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Science has proven that children who spend five days without a smartphone or digital screen can read human emotions better than those who stay online. This tells us the importance of face-to-face contact, but we live in a digital age where much of the work of a modern law firm is now conducted online. How can we avoid losing the personal touch? To do this we have to accept the paradox that the more business we conduct online, the more important actual human contact from time to time becomes.

Of course, to do this sort of thing successfully a law firm needs to do more than ask a client in for a meeting. This is about building offline communities, and that requires creating events that people want to attend, based around whatever it is that is unique about your firm. You could do a lot worse than start by asking your customers what they like about you. A simple questionnaire can provide necessary answers here, the aim being to bring together people who believe in what you do.

The offline community that you are seeking to build should not be something altogether separate from your online community. Any events should be strategic and fit with your overall marketing objectives, your brand and your future goals, and there should be a benefit to attendance that is clear to all. It is not out of the question to organise an event that is purely for fun, but the purpose needs to be clear. Is it a networking event? Will there be an opportunity for your clients to hear beneficial expertise from an leader in a particular field?

Taking an example from outside the legal world, the social media platform Hootsuite is brilliant at doing this sort of thing. They organise free workshops with a definite educational purpose that encourage people who are passionate about social media to engage directly and in person. The legal world may not have all of the obvious advantages of ‘likes’, ‘trending’ and ‘going viral’, but there are many opportunities to be explored by following Hootsuite’s basic example.

If you are seeking to attract new clients to your firm do not ignore the community immediately around you. It may be all too easy to assume that because much of what you offer is geographically non-specific it is of little consequence where you are physically. This is a short-sighted view, especially if you have already started from the position that everyone is now online. The world is literally on your doorstep, so engage with your local physical community.

Look at the businesses around you, see what issues matter to them, see what specialisms or passions are on offer in the same streets as you, and consider organising events that draw people together with that kind of shared outlook. In this model the potential for new business may be slightly less obvious, but here the point is to let your neighbours know you’re there, what you do, why, and how. It is old-fashioned sponsorship with a 21st-century face. If your immediate neighbours are not themselves your next clients, people they know still may be. Social media is of immense value to you here again.

Hard-selling is not what this is about. The aim is engagement. If, through an event, your firm can communicate face-to-face with existing and potential clients in an environment, format and manner that works for them and that they feel benefits them, in whatever way, the research shows that they are much more likely then to engage with you online as well.

When the time comes for you to look at how you might encourage that online engagement the key will be working to bring your online and offline communities together, so there would be plenty of mileage in, for example, organising an online event that arises naturally out an offline one. There is great power in building a community of advocates for what you offer, and here you might wish to look at opportunities offered by, for example, HubSpot User Groups (HUGs). HubSpot users can apply to become HubSpot Agency partners, who then lead local user groups. Meetings are by users and for users, and cover themes often related to professional services, with industry experts. Here again, an online community generates an offline one. Consider how you could apply the same at your firm, playing a prominent role either as organiser, participator, or both at a user group on a topic relevant to your firm or practice.

In all of this, remember the guiding principle of forging an emotional connection. If you want people to believe in what you can offer them, you need them to become emotionally committed. If you can then channel that emotional commitment in the right directions, you will have a uniquely effective sales force, for free.