By BECKY GILLETTEThe trend in recent years for law firms in Mississippi and across the nation has been mergers and buyouts that lead to larger and larger law firms. But small to mid-sized law firms in the state are by no means endangered. They have strategies that keep them doing a thriving business in a state where personal relationships are highly valued.
“When business owners or individuals in Mississippi need legal advice, they look to an individual lawyer…not necessarily a firm, and they place their trust in that individual lawyer,” said Steve Williams, a shareholder with Young Wells Williams P.A., a firm with 13 attorneys in Ridgeland. “The strategy that we use is to encourage our attorneys to build relationships with people in the community and in businesses. We use our firm webpage to help people who are looking for an attorney to evaluate our lawyers and expertise. And when they hire one of our lawyers, they also get a law firm with over 50 years of presence and experience in the metro Jackson area and Mississippi.”
Young Wells Williams doesn’t use traditional advertising. Williams said their client base does not come to them from print or internet advertising.
“Our marketing strategy is to make our presence known locally in the Jackson metro area by e-mail newsletters with business information sent to clients and others along with a presence at and involvement in our community, whether church, school, charities or community events,” Williams said. “We provide our individual attorneys, both shareholders and associates, a marketing budget and allow them to determine what marketing strategy works best for them. Once a person or business hires one of our lawyers, the client has access to the support and expertise of all of our lawyers and staff.”
For advertising, they employ a mix of in-house and an advertising agency, the Cirlot Agency, for larger and specific marketing projects. They develop and issue their firm’s newsletter in-house.
While some firms thrive on specializing in on area of the law, Young Wells Williams is very diverse.
“We are not a niche firm,” Williams said. “Our strength lies in the fact that we can provide a broad range of legal advice and personal counsel to individuals and business owners about their business, domestic and personal legal problems. A client’s legal matters are usually intimately intertwined with personal issues that must also be resolved. As a consequence, the business owner or individual needs and wants an attorney with experience, legal expertise and personal empathy to help them resolve issues. They also want someone who listens and responds promptly to their needs. Our strength is that we are trusted advisors to business people with complex business and family problems.”
Williams said big firms have good lawyers and small firms have good lawyers.
“Again, clients hire individual lawyers, not necessarily because they find them in a small or large firm,” he said. “Clients want to know that they will receive the personal legal service that they seek. Find an attorney who is recommended by your peers. Ask if they have a lawyer they trust.”
Bob Montgomery, Montgomery McGraw PLLC, Canton, agrees good relationships are the key to success no matter the size of the law firm.
“We have the advantage of representing small and some larger clients, too,” Montgomery said. “For example, we have represented Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, which writes medical malpractice insurance for most of the physicians in the state, for 32 years. I have been practicing a long time. Having a diverse client base financially allows you to control overhead, which dictates what you make on annual basis, which is an important factor. We are pleased with our relationships with the many clients we have served over the years.”
Regarding advertising and marketing, they have a website and occasionally advertise, primarily to support civic causes.
“Otherwise, the primary thing is referral by existing clients,” Montgomery said.
Jonathan Masters, an attorney with Holcomb Dunbar in Oxford, said mid-sized law firms are able provide the services clients want in a timely and efficient matter.
“We believe Holcomb Dunbar can do that,” Masters said. “We have lawyers who handle corporate formation and contract negotiations, commercial real estate, debtor-creditor matters, and litigation from partner disputes to personal injury claims against a business. With those capabilities in place, we try to focus on good client relationships and accessibility. We make ourselves accessible and have the ability to quickly and accurately respond to our clients’ needs.
With a more finite pool of clients, each is important to us and their needs a priority.”
Another way they extend their capabilities is through our membership called TAGLaw®, an invitational worldwide alliance of independent law firms. Through TAG the firm has a combined global reach of more than 140 midsized law firms across the U.S. and in over 100 countries worldwide.
“So if our clients need time-sensitive services elsewhere in the world, we can quickly address that need,” Masters said.
Holcomb Dunbar primarily uses in house marketing, and occasionally uses an outside firm for more detailed and specific services, such as branding and strategic planning.
“I foresee moving to a dedicated in-house professional in the near future,” Masters said. “I’m seeing more and more mid-sized firms retaining in-house marketing professionals and I think having that readily accessible service in the building will be key to future growth.
“No single marketing method works for our various practice groups. We have web-based campaigns, such as AdWords, and, of course, we have a web page that is regularly updated with articles and announcements. We also have institutional type ads/sponsorships for Ole Miss Baseball (and I’m a baseball fanatic, so that’s an easy sell for me). At the end of the day, however, I think developing a personal relationship with clients and perspective clients is the best marketing. We regularly visit with clients, as well as perspective clients. We believe this not only allows that company to get to know us, but more importantly, it allows us to get to know that company and see how we can help that company to achieve its goals.”
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