Using Media Coverage to Grow Your Law Firm
[Source: Lawyer Business Advantage]
Using Media Coverage to Grow Your Firm with Christopher Melcher
Celebrity Lawyer Christopher C. Melcher, who is ranked one of the best family law attorneys in California, explains how to use media coverage to grow your law firm
Welcome to Lawyer Business Advantage. This podcast is dedicated to helping attorneys earn more money, get better clients, and spend more time with family. I’m your host, Alay Yajnik, founder of Law Firm Success Group.
It’s my pleasure to welcome one of the best family law attorneys in California, Christopher C. Melcher, of top family law firm Walzer Melcher LLP.
I’m so excited to have you on the show this morning because you’re a celebrity divorce lawyer, you work with a lot of celebrities in the family law space, but I know it wasn’t always that way, so before we get into all the celebrity stuff you do, tell us how you got started.
Sure. I think it’s important because I’ve been practicing law now, I think, 27 years. It’s always hard when you see lawyers who are successful and just like, “Wow, okay. They’re just born that way or started that way,” and no, I don’t think that’s true for any of us. When I started out in 1994, the economy was in the tank, and all the dream jobs that I thought I would have were not available, and not even the public defender’s office was hiring. Nobody was hiring, so I went out as a solo, no staff. I mean, for the first two years, I practiced in the bedroom of my parents’ house because I was trying to save money to buy a home. I didn’t want to be a renter, so for the first two years, as a lawyer, I’d roll out of bed in my little room and there was a desk and that was law offices of Chris.
That’s how I started. It was a rollercoaster to get to where I am now. It was a lot of work and I wish that I had help of somebody like yourself from the beginning because I just figured, “Hey, I went to law school. I’m going to learn the law. I’m going to do well in court and people will just come to me.”
It really wasn’t until I’d been a lawyer for about 10 years that I realized the business of law and that we’re not just doing this as an art, that this is a business that we’re operating for profit, and then I finally got help from a coach and that turned it around for me. Gee, I wish I would’ve done that from day one.
That’s awesome to hear, Christopher. Take me through that process of working with that coach. What were some of the breakthroughs or the aha moments or changes that they were able to help you make?
It was really helping to focus, and it’s still something that I struggle with a bit now because I think a lot of lawyers, we just dive into something, we’re passionate about it, we just want to own it, and we want to do everything.
What this coach had helped me with is to understand being more intentional, like, “Okay, I’m not going to speak at every conference. I’m not going to join every committee. I’m not going to write every article,” which is what I was just trying to do is just push a lot of content, meet a lot of people, and he was trying to slow me down to say, “Hey, why are you doing this? How much time is it going to take you to do this and what do you expect to get in return for it and what is your overall plan? How does this fit your plan?”
Because before, I’m still guilty of this, honestly, but I’d use the shotgun approach and just, well, “I’m just going to do everything and hope that something sticks,” but we’re all very busy, and every moment that we spend on marketing, business development, whatever you’re going to call it, is a moment that you can’t spend billing, and more importantly, moments that you can’t spend with your family, friends, or doing a hobby.
Absolutely. Attorney entrepreneurs, I hope you heard that, what Christopher was saying, because he is spot on.
Time is, and you’ve heard me say this in the podcast over and over again, time is your most precious asset. You can’t get it more of it, you can’t save it up, and it just goes. With that in mind, marketing is an investment. It’s an investment of time, it’s an investment of money, and you need to get a return on that investment.
Speaking of marketing, I know, Christopher, if you could, tell us a little bit about your firm and what you’ve grown to now and how you were able to use media to fuel some of that growth.
Sure. I practice in the area of family law, so I’m handling large divorce cases in California. These are people who are fighting over lots of money and their kids and they can’t solve their problems on their own and so I’m sitting there litigating those cases at the trial and appellate level. We have nine lawyers at the moment, plus staff, are based in Los Angeles, but I do handle cases statewide, and it’s been a great practice. I never thought I would go into family law. I wanted to do corporate securities law when I got out of law school, but it just wasn’t happening for me.
I kind of fell into this because when I had my finally got my office, the guy down the hall from me, Peter M. Walzer, was a solo top family law attorney, and he had a niche practice of representing some wealthier folks. He’s 15 years older than I am. He and I got to know each other and he was looking to bring on an associate at that time, and fortunately, I was open to the idea. I was doing criminal defense at that moment and struggling with it, and luckily, I had the openness of mind to say, “Hey, I will look at this other practice area,” and I am so glad that I did because it’s a very profitable area, but more importantly, you can’t get bored doing family law because we have everything involved in a divorce and we have a lot of client contact that you don’t get in other practice areas, so it’s a really good thing, and so that was my evolution as a lawyer.
Then looking at getting my message out and what’s worked the best for me is more hand-to-hand marketing, which is going to speak at conferences, so I would do continuing legal education for other lawyers, who are actually my best referral source, so I’ve spoken at over 200 CLE events. I’ve wrote in books and articles on family law. I’ve joined a bunch of family law committees. Then I go to all the family law events and networking, and that’s primarily how I brought in my business, but I realized that I need to get my message out there to a wider audience. The hand-to-hand is very powerful because you’re building a relationship with somebody who knows about you, trusts you, is going to refer to you, but then also, you really got to get known more. That’s where I would look to traditional media.
When I was a younger lawyer, I remember seeing these talking head lawyers on the news breaking down legal stories, and I thought, “Gee, I would like to do that.” But I was too young, I was inexperienced, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I said, “Maybe one day.” That’s another mistake that lawyers wake. We always say, and when I’m coaching or mentor folks, it’s always, “Well, I got to get my resume built. Maybe in 10 years I will do.”
No, you can do that right out the gate and you will build your resume doing that, but you can’t hold yourself back. I held myself back for a while and eventually said, “Okay, I’m going to do this,” and then started pitching media stories for network news on legal issues, trending legal issues, or breaking news, and it’s taken a long time, but there is also a good payoff from it.
Christopher, a couple of things you said there that really stood out to me is you hesitated for a little bit, but then you just went for it. You didn’t take necessarily all the time in the world to get it perfect. You realized that you had to take action now and that things would get better and better the more that you did them. But how did you actually start, or how does one get started as a source in media?
Sure. There’s various ways to do that. Some are more expensive than others. The first thing that I started with was a publicist because I just wanted to get it kickstarted, and so I had noticed in my practice a lot of people breaking up on Valentine’s Day because it’s very hard to hide an affair, “Honey, I got to work late tonight,” so there’s breakups that happen around that day, so earlier in the year, I said, “Hey, I’m going to start pitching this story, and maybe that’s a legal trend that they could do on a Valentine’s Day news show,” and so we pitched it and it went nowhere, literally got no traction on that story.
But one of the people that we pitched it to said, “Hey, we have this other story,” and it was Anthony Weiner, who was a Congressman who got into trouble, and Nightline, which is a national news show, was doing a story on how’s social media can be used to track or expose an affair, and they needed a legal person to talk about it, and they said, “Well, hey, I don’t like your Valentine’s pitch, but I’ll take you for that.”
That was one of the lessons, that you can really have this great idea and pushing it, but they may not like that one, but they may like you for something else, so you have to be persistent.
A publicist will help, but they’re expensive. I think if you’re going to start off with this, if I was going to start off with it again, of course, it’s easier because I know a lot now…
I would just start with Twitter because the reporters, the journalists are on Twitter, that’s their social media platform of choice, so if you want to start off on this and you have your niche practice, you know breaking legal news stories that you want to talk about, you know trends in your industry that you want to talk about, just start tweeting about it because the journalists will then eventually pick that up. Follow them, you could direct message them, because you just search for… I would start as local as possible, so don’t go to the big national news outlets because they got a lot of attention. Go to the most local newspaper, media outlet, local TV show. Search on Twitter for producers, writers journalists at that outlet. Hit them up with a message saying, “Hey, this is who I am, and I have comments about this breaking story,” or, “I’m seeing a trend in my industry.”
Again, they may not like your pitch for that, but they may say, “Hey, I’m working on something else,” because they’re all working on four, five stories a day.
They got to pump out a lot of content, and if you come to them with something on a platter, they may say, “Ooh, I love it. I’ll take that,” or they may say, “Hey, I don’t like that, but I am working on this other story and I’m trying to figure this out,” or, “I need a comment for that story. Would you give me that?” Then you’ve built a relationship. That’s how I would do it for free.
That is terrific, Christopher. Thank you for sharing that with us. Attorney entrepreneurs, Christopher’s just laid out a very simple blueprint that you can follow, using Twitter to get started as a source in media. Christopher, that was fantastic. Let’s fast forward now. Let’s say an attorney has now built that relationship. They’ve had some coverage, they’re really excited about it, and they’re really happy. They’ve sent that all out to their social media channels. How do they leverage it from there?
One other point, a warning, I would say on this: This is not for the faint of heart because you’re going to find your yourself on live television being asked questions and having to answer them. I like that. I like that adrenaline rush of it, but you have to like that to be a maniac about that, or you’re going to be on a phone interview, and so your comments are going to be taken and put out there, and you really got to think quick and accurately.
The other thing is you got to drop everything because these reporters are following all these stories and they got deadlines they got to push out.
So, they’re getting in front of the story because a day later, it’s not news anymore, so this is something that I’ve had to learn is that I got to drop everything, cancel appointments, whatever to respond to this reporter, so if you say, “I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” you might as well just say no.
That’s the investment part of it. Now, the leverage part of it. Say you’ve done this and now you’ve got on your local TV show. Now, don’t expect the phone to ring. That’s another fallacy, think, “Hey, I was on the news, and all of a sudden, the phone’s going to ring.” The phone will not ring. Maybe your mom or your buddy or somebody’s going to say, “Hey, I saw you on the news,” so that’s pretty cool, you can feel good about that, but it’s not going to bring you in business from the live episode.
The leverage comes from the tape of it or the reprint of it. If it’s a live TV show, you’re going to get a clip. You can either order it or they may put it up on their website already, so you get the clip, and then you share that over social media because the people listening live, they don’t care who you are. They care about the story, so they’re not really paying attention to your name. This is irrelevant. They want to know the story. But once you have the clip, now you have video of you speaking, which you can now use for all different kinds of purposes, so you can put it on your website. You can put it on your social media and push it out there.
That’s super important because your audience that already knows you now needs to be reminded, “Hey, you’re still out there doing business. You’re still a great lawyer.” They may have forgotten about you because they haven’t talked to you in a couple months, but now you have a reason to connect with them, to saying, “Hey, I was on this news story, check this out about this story,” whatever. You’re not the doing in a boastful way. You’re kind of pushing the story, but the hidden message is, “Hey, I was on the news. I’m a thought leader in this industry.”
It’s a very good thing to connect you with that legal story. It’s instant credibility, so the moment you’re on the news, even though, honestly, it’s not that hard to get on the news, it’s instant credibility because they’re going to think, “Oh, well, they vetted you because you must really know what you’re talking about,” so you’re now pushing that out on your social media, you’re pushing it on your webpage, you’re pushing it on your newsletters. You’re getting all different kinds of uses out of it.
Where I think that the power is, not only just of that, to remind your already present audience of referral base, it’s for potential clients.
The power that I’m seeing here is the more that we can think like a potential client, the more likely it is that we are going to be on message for those folks, so if you would imagine what it would be like if you knew no lawyers and you knew nothing about some area of law, but you had to hire yourself, you had to hire the lawyer that did your practice area.
Just go on Google and start searching as if you know nothing about this and see what you’re going to come up and you’re going to see competitors of yours that probably maybe aren’t very good lawyers, but how would the potential client know that? You’re going to see maybe lawyers that you’re going to be like, “Wow, that person is really a good specialist. That’s who I would hire,” but their bio just says, “This is where I went to college, law school, and how long I’ve been practicing.” It tells you nothing. But what is more powerful is if you went to that by and there was a video of them speaking. Now, as the potential client, I would say, “Wow, okay. This is somebody who I would want speaking for me in court because they’re really articulate. I’m not going to have to waste time to go pay for a consult and arrange it to see that this person may know what they’re doing as a lawyer, but they’re not a good spokesperson for me.” The video has all of that data in there for free for your audience to see, “Hey, hire me.”
Rarely people are doing that, so it’s extremely powerful. Every interview that you do, you’re going to get a video clip of this, so you can then amass a lot of web presence as a result. When people are checking you out, they see all this, a lot of credibility, and then also, the newsprint media, you’ll have that blasted out there, too, so that’s where the power is. It’s not from the live performance of the news thing, it’s from the after-effects of it and the sharing of that clip.
Yes, the social proof element of that is huge, particularly if you’ve built up a half dozen or more of those.
It’s really hard to argue and think to yourself, “Oh, this attorney doesn’t know what they’re doing,” if you’ve got a whole page of news videos where they’ve been speaking on and brought in as an expert.
That is a thing, when they bring an attorney on, it’s positioning the attorney as the expert, and so I love how you’re digging into that. One of the things that I hear a lot from attorneys is, “Oh, this reporter, they don’t care, right? They just want to talk to me and they want to use me up for like five minutes and then they’re just on to the next thing.” There’s reasons for that. There’s reasons for that approach. Tell me a little bit about relationships and their importance in this process.
We’ve seen reporters who cover legal stories, so there’s beat reporters who specialize in legal stories. There’s some reporters who just handle the US Supreme Court and then there’s the local reporter that might do all kinds of stuff just because they’re so local, but there are some that just follow legal stories and those are the ones that you want to get to know. Yeah, the relationship, it’s not like I’m going out to drinks with these people or something like that, the relationship is is that I deliver when I say I’m going to.
That’s one of the main things is that if they reach out to me, I’m going to get back to them. If I say, “Hey, I will get you my written comments in 15 minutes,” or, “I’m going to be on a Zoom link in 30 minutes,” I show up. That’s super important because if you flake on them, you are never going to get a callback.
Then the second part of it is being accurate because these reporters are under tremendous pressure.
They don’t have the budget and editorial staff that they used to, so they’re going on a limb listening to you, and so if you give information that’s inaccurate and it’s going to need to be corrected later if it’s discovered, and now, with social elements around these stories is that they’ll put it on YouTube and they’ll get a lot of commentary and people will correct it and say, “Hey, your speaker was wrong,” so you got to be accurate.
Then the other part is to be neutral.
I mean, you’re probably going to be skewed a bit to saying, “Hey, this is my take on this story,” but you also want to be balanced because most of these outlets want to be balanced, so it’s really cultivating that, and basically saying, “Hey, you may not have a story or need for me now, but I’m available to you,” and reminding it. That’s where the Twitter feed comes into it because they’re following you. They may have no need for you for a month, but the fact that you’re tweeting regularly on breaking legal news subjects, that reminds them, “Oh, you’re a good source for this type of area.” Maybe it’s personal injury law, whatever it is. You’re the source for that. Then when they have the need for that, they’ll search their Twitter feed, and your name will come up. That’s how it works. We call this “earned media” for a reason because you don’t really pay for it. You earn it through all of this sweat equity that we’re just going through rather than paid media, which would be the billboard or Google Ads, that kind of stuff.
Pay-per-click ads, yeah.
There’s very little work involved with PPC, but lots of money. Here, there’s very little money involved in terms of an investment, but a lot of work, but you cannot buy the credibility that you get from being on the news.
Absolutely. I wanted to take the conversation back to something you said earlier, when you said, Christopher, “This is not for the faint of heart because you’re going to have to think on your feet, they’re going to ask you questions live, you’re going to have to respond live.” I could hear some of the attorney entrepreneurs who are listening to this, saying, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t really want to do this. This is not for me.” I know, though, it doesn’t have to necessarily be that way because you can maybe prepare for the interview beforehand, so if you could, take us through how you get prepared for these interviews.
Sure. It’s a fair point because, look, I mean, I went to law school just like everybody else, but I didn’t get any communications classes in law school. I mean, I did moot court, but that’s about it, so I had to learn this, and I got training. I went to a communications coach. They had me get up on my feet and just start talking random stuff and they had me on a tape and they’d play it back. It’s rough. It’s really rough listening to yourself on tape. It’s embarrassing, honestly. It’s like, “Okay, where are your eyes going to look? What are you doing with your hands? Are you moving around a lot?”, which is hard. If you’re doing that on video, it’s very distracting, so you got to sit still.
Where are you going to look at the camera? Are you going to look at the interviewer? There’s a lot of filler words that I’m still trying to get out of my vocabulary, but the “aha” and “you knows” and “likes,” you got to get rid of all those things. It’s an art and you got to learn that stuff. The more that you do, the better you will look and sound on television, so that’s a whole skill on its own that I’ve spent time, and I’m still learning. It’s not innate. You’re not born with this stuff. It’s something that’s definitely learned.
But again, it’s an investment in yourself, and it pays off because I have done all of that work, live television, been asked all these questions, I can now do this so much better in court, so even if I got not an ounce of benefit from the meeting interviews, when I’m in court, I’m more articulate, I mean, because I’m presenting at a much higher level than I was before, much more aware of my words and my gestures than I was before, so I think even looking at it at that angle, you want to be the best advocate in the world if you’re a litigator, or if you’re in a business meeting, I mean, we make a lot of generalizations about people about how they look and speak and talk. You cannot go wrong putting yourself to that test.
I can’t agree more. Presentation skills are so useful in so many ways. Back in high school, I was in Drama Club, and I was on stage, and I always joke that that was the most valuable part of high school for me. It wasn’t the math or the science or the English or any of that, it was getting up on stage and being able to perform in front of an audience, so I hear you when you say that presentation skills are incredibly helpful. Congratulations, Christopher, on the firm that you and your partner have built. To have so many attorneys, started from as a solo, to have gotten to where you are today. What excites you about Walzer Melcher?
Well, that’s tough. I’m 53. I could work a lot longer in this career if I choose to, but it kind of gets old. I think that’s where I’m getting distracted with these things that I’m more passionate about, which is the media interviews. Before, I was just speaking on family law, divorce stuff, and I was trying to stay in my lane because I didn’t want to confuse anyone to, “Why is this guy talking about a murder case?” Well, now, I will talk about a murder case because I have to learn about it, so I’m going to speak intelligently about it, so it’s a lot more work.
There’s just not that many stories in that one industry that you work in, so that’s where I broadened it. I’m kind of thinking, “Well, maybe going forward, maybe I will just do media work entirely and just get out of being a lawyer, or just handle very select cases,” so things have changed for me because, I guess, I’ve done it. I’ve done the trials, I’ve done the appeals, handled every type of case that I wanted to handle. I still like being a lawyer, but it’s definitely has changed for me.
What I’m trying to learn is to do things that I want to do because for all these other years that I’ve been working, especially the last 10 or 15 years, it’s just been a total grind, and being interrupted during dinners and weekends with my family to take calls, or having to get called back to work, the pressure of handling these large cases, having so many mouths to feed has definitely made it not as fun, but financially, it’s been fantastic because of the leverage. I think if I was just to go back and do it myself, I could make a good living, but this is two or three times what I could make doing it on my own because I’m leveraging off of the other attorneys in the office.
Right, and hopefully, as the firm continues to grow, that will give you even more of an opportunity to focus on the media presentation work that you’re currently doing. Tell me a little bit more about the media presentation work that you’re doing right now.
I spent a lot of time with the Free Britney movement and her conservatorship and learning about that. It’s been really rewarding because to see what citizen journalists have done, all of her fans who really dove in deep into the case history and helped break this thing open, and as a result of that, I was talking to a reporter about getting access to these court files. It’s been very difficult to get public access and media access to some of these proceedings, so I was able to file an action on behalf of USA Today that I’m representing that’s now being considered as we speak with the California Supreme Court to open up media access and public access to these proceedings, virtual access, so it’s not so difficult.
That’s a passion project of mine that I may pivot into doing more media advocacy work, so not just the commentary, but also advocating for First Amendment rights of free speech and of the press, which is very needed because we see that there is an audience, there’s a need for understanding the legal issues surrounding these big stories, and it’s very difficult sometimes to get access to that information real-time, so that’s something that’s of interest to me.
In terms of my divorce practice, we’re just still doing what we do. It’s big cases and being super selective about the clientele that we take and just trying to do a great job and grow the firm. Then I’m grateful to see other folks here in the firm progress and hope that they would take it over from me when I’m totally sick of it.
Terrific. Well, again, congratulations on your success, Christopher. If someone wanted to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
If you just google Christopher Melcher, M-E-L-C-H-E-R, all my contact information, everything’s going to come up. I’ve got a YouTube channel that I started recently, so I’m just breaking down legal issues on there, so if you’re interested, you might want to check that out.
Also, if you listen to the podcast, you’re kind of at a pivot point, you’re struggling, you’re kind of thinking like, “Hey,” you’re working hard, you got the passion, but it’s just something not clicking, just give me a call, just let me know you heard me on the podcast. I’m happy to share some more thoughts with you because everything that I got was a gift from other lawyers, people who took the time out of their busy schedule to help me, and so I think it’s important that we give that back and support each other because we’re all doing the same thing. We all have the same struggles and it’s just nice to talk them out, and sometimes it’s just the process of talking it out, you hear the answer.
I think working with a coach, and I go back to that, like yourself, is critical because we did not learn this stuff in law school and we’re so focused on handling our cases and getting the bills out and doing all that stuff that we forget that we’re operating a business, and once that clicked in my mind, that’s when I became a successful lawyer.
Christopher, thank you so much for being on the program today. Growing a law firm, as we talked about, can get lonely if it’s a small law firm. The guidance and inspiration you’ve provided today, I think, will really benefit the attorney entrepreneurs who are listening, so thank you so much. I really appreciate your willingness to offer your guidance to other attorneys. Everyone, that is Christopher Melcher with Walzer Melcher, high-stakes celebrity divorce attorney.
That’s a wrap for this episode of the Lawyer Business Advantage Podcast. Until next time, remember, you can seize freedom. You can embrace happiness. You can build your perfect practice.