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Small firms find big payoff from PR

As the full-time communications director for a prominent south Florida law firm, Stacy Laffere organizes press conferences, issues media advisories and hosts community fundraisers.

She also coaches the firm’s attorneys – all five of them – on how to talk with reporters and generate positive press.

Many small law firms view public relations as unnecessary and expensive. But more and more are finding that, in the increasingly competitive legal market, a little PR can go a long way.

Laffere, 28, works for The Haggard Law Firm, a small personal injury firm in Coral Gables, Fla., that has built a reputation for winning sizable verdicts in pool drowning and negligent security cases.

Laffere writes press releases about the attorneys’ upcoming speaking engagements, major lawsuits and verdicts. She also seeks out opportunities to nominate attorneys and the firm for various legal awards.

In addition, Laffere organizes the firm’s annual charity walk in Miami to benefit research for
polycystic kidney disease. Michael Haggard, the firm’s principal, has been diagnosed with the disease, and several members of his family have died from it.

Jowita Wysocka performs similar tasks at The Fleming Law Firm, a three-lawyer criminal defense firm in St. Petersburg, Fla. As the firm’s marketing director, she manages the firm’s website, writes articles to submit to legal publications and helps draft press releases for the local media. She also heads the firm’s nonprofit organization, Lawyers for Literacy, a group of volunteer lawyers who help third-graders pass Florida’s reading test.

J.S. Lucas Fleming, the firm’s principal, said having a media relations program is essential in today’s legal market.

“About 10 to 15 years ago, it wasn’t as much of an issue, but now it seems to be,” he said. “As the Yellow Pages become less used, introducing folks to ourselves via our web page seems to be the way to go. But folks need to know about you to get to your web page.”

‘Hugely valuable’

Small firms that think media relations is only for big firms are missing out, according to Larry Bodine, a legal marketing consultant in Chicago.

“One good article in a newspaper that your clients read is going to make the phone ring for weeks,” he said. “It raises your profile in the community so that you’re a known quantity, and it’s much cheaper than advertising.”

Susan Van Dyke, head of Van Dyke Marketing & Communications in Vancouver, British Columbia, agrees: “Getting your name out there is really important, and having a third party seeing you as a credible resource can be hugely valuable.”

Paramjit Mahli, head of The Sun Communication Group, a New York marketing/public relations firm that works mainly with small law firms, said firms may think of public relations only when they have a high-profile case.

“They overlook that media relations has to be part of your marketing mix,” she said. “Every day, hundreds of small and medium-sized law firms are quoted in widely read publications, raising awareness of their firm and gaining credibility in the marketplace.”

Dominic Slowey, a principal at Slowey McManus, a Boston-based communications firms, advises firms to have a two-pronged PR plan that promotes the expertise of the firm’s attorneys, as well as the civic engagement of the firm.

“That’s a good combination,” he said, “Your name begins to circulate in the right places.

“The number one goal is to generate more business,” he said. “You increase the visibility of the firm so that the firm becomes a more recognizable commodity in the market.”