possibilities.  Cold calls are also inexpensive and efficient -- in the span of an hour, you can speak with five or six prospects.  By contrast, you'd probably need several more hours to draft a personal email to potential referral sources -- and there's no guarantee that the recipient would actually read it or respond.

Before you embark on cold calls, consult your bar rules.  Most bars prohibit phone calls soliciting business from consumer clients.  But these restrictions don't prevent you from contacting other lawyers or professionals to ask for business.  Likewise, if you represent more sophisticated clients, you can probably contact in-house counsel or an executive at the company to set up a meeting to discuss your services.

Once you've concluded that your cold calls pass muster under bar rules, below are some tips for getting started:

1.  Warm Up Your Cold Calls.  As a general rule, a warm call -- one where you can offer some plausible connection to the recipient -- works better than a random cold call, say, to another lawyer in the bar association.  Fortunately, with social networking tools like LinkedIn and online lawyer directories (including Nolo's Lawyer Directory), it's easy to find a connection to colleagues through their online profiles.  You may notice, for example, that another lawyer worked at the same firm where you once worked or attended the same law school.  All of these bits of information can help open the door. 

The other way to generate a warm call is to ask colleagues for people who you might contact about a matter.  Let's say that you want to let family law attorneys know about your estates practice so that you can help newly-divorced clients modify their estate plan.  If you have a friend who's mentioned a colleague who's a family lawyer, ask your friend if you can call and use his name. 

2.  Concoct a Reason for the Call. You're likely to get the best reception from a cold call if you can offer something of value instead of just asking for work.  When I started my law practice, I cold-called various professionals in my field, offering to send them a copy of a law review article that I'd just written.  Offering to send something made the calls less awkward and, in many cases, piqued my prospect's interest in learning more about my firm.  There are numerous excuses that you can give for making a call, from sharing information about a new blog to offering a checklist or ebook that might be useful to your prospects clients -- e.g., a consumer credit lawyer might give copies of a checklist on "Avoiding Foreclosure" to family law attorneys, whose clients might be on the brink of financial disaster following divorce.

3.  Get Organized.  Since cold calls can be uncomfortable, you're best off setting aside a chunk of time (mid-morning and after lunch work best) to make them in bulk, one right after the other.  Be sure to keep track of calls -- who you called and whether you need to call back at another time. 

4.  Write a script.  Cold calls can be awkward, so you'll want to jot down a script and practice it a couple of times.  Your script should include an introduction, your connection to the prospect -- and, most importantly, a question asking whether it's convenient to talk or if you should call back. 

5.  Think Positively.  If you're feeling desperate when making cold calls, prospects will hear it in your voice.  So think positively and smile across the phone lines. 

6.  Don't Quit.  Almost immediately, you'll get rejections or people who don't want to talk.  Just tough it out and try to finish.

7.  Try It At Least Once.  If you've never made a cold call, try it at least once.  There aren't any real financial costs associated with cold calls, so you have nothing to lose if they don't pan out.   Moreover, if you can muster up the guts to make a few cold calls, even a nasty opposing counsel won't seem quite as scary by comparison.