12 March 2019

How to build your profile and practice

Published on 12 March 2019

For mid-career lawyers, the switch from legal technician to leading the charge for new clients can be quite a shock. In many ways, the skills required are entirely different. However, mastering the ability to attract new business is essential, in most firms, to making partner. Shelley Dunstone is a veteran lawyer experienced in helping lawyers develop their marketing skills. Insights spoke to Shelley about her top tips for building their profile and practice, lawyers she has helped, and what to expect from her upcoming webinar hosted by the College of Law.

“There comes a point in your career, often around 7 years PQE, where being a good, efficient lawyer is not enough,” observed Shelley. “Firms start expecting you to develop your own client base, or at least contribute actively towards the firm’s marketing efforts. The revenue stream you can bring is an integral part of your value to the firm.  Many lawyers don’t realise this and are taken by surprise when their career stalls unexpectedly.”


Pursuing an entrepreneurial skillset

Shelley specialises in helping lawyers in private practice progress their career by developing their ability to acquire new business.

“If you have a client base, you are more likely to make partner than the lawyer who relies on others for their work.  You’ll have the bargaining power to negotiate a better salary.  You are less likely to be retrenched in tough economic times.  And if you go looking for a new job, firms will be very interested in talking with you.”


Marketing for a profession averse to marketing

When Shelley was admitted as a lawyer in 1981, marketing for lawyers strongly discouraged.

“It was called ‘touting’, and that was a dirty word,” said Shelley. “I still remember my Ethics lecturer solemnly intoning, ‘never tout!’ Your practice was supposed to develop by magic – probably as a result of the school tie you used to wear. You were not allowed to advertise. There was a limit on the size of the sign outside your office. You were not even allowed to hand out business cards at public events.”

These restrictions were rooted in noble principles but limited the diversity and growth of the profession.

“First and foremost, I consider myself as a lawyer, having practised across a variety of fields, in law firms of all sizes,” Shelley said. “I’ve seen law firm marketing develop from zero. Today, we see lawyers advertise on radio and TV and even on buses and trams.  The legal profession has become much more diverse, and marketing makes it possible for everyone to succeed, even without a magic school tie.”

Indeed, Shelley has made it her mission to help lawyers master marketing and business development. Her upcoming webinar, Build your profile and practice: Marketing foundations for lawyers, is available for College of Law alumni.

“As part of the webinar, you will learn about the ten building blocks for building your legal practice, how word-of-mouth marketing really works, and what is (and isn’t) thought leadership,” said Shelley. 


Helping lawyers in distress

Shelley has seen first-hand what happens when lawyers lack a sufficiently strong knowledge of business and marketing fundamentals.

“A sole practitioner once called me in distress,” recalls Shelley. “He wasn’t making any money and couldn’t pay his mortgage.  He had a very diverse practice and some clients who were abusive and wouldn’t pay their legal bills. 

“I helped him identify the area in which he most liked to practise and recommended that he focus on and promote that.  His practice began to grow, and he had to hire another lawyer to help him.”

Helping to initiate such a dramatic turnaround is immensely rewarding for Shelley. Having completed her Marketing degree at the University of South Australia, she studied thought leadership with Matt Church’s Thought Leadership group in Sydney, serving for a time as mentor.

“Lawyers are often reticent about promoting their services,” acknowledged Shelley. “Some regard marketing as ‘distasteful’.  Sometimes this stems from concern about ethics.  In my seminars we address those concerns, helping to remove that barrier to engaging in marketing.”


Develop your practice by choice, not by chance

At times, her advice can involve acclimatising a firm to ‘soft’ marketing options.

“A law firm that was not actively marketing decided to take on board my suggestion of asking clients to write recommendations,” Shelled recalled. “The clients were pleased to help.  The recommendations brought new business and boosted the profiles of even the junior lawyers.” 

Shelley’s ‘Build Your Legal Practice’ model has been the result of two decades’ experience in consulting lawyers and law firms. She delivers seminars, coaching, recruitment, career mentoring, and helping lawyers to buy and sell legal practices. 

“It all fits together,” said Shelley. “Building a legal practice helps you to progress in your firm, makes you more valuable on the job market and eventually, for a sole practitioner, creates an asset that you can sell. 

“You studied long and hard to gain a Law degree, and the early years are a hard slog.  So why not aim to work in an area you enjoy, with clients you like to work with?  Marketing helps you develop your practice by choice, not by chance.”


Join Shelley Dunstone for this free online webinar held by the College of Law on 21 March 2019.