If you have been practicing law for any time at all, you know the difference between a good client and a bad client. Good clients will enrich your life, get you excited about doing the work and drive you to be your best. Bad clients will drain your energy. You will dread hearing from them. You will ask yourself if the fee is worth the torture. How much is your happiness worth? Identifying, winning and keeping those great clients—ideal clients—and weeding out the worst ones is the key to success, happiness and growth. Do you have a system to figure out who’s who or are you working with anyone who walks in the door?

As a marketing agency, our client relationships are similar to those developed by a law firm. We develop deep, ongoing connections with our clients. It can be like a marriage in some ways so it pays to work with clients we like—and clients who like us. We have a process, refined over time, to help focus our efforts on ideal clients while preventing less ideal, and worse, prospects from getting through.


Think about a specific client you really enjoy working with, one where you light up when you see their name on your phone or in your email inbox. One you dream about creative solutions for. Not obsessing over, just thinking about when you are relaxed. Ideas pop into your head for how you can help them and how you can add value for them.

Think about what that client looks like, sounds like, feels like.

  • Are they at a particular stage of their life? Perhaps they are nearing retirement, are recently married or divorced, or are a new parent.
  • Are they ambitious or in need of motivation?
  • Are you helping them overcome a specific type of challenge?
  • Are they desperate or are they relaxed?
  • Do they have lots of money or very little money?
  • Are they near you geographically or somewhere you’ve never even been?
  • Are they young, middle aged or older?

These are all characteristics of your ideal client. This is not discriminatory (and should never be): You are creating a composite, in your head, to help you focus. Think about those clients and start making some mental notes about what aspects set them apart. What's different about them from the rest of your clients? Not just from the clients you can't stand but from your average, everyday clients—who are the clients you really, truly love to work with?


It is important to remember in thinking about your ideal clients that this is a two-way street. You may not be ideal for every prospective client. Some prospects are going to meet you in person or speak to you on the phone, hear what you have to offer and say “no.” That's okay. You don't need to win every deal. You only need to win the ideal clients and ideal clients are ideal because they recognize that you are the best person for the job. You solve their problem in a way that other attorneys do not.


When you set out on a journey it is helpful to have a destination in mind. That is especially important if your goal is to work with ideal clients. You need to identify and locate your ideal clients. The tool we use, and share with our clients, is our Ideal Client Workbook. (I have set up a download page for Marin Lawyer readers to get their own free copies.) This extensive questionnaire helps us identify our ideal clients. We do this on a macro, big-picture level for the whole firm so we get a broad picture. Then we go through it again on a product-by-product basis and look at it on a very granular level. An ideal client for one product or service may not be the same as an ideal client for another product or service. The same may be true in your practice, especially if you practice in multiple areas or offer more than one service. Consider your practice and come up with an ideal client profile for every distinct offering.

The more granular and specific you can get in terms of what ideal means for your firm, the more successful you will be landing those ideal clients and keeping them. A word of warning: business is constantly changing. You need to refine your ideal client profile on a regular basis. You cannot set it and forget it. My team reviews “ideal” quarterly. Some members within the team refer back to it even more often than that. I know clients and other shops we are affiliated with that do the ideal client worksheet once a month. You should plan to do this exercise at least twice a year.


Now that you know what ideal means for your firm, you should start thinking about how to attract those clients. If your ideal client is your destination, you need to draw a map that charts how you will get there. One way is to use content—blog posts, social media, newsletters, video, case studies, free downloads—to set yourself apart from the competition and publicly establish an area of expertise. Ideal clients will respond to that content by engaging with you. Less ideal clients will be turned off by that content and, as an added bonus, will not waste your time with a phone call. It takes time and money to execute this strategy but it will save you time and make you money in the long term. More on content marketing as a way to grow your practice in a future article. I promise.

This next step might seem counterintuitive but it is essential if you want to make room for those ideal clients you want to work with: Fire your bad clients. They are wasting your time. They are wasting your energy. And frankly, they are taking up space in your client roster that could be better filled with ideal clients. So I am challenging you: Right now, before you do anything else, write down the name of one client that you will fire today and go do it. No dinner until you fire one client. Seriously.