The Farce Of Being First: How Attorneys Can Differentiate Themselves and Gain More Clients

Listing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a significant “first” is a farce. This is not to take away from the significance of freedom of the press or freedom of speech. I am referring to the order in which the amendments are recorded.

In the book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, we learn that today’s First Amendment was actually the third, originally. But because the first two submitted amendments were not ratified in two of the 13 states — because they were not universally supported — by default, the Third Amendment became the first. (The original Second Amendment provided that Congress could not give itself a raise or take a pay cut unless it took effect after the next election…a “long-shot” from what it is known for today.)

How can we apply this to the hierarchy of law firms and businesses — and the desire for some firms to be top among their peers?

The old saying, “the cream rises to the top,” is mostly true. But it is also true that you can sometimes influence this idea. While the lawyers at the biggest firms with large marketing budgets are often given more prestige and fame, you can sway people’s perceptions with clever publicity tactics.

1. Lawyers need to differentiate themselves because their practice areas are rarely unique.

Often, personal injury and malpractice lawyers seek to be first in people’s minds by engaging in an advertising arms race. Their competitor spends $50,000 in ads so they spend $75,000, only to be outdone by a $100,000 advertising campaign from another firm.

2. Then there are the attorneys who love to play to the court of public opinion.

They will create a publicity stunt in order to draw attention to the plight of their client. As attorney Mark Hermann included in his Above the Law article, “It’s easy to get attention…Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We do not want attention. We want good attention.” And good attention can come from another option. It’s called nurturing networking.

3. When attorneys build and foster a strong network in order to develop new business, it’s a resource that is better shared than kept to themselves.

This involves making introductions between two parties who might be able to help each other. And when a lawyer makes these introductions, with no personal benefit, all the better. It shows that the attorney is a generous giver. Those types of people become first in the minds of people because they show a sincere interest in helping others. 

Each of these approaches has pros and cons, potential benefits and costs. 

If a medical malpractice attorney appears to be an “ambulance-chaser” through the ubiquity of their advertising, then their reputation is about selling big windfalls and quick verdicts. They appeal to greed as opposed to justice. And why would you want to be the first in appealing to greed? Why not use your position to make a positive impact and carefully, strategically publicize it?

As an example, one of our clients is a medical malpractice attorney who has won lawsuits against hospitals for not following basic ER protocols in regard to improving a patient’s breathing after a trauma. Instead of continuing their pursuit of these lawsuits, the firm decided to set up a charitable group, training hospitals so that the incident does not happen again. It gained tremendously good publicity and reinforced the integrity of the firm. 

For attorneys who would rather nurture a referral network, they might write blog articles sharing their expertise. Their history of experience and unique perspectives can help elevate their status as a thought leader in niche areas. They can share these articles through their network, particularly those who refer business, via a regular email newsletter or direct message on LinkedIn. By being specific and different, it allows them to be first in their own arena. Often when the firm or its publicists shares these articles with reporters, the attorneys become known as a “go-to” source for the areas of legal expertise they concentrate in. 

We worked with an intellectual property law firm who partnered with major Chinese corporations to promote their businesses. We learned that those attorneys could help U.S. companies better compete in China because intellectual property did not have the same level of protection as in the United States. Through their expertise, they became “first” at helping American companies protect themselves in China and limit the risk of having their intellectual property stolen. This firm was not the biggest, but the publicity positioned them as “the best.”

All this to say, I hope this helps you “amend your strategy” to become “first” among your competitors. As you can see, it is not always necessary to spend big or join the advertising arms race to make yourself top of mind. It boils down to making strategic publicity choices and sharing your unique point of view.