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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    September 08, 2020

    Marketing: Don't Settle for Snake Oil: Learn Where Your Clients Come From

    Systematically collecting and tracking where your clients come from will allow you to make smart practice decisions that help you grow your book of business.

    Emily Stever Kelchen

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    People in general, and lawyers especially, like to know how things work. We all worry that “kids these days” don’t know that the food on their plates isn’t magically generated by the grocery store. We watch videos on YouTube of people sawing common household items in half just to see what is inside. And as lawyers, we know that the evidence we can gather will make or break our cases. Figuring out how stuff works is just something we do. This is why it is surprising that a lot of lawyers cannot explain how they get the majority of the clients who walk in their door.

    Although you might be able to figure out where some of your clients are coming from based on your conversations with them, systematically collecting and tracking this data will allow you to make smart practice decisions that help you grow your book of business.

    Don’t Settle for Snake Oil

    Before we get into the nuts and bolts of client acquisition tracking, a word of caution is in order. You should not, and realistically cannot, outsource all client acquisition to a marketing consultant.

    Outside consultants who focus on a print publication’s reach, Facebook “likes,” or website traffic are only measuring their success, not yours. Unless you can connect a marketing tactic to a potential client contacting your office, or better yet, becoming a valuable client, you cannot be certain that the marketing dollars you spend are really doing anything for your firm.

    This is not to say that you shouldn’t work with a marketing consultant or pay attention to the data they share with you. Just keep in mind that the most valuable data you have is going to come from information you collect in house.

    Intake Data Is a Veritable Gold Mine

    The most important measure of your firm’s client generation tactics is exact data on how many potential clients are contacting you, what percentage of those potential clients are ideal clients, and how all these potential clients heard about you. Figuring this out is going to take some work, and it is work that you are going to have to do in house.

    Emily KelchenEmily Kelchen, U.W. 2011, is the founder of Kelchen Consulting, a government affairs and legal marketing company in Flemington, N.J. She serves on the board of the State Bar’s Nonresident Lawyers Division and is a member of the State Bar’s Communications Committee.

    Begin by taking a closer look at your client intake process.

    Are you or your staff asking all of your potential clients the same sort of information? Probably.

    Is one of the questions you ask, “How did you hear about us?” It should be.

    The next step is taking the answers you get from each individual potential client and looking at them in the aggregate. If you use firm management software to record intake information, you should be able to access this data easily by running a query. If you have developed your own system for client management, you can still get this data, but you are just going to have to work a bit harder for it. You or your staff is going to need to take the information from wherever it is now and put it into a program such as Excel, which lets you organize and sort lots of information in one place.

    This data is a gold mine. It can tell you everything you need to know about the client generation techniques that are working for your firm. You can look back at the end of the month, quarter, or year and see how many people contacted you because you ran an ad in the local paper, attended a Chamber of Commerce event, or posted some compelling information on your website. This can help you figure out which organizations you should invest more time in and which marketing efforts are paying dividends.

    Because you are tracking this information digitally, you can break it down as specifically as you would like. For example, if a potential client says they found you online, but they later mention a blog post you wrote that really turned their head, you can code that as general online marketing or as website driven or note the topic area that drew this client in.

    You will also be able to track referral sources. If you ask a potential client how they heard about you, and they are a referral, there is a good chance they are going to mention the person who referred them by name. Mark this down as a referral so you know which portion of your business is coming from referrals generally, but also note who your referrals are coming from in a separate field. Every so often you can take a look at this information, see who is sending you clients, and then thank them. You can also decide if you need to spend more time or money cultivating referral sources, or marketing yourself specifically to them.

    Remember, the ways your potential clients say they heard about you should match up with the time and money you are putting into various client generation tactics. Looking at this data will help you make better marketing decisions and spend your resources more wisely.

    Not Every Potential Client Is Ideal

    You can take basic client acquisition data to the next level by tracking the number of ideal clients contacting you.

    Identify your favorite clients, and then try to figure out what they have in common. What services do they need? Are they people or organizations? Is there specific demographic data that they all share? Where do they live? Use this information to create a profile of your ideal client, and check a box on your intake form when a potential client fits the ideal client profile.

    If your client generation efforts are working well, you should see an increase in the total number of potential clients reaching out to you and an increase in the percentage of those potential clients who fit your ideal client profile. If you are not seeing an uptick in ideal clients, you can experiment with ways to better spend your time and money to attract their attention.

    Benchmarking & Goal Setting

    Most client generation techniques will not result in meteoric growth. Instead, the growth will be incremental and sustained over time. Set realistic goals on which you can track your progress with the data you have available.

    Almost any client generation tactic can be tracked, counted, and analyzed, but if you don’t have an end goal, the data means nothing. Some firms set goals based on the number of potential client contacts, while others prefer to look at revenue generation because they want to measure quality not quantity.

    Once you have a goal, begin to measure your progress toward that goal over time. Looking at your intake data each time you attend an event or post something witty on Facebook is going to disappoint you. Real growth takes time and is best seen by looking back over a longer period, like a month, quarter, or year, and comparing the most recent period to the immediate previous period or the same period last year.


    Being intentional about your goals and using the rich data you collect during intake interviews to measure your client generation efforts will ensure that you are spending your firm’s resources wisely.

    Meet Our Contributors

    How did you find your way to your current position?

    Emily KelchenWhen I moved from Wisconsin to New Jersey I had a few months before the next bar exam, and I needed to find something to do to help pay the bills. I got some freelance work writing for a company that makes attorney websites, and I liked it so much I kept doing it even after I passed the New Jersey bar and restarted my lobbying career. A few years went by, and I realized I enjoyed my side hustle more than my day job. I took a leap of faith and started my own legal marketing and government affairs firm catering to other attorneys, and I’ve never been happier!

    Emily Kelchen, Kelchen Consulting, Flemington, N.J.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.

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