Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

The Great Debate: What To Say About What You Do?

What to say about what you do?It was billed as the Great Legal Debate.

To-wit: How should lawyers identify themselves when marketing to friends, family and inquiring strangers?

Should they be specific (“I am a global climate change lawyer who focuses on North Carolina coastal wetlands.”) or general (“I do a bit of everything.”)

Legal Marketing sage Micah Buchdahl recommends the latter approach. He says you should simply tell prospects, “Come see me if you need a lawyer.”

This runs counter to what is likely the majority view, which says you should identify yourself by your area of special emphasis. That way, if listeners happen to later need advice in that niche, they will immediately think of you.

Scott MacMullan, a lawyer in Maryland who began the Great Debate on an ABA LinkedIn site, suggests a middle ground:

Maybe the happy medium is that we tell other lawyers what we specifically work on and we tell clients a more general picture of us.

But this seems to change when we are networking with attorneys that are not from our region. When that is the case, wouldn’t we rather be, for example, their “Maryland Lawyer” or their “Annapolis Lawyer”? It also might change if you are working with more sophisticated business clients who know their industry better than some newer lawyers who practice in that industry.

The idea being that if someone comes to you as their lawyer, you can refer them to a lawyer that you know specializes in their specific problems area of law. That lawyer you refer work to can then refer work that you do back to you.

Who Are You? What Do You Do? I think as more attorneys focus on one or two areas of law, the general comment may backfire because that contact may come to you expecting you to handle whatever issue they have and if that isn’t something you do, they may be disillusioned, if not irritated, if you basically farm them out. I think the specific comment would work best so that there are no misunderstandings. Judy Cox, Boston MA

  • [W]e used a hybrid approach, telling people we focused primarily on money law (bankruptcy, collections, debt problems, etc.) and handled some general practice matters too. We didn’t create an expectation that we’d handle all issues, but that we’d be happy to be step one. People really appreciated a few calming moments to get their hands around the problem so they could deal more effectively with the lawyer who would eventually represent them. This brought in both repeat business and referrals. Kelly Brady, Madison WI
  • I must be the odd one here. I say hello when I meet someone, don’t tell them what I do unless they ask and if we engage in conversation, I ask about them, finish with nice meeting you, take care. Lee Thompson, Columbus OH
  • Whatever you need, I want you to think of calling my office first. I have people calling my office all the time for referrals to everything from a good roofer to a good outboard motor mechanic…. Don’t feel compelled to explain what you do by other people’s terms or the definitions most lawyers have for different practice areas. Most clients don’t care about those definitions anyway. RJon Robbins, Miami FL

How do you define your practice to others? In general or specific terms?

It might be worth thinking about.

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He helps lawyers avoid some of the mistakes he made when he was practicing. Contact, phone 919-619-2441.

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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