Law is a not a kind profession; more so if you are a first generation lawyer. If you haven’t graduated from a top national law school with a decent rank and grade point average, chances are that you may be in a job market that does not want to hire you and you are looking to start a law practice, most probably with a senior counsel. I am not suggesting that litigation is only for those who cannot manage a job – but its certainly not for the faint hearted. A few years pass by and you now feel ready to start on your own – but only if it was so easy to develop a steady clientele!
The biggest problem you face is that you do not have grey hair and age to show for experience; something that acts as a big hurdle in convincing clients that you are more than good enough for the job and that you command a respectable fee for doing it. You obviously cannot bring age and experience on your side; but you can compensate for that by creating a brand out of your practice. It will not happen overnight, but these simple steps will send the right message to your prospective and existing clients.
1. Consistent Colour Scheme
Is your visiting card black and white, your letterhead blue, and your office signboard brown? If yes, it’s time to pay attention and make things right. You may think “how does it really matter” but it does more than you know. There is a reason that the Baker & Mckenzies and the Linklaters (read Amarchands and Luthras for an Indian connect) spend so much money making sure that every associate’s business card looks the same; all the letters from the firm go out on similarly designed letterheads and the same colour scheme is used across the board. I wouldn’t be surprised if the colours they use were chosen carefully after days of deliberations and an expensive outside consultant was brought in to get it right.
I am not asking you to take a loan and hire a consultant. I am also not expecting you to suddenly develop great designing capabilities and know which colours go together and which ones don’t. I am simply asking you to run a Google search for “lawyer colour palettes” (or just visit http://www.colorhunter.com/tag/lawyer) and pick something that you like and then stick to it. Use it every time you are printing anything for someone else to see.
2. Consistent Fonts
Just like colour schemes, the consistent use of fonts is crucial. You do not want to use 10 different fonts for different avenues. And this should not only apply to your stationery, but also to all electronic communications including email.
While picking a font, you may want to use something that is clean, well-spaced and universal. The use of a special font on your print material will not be an issue but in the digital world, all fonts are not supported universally and if the person receiving an email or a word document from you does not have the font installed on his computer, it will automatically get changed to one of the universal fonts which all computers have. Therefore, before going to 1001freefonts and picking something that looks “cool”, remember that you do not want people to see something else and you certainly do not want your document to get messed up because of the way font sizes and the spacing between two letters work.
Fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Helvetica, Courier, Garamond and Verdana are one of the safest and professional fonts around. And yes, no Comic Sans – that is not acceptable unless you are writing a comic strip. Check out these two webpages from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and W3Schools which talk about using the right fonts.
3. Quality Stationery
As a lawyer, you will need some personalized stationery which will be seen by prospects, clients as well as opposing counsels and their clients. While one may want to cut corners and save some of the scarce and valuable money, cheap stationery never leaves a good impression. It shows you don’t really care and if you don’t care about your image, you cannot expect others to do so.
It would not cost much to get your visiting cards screen-printed on thick paper with a matte finish or get a bundle of bond paper and print letterheads which you can then use for future communications.
Another important aspect which many of us ignore is printing your return address on envelopes and not writing it by hand. While it may seem a bit over the top to get customized envelopes, you can always just put a plain envelope (good quality) into the printer and print both the TO and FROM addresses in one go – just create a basic template in MS Word, save it on your computer and use it every single time you send something out.
4. Creating a Firm-Like Setup
Clients get a better sense of safety, professionalism and reliability when dealing with a law firm as opposed to an individual lawyer. I know that some of the biggest names in the industry today are known by their individual names but we are not there yet – so it will definitely help to call it “The Law Offices of Ashok Sharma” or “Sharma Associates” than a simple Ashok Sharma, Advocate.
It doesn’t take anything to do so and you are still the same lawyer who you were before. But it does send a better message nevertheless.
5. Getting a customized email address
How do you want your clients to see you? As the one on the left or the one on the right? That is somewhat the effect a small thing as your email address can have on them.
A custom email address is more memorable and sends a message that you are not just another lawyer on the streets. On top of that, if you have a common name, it will be impossible to get a Gmail or Outlook account without having to add a stupid prefix/suffix to your name. Do you really want your clients to send emails to Amit.email@example.com when you can have them send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It costs about INR 600 a year for a domain name like agarwallawoffices.com and another 1200 a year for an impeccable personalized email service from Gmail – that comes to approximately Rs. 150 a month – and the whole process can be completed in less than 30 minutes (I know because I have done this for myself and a few friends in lesser time). Not to mention, that a custom email address will also help you achieve the firm-like set up discussed above.
These are just a few ways you can start working towards creating a brand for yourself. To better understand the need for it, a simple analogy can be drawn from the way branded clothing is perceived to be better and more desirable. While picking clothes and choosing one’s lawyer may not be in the same league, a brand does leave a better impression and the psychological effects are pretty much similar – especially when most people haven’t had the chance to work with you yet and you do not have the two weapons which lawyers have been using to their advantage – age and experience.