Using Personal Computers to "MailMerge"

by Kendall Callas

"Fortune favors the bold" is a saying that may lead to a competitive advantage for your firm under new rules for law firm marketing. On May 27, 1989, the State Bar's new Rules of Professional Conduct took effect, heating up the battle of practice development by approving direct mail. Rule 1-400, Advertising and Solicitation, allows direct mail by attorneys to prospective clients, offering an opportunity to those bold enough to buck the traditional attitudes of the legal community.

With a personal computer, word processing software, such as WordPerfect, and a laser printer, law firms can take advantage of a simple and effective tool for personalized, targeted marketing.

In many ways, the mail is an ideal medium for attorneys. Lawyering is a document oriented profession. Letters are comfortable and controllable. The technology is in-house and already in place for most firms.

While most other forms of client development require large chunks of time or money, direct mail does not. Direct mail is a low cost, low hassle tool for expansion and its cash flow characteristics are very favorable: initial costs are very low, especially if you already have a personal computer. Subsequent costs are spread out and no commitments are required.


New lawyers are most likely to benefit from this new avenue for client development. Exposure during law school to Lexis and computers will give them an attitude advantage over established attorneys who may be technology shy.

Large law firms are also poised to benefit. Many already have mailing lists in place for use in sending newsletters and legal updates to current clients. Mailings have proven a successful tool in cross-selling services and helping to reinforce client loyalty. Continued contact encourages referrals and repeat business.


On the other hand, resistance to the use of direct mail promotion is well evident in some established firms. "That's not our style" says Harriett Mullaney at the San Francisco firm of Dinkelspiel, Donovan & Reder. This sentiment is echoed by Margaret Peterson of Lukens, Cooper in San Francisco: "We're very traditional, I doubt that we would do that." Most observers cite the traditional mind set and inertia as the major hurdles.

A common fear is that solicitation of prospective clients might portray the firm with hat in hand, as if begging for clients. "We don't want to be stigmatized" explained one attorney who preferred to remain anonymous.


The standards are vague, complain many client development practitioners. What materials must be labeled as advertising? That is one of the first issues that awaits clarification. Andrew Guilford, a partner with the Los Angeles firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, has followed the development of the provisions over the last two years. According to Guilford, "The provisions are a little unclear as to what actually constitutes advertising. We do send newsletters and information bulletins to clients on a fairly regular basis ... It would be a shame if the new rules were to discourage this. We think it is a service which clients appreciate."

Must newsletters be marked as promotional literature? That's the question that Betty Valencia is now tackling as Marketing Administrator at Cooley, Godward, Castro, Huddleson & Tatum in San Francisco.

Most firms have decided to wait for the dust to settle before taking any action. Carol Scott, Marketing Director of Landels Ripley & Diamond in San Francisco, has taken a conservative stance; promotional mailing activity has been frozen until the issues gel. After studying the new rules, the firm has decided to label their two newsletters, one sent to current clients and the other to paid subscribers, with the words "Newsletter Enclosed".


(Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association, 1988)

Dear ...

It has come to my attention that your home is being foreclosed on. If this is true, you may be about to lose your home. Federal law may allow you to keep your home by ORDERING your creditor to STOP and give you more time to pay them.

You may call my office any time from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for FREE information on how you can keep your home.

Call NOW, don't wait. It may surprise you what I may be able to do for you. Just call and tell me that you got this letter. Remember it is FREE, there is NO CHARGE for calling.


For promotional mail, the letter is what most of us think of first. Of course, a personalized letter to each recipient gets the best results. But don't limit your options. Many firms already mail newsletters or "legal updates" to their current clients. Other possibilities include brochures, invitations, announcements, press releases, surveys, articles, holiday greeting cards, etc. An accompanying personal note from an attorney will, of course, boost effectiveness.

For years, newsletters have been a favorite promotional tool of many law firms. They offer a convenient opportunity for attorneys to showcase what they've accomplished for other clients -- with the implicit offer of "wouldn't you like us to do this for you, too?"

Newsletters vary in content and frequency. Remember to focus on your intended audience when covering new developments in specific legal arenas, brass-tacks articles about `how this affects you', year-end reports, and listings of your accomplishments. When you set the frequency of your publication, keep in mind the volume of articles you will need to generate and the impact this will have on billable hours. Most firms send out quarterly newsletters, though some publish 6 or even 10 times a year. Costs for publication range from 15 to 50 cents per page, depending on the paper, ink, number of pages, and postage rates.

Events might also trigger mailings. Changes in law or conditions of interest to your clients are noteworthy, of course. Announcements of a law firm merger, relocation, new partner, seminar, etc. are standard. Consider using the mail to acknowledge changes on the part of the addressee. It may be effective to congratulate them upon a birth, marriage, purchase of a house, retirement, sale of property, and so on.


Use a variety of sources to generate your mailing list. Collect names from the phone book, professional directories, and attorneys throughout the firm. As appropriate, mail to referral sources and clients -- past, present, and prospective.

Commercial sources of mailing lists allow selection of businesses or individuals according to income, geography, and type of business.

As you accumulate your list, remember to include in it all the information you'll need for your mailing. If you plan to produce personalized letters, you must include the words that follow "Dear" in the salutation. That is, Dear Mr. Smith, Ms. Smith, Sen. Smith, Hon. Smith, Rev. Smith, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, etc.


Law firm marketing is a niche game. With a tool like direct mail, you may be tempted to take a shotgun approach. Don't waste your postage. Instead, take aim with a telescopic sight. Give careful thought to the clientele you wish to generate. Focus on market segments to whom you can offer special qualifications. Analyze what groups you will appeal to. Are you a former architect? Have you written on the subject of toxic waste? Is your name Hispanic? To whom is your office conveniently located? Have you successfully handled hundreds of similar cases? Capitalize on your talents by marketing to people who need them.

The content of the letter should be carefully designed. You know your strengths best but its easy to get mired in legalese describing them. A prime dictum in marketing is to sell benefits, not features. And don't forget, while describing what you have to offer, you must also differentiate yourself from the crowd of other law firms. At the very least, have a friend or colleague review your materials. Consider buying time from a marketing or writing consultant.


The mail cannot project you; it delivers only your thoughts and materials -- so make sure they are of top quality! Although costly, color, graphics, or pictures, on your stationery or mailing piece, will make an impact.

Mailing labels are cheap and easy, but an original letter to each recipient gains more attention. Bulk mail offers the same tradeoff; it's less expensive, but an envelope bearing a postage stamp is more likely to get opened. If you are set on bulk mail, consider using pre-canceled bulk mail stamps rather than a pre-printed indicia.

Direct mail plants the seeds from which new business may grow. You'll get more blossoms if you nurture the seedlings with repeated mailings. A quarterly or annual newsletter is ideal for keeping your name in front of current and potential clients. Consider mailing a series of legal updates or letters explaining different facets of your work at one or two month intervals. Direct mail can help you establish a relationship and cultivate it for a payoff that may not materialize until years later.

Cathy Rath, Practice Development Administrator at Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges in San Francisco, suggests that you make a point to include a line in client communications reminding clients to feel free to call if they have further questions.

Prepare a system for evaluating the success of your direct mail and other practice development techniques. As part of this, the "new matter" forms at Thelen have been modified to provide data for tracking the sources of new clients.

Standard wisdom in marketing circles is to supplement direct mail with "telemarketing". However, cold call solicitations -- by phone or in person -- are strictly prohibited by the new rules unless a prior relationship exists. It is unclear whether this bans pre-mailing calls to confirm addresses, or post- mailing calls to confirm receipt.


Laser printers are ideal tools for large scale production of letters. They handle letterhead as easily as a photocopy machine. And they can use the same mailing label sheets widely sold for photocopy machines.


Regardless of what type of printer you use, if you are producing personalized letters, consider window envelopes. This saves the time and cost of printing the envelopes or mailing labels, and

avoids the complication of having to keep the letter matched with its envelope. This translates into definite cost savings over the long run.

Remember rule (2) above. Mailed solicitations to prospective clients must be identified as advertising on the outside of the envelope. Use a stamp, or include a legend below the mailing address, such as "Promotional Material".

For efficient handling, finish your envelopes first, then insert the contents. Before the envelope is stuffed and becomes bulky, stamp them with "Promotional Literature", if necessary, run them through the postage meter, apply mailing labels and postage, etc. And remember, a postage stamp is more likely to get your envelope opened than a bulk mail insignia or postal meter mark.

Direct mail offers a valuable weapon in the battle to expand your client base. The mail provides a direct, private opportunity to communicate with referral sources and potential clients. It's controllable and low-cost -- all you need is basic word processing equipment. If you can narrowly define your audience and economically construct a mailing list, your ammunition is ready. You don't need many bulls-eyes to make a direct mail campaign pay off.

Copyright © 1990 by microCounsel, (415) 921-6850. All rights reserved.

[ Home Page | Articles List | Top of this article ]