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Sunday, Jun 4, 2023

Weekly Briefing

With few advertising dollars, small- and mid-sized law firms often find it hard to attract attention in a competitive market. However, when the firms band together, they can afford expensive and effective advertising. For a monthly fee, a qualified firm can join First American Law, a nationwide network of law firms based in Los Angeles. First American first runs credit checks and performs other research on the firm to ensure it meets ethical and financial standards. If a firm qualifies, advertising and public relations services are provided. Gary R. Swernik, the company’s president and CEO, spoke with Lauren Hollingsworth about some of the difficulties of getting the first law firms to see the benefits of joining the network.

The first year, we spent a fortune in focus groups. Did the attorneys like the idea (of belonging to a marketing group)? It was a huge risk, both in terms of time and money. We’d go to law firms and we’d say, “We’re going to be building First American Law into a number-one network to the public, a Merrill Lynch of legal services.”

But we’re having these attorneys sign an agreement for one to five years. They’re committing to pay $400 to $800 a month. That was very, very difficult. Attorneys are trained to look for the negatives, so at the beginning they were a difficult group to sell to. We spent a significant amount of money on our marketing materials.

One of my partners is a big believer in doing research and focus groups. We wanted to do a video presentation, and the thing is, the ideas we thought would be best weren’t the ones the attorneys in the focus group were comfortable with. After we did the focus group, we had to go back to the drawing board. The first version of the video was a dramatization. Our creative people thought it’d be great. The lawyers thought it was hokey. “Just tell us what we need to know.” Just very straightforward. It was a lesson. That was part of the year and a half. The other part was working with the state bar.

The state bar is the only group in the state that can control lawyers. There are the model rules of professional conduct. Lawyers have to be careful of conflict of interest, misleading the public, fee splitting, client confidentiality. One of the big things (the state bar told us) was that we can’t go to the public and make them think that there’s one, big, national program. It had to be clear that we’re a lot of smaller firms.

The consumer, they don’t know where to go to find an experienced law firm. We’ve got standards.

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