How to Sell Your Legal Services Ethically

As a lawyer, there are certain things we can and can’t do or say. The state rules of professional responsibility dictate how lawyers must conduct themselves in practicing law. We can offer legal advice. We can represent clients in court. We can’t tell our friends and family confidential information about our clients, even if it’s really really interesting.

And with ethics rules come regulations on how lawyers can sell their services.

When it comes to sales and marketing, lawyers face as many restrictions as tobacco companies.

Okay, well, that’s probably not true…

But you get the idea of where we’re going with this.

Since there are significant restrictions on how lawyers can sell their services, today we’re diving into the do’s and don’ts of sales for lawyers. Every state is different when it comes to ethics rules, but most every state has adopted the ABA Model Rules in some form. So, in our analysis of what lawyers can and can’t say, we’re looking to the Model Rules for guidance.

Things Lawyers Can’t Do in Sales

Lawyers Can’t Cold Call Clients (who aren’t lawyers)

Rule 7.3(a) prohibits both in-person and telephone solicitations for business unless the person contacted is a lawyer or close friend / family.

Though it would probably be a great investment to have your own Boiler Room-esque team of trained cold callers seeking to bring you new clients, that one’s probably a no-no. If you have already hired a Boiler Room-esque team of trained cold callers, you may have to deliver them some bad news.

Did you see that ambulance driving down the street? You shouldn’t follow it and then tell the passenger to hire you. Also, if you’re doing this, way to go on proving the cliche.

Lawyers Can’t Make Unverifiable Claims or False Statements

No “false or misleading communications” as per 7.1 = Don’t lie. I know, right away that puts you at a big disadvantage over non-lawyer salespeople. But, you can’t do it. You’ll have to sell clients using your charm, and statements that you can actually back up.

Lawyers Aren’t Specialists, Unless They Are Specialists

You can only mention that you are a specialist if you are a certified specialist.

Lawyers Shouldn’t Use Comparable Characteristics

Speaking to “unverifiable claims”, you should also consider how this affects using certain language in your selling. “We’re the best immigration law firm in the city.” Really? Can you back that up? Because 7.1 says this kind of statement is misleading or false if you can’t back it up.

While your mother may tell her friends “My son/daughter is the best securities litigator in the county”, you probably can’t say that, either on calls with prospective clients or in your marketing materials.

Could you say “My mother says I’m the best lawyer in the city” ?

….maybe…. but would you really want to?

Lawyers Can’t Create An Expectation Without a Disclaimer

Successful lawyers love pointing to their track record to instill confidence in prospective clients. “We’ve won over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for our clients”. In addition, testimonials from satisfied clients can make a client think they’re making the right choice by hiring your firm. That’s powerful stuff. But, lawyers cannot create for a client an unjustified expectation of their case’s results unless there’s a disclaimer (7.3 cmt. 1). So, if you’re in a meeting with a client, you can say to the effect of “We won $1 million for a client in a case similar to yours… but every case is different and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.”

Now while this may seem bleak – “How am I supposed to sell now?” – there are things you can do and say to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Things Lawyers Can Do in Sales

You Can Cold Call Other Lawyers

MyShingle notes that cold calling does work to help lawyers get new business. Though lawyers can’t solicit clients directly, lawyers aren’t prohibited from reaching out to other lawyers to get new business. Feel free to cold call every lawyer in Avvo about how they should refer you cases in your state and practice area. That Boiler Room-esque team of cold calling salespeople I told you to fire earlier? Hire them back, but have them calling other lawyers instead (What this really comes down to is, I’m just writing this article to share video clips from Boiler Room).

You Can Use Non-Comparable Characteristics to Describe Yourself

You can be a “hard worker” or “zealous advocate” as long as you’re not “the hardest working lawyer” or “the most zealous advocate”.

You Can Sell Your Responsiveness and Ability

The two biggest questions prospective clients want to know about lawyers are: 1) Will you answer my phone calls?; and 2) Do you know what you are doing? You can and should address these concerns.

“You’ll be working with me, and not my paralegal. And, I make a point to be available to my clients whenever they need. If you get arrested at 2AM, here’s my cell phone number.”

Stuff like that.

Conclusion

Knowing what you can and can’t do in pitching your services to prospective clients will help you avoid any prospective ethical pitfalls.

Now go out there and land some new clients!

Image via scorenjor

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and VP of Web Services at Uptime Legal where he runs JurisPage, an Internet Marketing firm specializing in online presence solutions for law firms including website design, SEO, and search marketing. He has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

2 comments on “How to Sell Your Legal Services Ethically”

  • For law firms, word of mouth has always been the principal generator of work. This may seem surprising given the wealth of marketing tools at their disposal, but the reason is actually quite obvious. Both individuals and businesses perceive purchasing legal services as high risk.

    People generally don’t fully understand their legal rights, and if they do, making a purchase is typically an infrequent act, arising out of a situation of distress (litigation, divorce, death). So people look to friends, colleagues and ‘opinion leaders’ for their experiences and recommendations, to reduce any risk they may feel exposed to.

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