Catalyst Law Group is a full-service business and technology focused law firm, working with clients representing a wide variety of industries in San Diego. Based on the experience of the principal within the firm, who has been a successful entrepreneur himself, as well as working for medium and large corporations, the firm has been able to offer smart council for entrepreneurial as well as established businesses with a wide variety of legal services. It has expanded and contracted over time as a reflection of the economy and is again in growth mode, bringing on additional attorneys into the firm.
However, when CEO Tom Jurgensen saw the direction the economy was heading, he decided to take on the challenge to avoid the downward spiral. A little creativity was in order, and Jurgensen has always been the creative sort. He decided to become the “business strategy legal thought leader.” Rather than just offer services typical for attorneys, such as contract work and licensing agreements, Jurgensen is interested in working with his clients to identify issues that may come up further down the line once the contract is in place or the acquisition is complete.
As a result, Catalyst Law Group has expanded the work it does within the law practice to include more business-related consulting. When looking at a client project, attorneys ask themselves, “Now that the contract is in place, what is the next related potential legal challenge?” As experienced business attorneys, they are able to see things differently down the line and provide their clients with new insights into their business that the typical owner may not anticipate.
Jurgensen and his group find this particularly important at the beginning of a company’s life cycle. The Small Business Administration lists the steps needed to start a business and many of the tasks listed require some form of legal advice. Included in the SBA list are issues such as financing, purchasing a franchise, choosing a business structure, protecting business ideas, obtaining licenses and permits, leasing equipment, paying taxes and planning the exit strategy. All these issues are best dealt with by including an attorney in the process. In addition to the immediate task at hand, what are the legal implications to the business? How should the business itself be structured to best handle growth and direction as it relates to all these individual issues?
Setting things up correctly at the start is essential to building a strong foundation for the company. Along with the downsizing trends as seen in many small to midsized businesses, Catalyst sees a sharp increase in startup businesses. As people become less complacent at their jobs, or lose them altogether, they frequently feel they are better able to start their own business rather than rely on others for job security.
According to a recent article in USA Today, in the second quarter of 2009, nearly one in 10 job seekers gained employment by starting their own businesses. That’s twice the rate reported in the second quarter of 2008. Overall in 2008, an average of 320 out of 100,000 adults created a new business each month, which translates to about 530,000 new businesses per month. The SBA Office of Advocacy says statistics show that the number of very small firms (startups) with no paid employees typically goes up in an economic downturn.
Jurgensen calls this momentum an “explosion of entrepreneurship,” and sees a good opportunity for Catalyst Law Group to offer unique services beyond the traditional call of duty supplied by more traditional law firms.
Now comes the challenge. How do you get the word out? How do you change the expectations of existing and potential clients so that they come to Catalyst Law Group in search of not only legal solutions, but also business solutions that have legal aspects?
“There is always a legal dimension to a business action,” said Jurgensen. He is looking to tap into that piece of the market to help his clients avoid problems down the road.
The issue is traditional perceptions of the services that a law firm offers are difficult to change. As with any business, no matter how good an idea, if the clients aren’t aware of what you are offering, then it won’t take hold. When expanding business offerings, bringing on new products or services, expanding expectations beyond the traditional is always a challenging project. With Internet trends being what they are, using only traditional press releases out to the media doesn’t make the grade.
Timely business advice
Get out there and let people know what you can do for them. Tell everyone through speaking engagements, articles, white papers, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter -- whatever you think will interest your customer. Don’t advertise it -- offer information that will be useful to your client base. Give them something valuable and they will pay attention to what you are doing. This is what the social media experience is all about.
Farm your supporters: Catalyst Law has a strong existing client base of satisfied clients. Who better to be the first clients for the new business model than those who already trust the services they have received? The relationships and the contact information are already in place to set out the marketing campaign. No introductions needed.
Change the message: Does your website reflect the “old” you? Spreading the word through social media and other means of communication today are all designed to make people curious enough to go to your website. But if your site doesn’t reflect what you are doing today, the message will get lost in the translation, or lack thereof. Use your website to give the public your message about what you are doing. Provide them with valuable information that pertains to the new products and services. Give them additional reason to ask new questions so that you will have the opportunity to provide the answers.
Support your new claim to fame: Make sure you have the systems in place to support your new projects. Nothing spreads the word faster than a satisfied client -- except a dissatisfied one. If you are offering services that go beyond the call of legal duty, have the expertise in place to handle the action.
Catalyst Law Group is working through this process successfully. They know they can’t drop the ball and are organizing effectively for this forward thinking adventure. Just as they advise their clients, they have competently prepared themselves for the increase in business that they have already begun to see as they work to get the message out.
Zillioux is chief administration officer at Strategic Development Worldwide, a business advisory firm that helps clients bring their organizations to peak performance.