Thursday Thinkpiece: Getting Clients—For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over

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Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton
© 2016 Merrilyn Astin Tarlton/Attorney at Work. Reprinted with permission. Available November 1; pre-order now and receive a 10% discount by using the code gettingclientts10

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers think differently about the business of practicing law for more than 30 years. This is an adapted excerpt from her new book, Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting out or Starting Over. She is a founder of, where you can receive “one really good idea every day.” Follow her on Twitter at @astintarlton.

Excerpt: from Chapter 5 “You, Online”

So, How Do You Look?

getting-clients-cover-6bThe first — and most important — marketing steps that any young lawyer must take are to:

  1. Decide what kind of work you want to spend your professional life on;
  2. Figure out what kind of person will pay money to a lawyer to do that kind of work; and
  3. Identify the characteristics that person will look for in a lawyer.

This should inform all of your marketing activity. It tells you what kind of work to look for, where to look for it and how you must appear so that the right kind of people can find you.

Once you know what type of lawyer you want the world to see in you, it’s good to have a baseline. What do they see now?

So let’s get started. Pull up the Google search window. Type your name inside quotation marks and hit “Enter.” (Run the search twice if you use different versions of your name — say, with a middle or maiden name.) And there you are. Scroll through it and see how you look to a stranger seeking information about you. Who does the world see right now when it looks at you through the online lens? What kind of impression do you make?

You’ll find the good stuff over which you’ve had some control: your LinkedIn profile; your firm’s website, complete with lovely photo and bio; links to articles you’ve published, blog posts you’ve written and speeches you’re scheduled to make. You’ll find the big lawyer directories. (Wonder what they have to say about you … ) You’ll also find some surprises, like unsolicited reviews of your services by former and existing clients — maybe even a few from former employees. (Hope they’re good!)

But there will also be some things you wish weren’t there: Facebook photos tagged by others. Goofy Instagram selfies you actually posted yourself. Ancient news items, links that go nowhere or, worse, connect to dicey sites. Letters to the editor. Complaints to city council.

Is there no end? It can seem that way. Merely one version of my own name right now brings up 1,750 hits! No potential client in her right mind will go through all of them. But still…


If I do that search on your name and rummage through a few pages of hits, the nature of your practice should become obvious. Will it? And if it does, is that the kind of practice you WANT?

Can I tell from the list of articles, speeches, biographies and news articles that you are a Colorado Springs trial lawyer focused on representing plaintiffs in sports equipment-related injuries — just as you want? Or will you look more like a lawyer who has bounced all over the place in the past decade — trade-marks, Brownfields, oil and gas, domestic and personal injury?

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but if elsewhere you’re presenting yourself as an expert in bicycle race injuries, be prepared to respond to questions about why you’ve been so fickle and how those skills translate — if at all. (And think long and hard next time before accepting that invitation to speak at a conference about trends in uncontested divorce law.)

Or maybe when I run that search, you will look like someone who doesn’t care what the world thinks about her. Three different LinkedIn profiles with your name on them, but none with a photo, and none with complete information? Five years since you’ve posted on that blog you started? Have you neglected to provide current contact information to online directories or professional associations, resulting in five different email addresses with three different firms?

Or perhaps I will stumble on the side of you that you’d rather keep from clients’ eyes. No client wants to know you celebrate July 14 by dressing as Marie Antoinette and storming the men’s room. Or that your Star Wars name is Bulsar Vulan. While you don’t want to completely sanitize your personality, certain things just don’t shout “effective professional” or leave the impression that you’ll understand the import of a client’s concern.


The good news is now you have a focus. So, before you jump into doubling your Twitter followers, branching into Tumblr or launching a YouTube channel, get your current act cleaned up, okay? Do a sweep of every social network where you have an account.

  • GET SQUEAKY CLEAN. Go back in time and eliminate rough language or references. You know what I’m talking about. Not just on Facebook and Twitter, either. Photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, as well as video-sharing sites, such as YouTube and Vine, may contain unflattering content.(While you are checking, watch for language that may run afoul of ethics rules.)
  • HUSH IT UP. Learn about privacy settings and change them to support the brand, or personal image, you seek to project. Don’t get too heavy-handed, though— people like to know you’re hip to the Internet and not a trembling wad of social media paranoia.
  • UPDATE EVERYTHING. Make certain your bios and profiles are totally up-to-date. Schedule time to update them regularly. Published something new? Elected to head a nonprofit board? Changed your name? It all needs to be current — and consistent.
  • PUT A GOOD FACE ON IT. Replace your headshot on the social networking sites with something a little more current — and not something taken with a smart-phone. Look as professional as you are. A smile helps. Pay for a good photo that conveys exactly what you want to project.
  • REDECORATE. Most social media sites provide a way to personalize your page with cover and background images. Do it but be tasteful; the image tells people something about you. Keep it fresh. Here’s an added incentive: Every time you change your cover image on Facebook, the new one rolls by in your friends’ news feed, providing another opportunity for you to reconnect with people. Or not.
  • WHO LOVES YA? You are who you hang out with. Is it time to do a little housecleaning among your followers and friends? Prune a few?
  • VISIT COMPETITORS’ PROFILES. What do they look like? How much information do they share? Take a tour (do it periodically). Potential clients will compare you, so why not know what you’re up against.

Now get started refining your online image — and that resume — into something that will speak directly to your ideal client!

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