What Can Solo and Small Law Practices Learn from The Grateful Dead About Marketing?

You don’t have to like The Grateful Dead to learn from what they have accomplished (Author’s Note: I’m not a fan of the band. Nothing against them, just never got into them. Doesn’t mean I’m not smart enough to grasp their business model.). After all, their current farewell tour (aptly titled “Fare Thee Well”) is estimated to bring in $50 million in concert revenue.

But how did a largely improvisational band manage to develop such a rabid fan base?

Giving Away Something for Free

It turns out that they did it by allowing fans to “steal” what they did and give it away to other people. They didn’t try to regulate any concert-goers and didn’t pursue royalties or any money in the transactions between fans.

The secret that they knew to be true was that once someone heard the recordings of the live music, they would want to come see it for themselves – especially since it was certain to be a different show from what they heard. This ability to be generous with their art was what brought people back for more and more of it over time.

In your law firm, you need to be generous with your information. Trying to “hide” how cases are processed is useless with the proliferation of information we have today. Being the person who is FIRST IN LINE to answer a potential client’s questions is the name of the game. Getting them to take free information from you and to “listen” to it (possibly literally, if you’re delivering audio to them) is the best way to turn them into a raving fan. Raving fans are more likely to hire you and to refer you cases.

(Now if you could just learn how to play the guitar as well…)

They Created a Database!

The Grateful Dead created its own mail-order ticketing program and used that to build a database of their fans. This gave them direct access to the people who loved them and gave them control over the entire process. The band’s program was able to provide higher levels of customer service than an average ticketing agency. No middle man to be found here!

Having control over your own list and database is absolutely essential. You should be getting email and mailing addresses from everyone who calls your practice so that you have your own database you can mail into. Developing a list of people who are hearing from you regularly is one of the best ways to generate referrals. They can’t refer if they don’t remember you. And they won’t remember you if you’re not communicating with them regularly.

Here’s an extra tip for you: creating a database of attorneys in your area who are potential referral sources is smart. You can then mail them regularly with updates about the kinds of cases you have accepted recently and with notices thanking the people who have referred cases to you (ethical rules apply, of course).

Record All of It and Keep Releasing

By recording all of their live shows, The Grateful Dead now has the materials needed to keep releasing albums for decades to come. That’s going to make them quite a lot of money, even though their concerts are over.

Whenever you are “performing,” including any public speaking you do or whenever you train a new employee, record it. Those recordings can serve as the basis for a new book by you or as part of building a training manual for your staff. The audio could be used as a free giveaway to potential clients who call your office or request information online. The possibilities are endless, but they only exist if you are making those recordings.

There’s a lot of great business lessons to learn from outside the legal industry. The Grateful Dead’s strategies are just one piece of the puzzle.

Additional reading: 5 Marketing Success Behaviors for Attorneys

Starting over can be scary, but it can also be exciting, revitalizing, and motivating. That’s why many people daydream about what they would do if they could “start over.”

In fact, that’s one of the (few) things I enjoyed about golf! You start from zero at each hole and have a fresh opportunity to excel.

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Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.

Most attorneys start their firms assuming that being a really, really good attorney should, in and of itself, be a marketing advantage. Those attorneys believe that joining a whole bunch of committees and putting their name in lawyer directories is “marketing,” and they never bother to ask if there is a better way.

Attorneys are catching on, however, and those who succeed learn to leverage their current resources to create effective (and ethical) marketing. What they discover isn’t a magic pill or silver bullet but a different approach to marketing that your competitors haven’t considered.

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by Ben Glass

Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.


  • Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.