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How to overcome legal marketing industry challenges

By Expert commentator 23 Oct, 2018
Essential

Lawyers face a tight market and a negative public perception of their profession, so how do you market in a world like that?

Law firm marketing made its public debut in 1976 with a newspaper article and caused quite a stir from the start. From there, lawyers have been trying to out-market one another and win - much like their caseloads.

The field of legal marketing is far more advanced than most other professions and is filled with lawyers who both do it well and have the means to shut out the competition. So, how does a smaller or lower budget firm overcome the marketing behemoths? I’ll get there, but let’s first discuss the challenges facing legal marketing in 2018.

Know your market

Who are your competitors and what are they doing to get clients? What kind of clients are you currently attracting through your marketing efforts? Do those clients align with your company values/practice area/business goals?

If you are able to answer the above questions, congratulations! This is the first step to overcoming the rest of the marketing challenges. Identifying your target market and competitors allows you to differentiate your messaging and break through the noise online.

Overcome the stigma

Lawyers have a PR problem.

I know a guy

This won’t be news to anyone who has seen Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. A Pew Research Study showed that lawyers are thought to contribute the least to society, of the occupations listed. Play a word association game and you’ll hear responses like: shark, argumentative, fighting, loud, brash, smart, greedy, etc.

Lawyers, and those who work closely with them as I do, know that this is mostly a misnomer. Your average lawyer is fighting for rights and laws, not a parking spot for their Porsche.

Lawyers have historically been aggressive marketers and, as a result, the industry has gained quite a reputation as an ego-based profession with a few do-gooders thrown into the mix. It shouldn’t be a surprise to law firms that consumers view lawyers as egotistical when you consider the fact that their first advertisements were hanging a shingle with just their name listed.

Part of the problem with overcoming negative connotations associated with the legal profession is the fact that there are legal consumers who want a lawyer that claims to be the best, most winningest in their profession. For the firms that want to market to this type of client, don’t change a thing unless you want a different type of client.

The more transparent your marketing efforts and clear your law firm is about the type of cases and clients you want, the happier your clients will be as well. This is because educating clients on the process of working with your firm and the realities of their case type will make for a smoother client experience.

If you’re looking for a different type of client, market your firm differently. Be a lawyer who provides transparent service and pricing, then use those differences in your marketing materials.

Clearly defining who your firm works with will allow potential consumers to see if they fit and deselect themselves, saving you the time of intake and referral.

Differentiating yourself in a competitive market

Speaking of doing things differently, it can be hard for lawyers in a competitive practice area, such as family law, to stand out among their competition. As mentioned above, identifying your ideal client will lead to clarity on this point.

Once you know who you are marketing to, you can begin to understand their wants and needs in a law firm.

Keeping with the family law example, imagine your firm attracts mostly high-achieving entrepreneurs looking to protect their company during a divorce. You’ve built up a referral network through professional associations but want to make sure website visitors know if they are a fit for your firm. Create content focused on running your business during a divorce, list your professional associations on your bio page and potentially list that under services or specialties.

You’ve certainly been told in the past to find your “Blue Ocean,” or area. Defining a practice area niche can also help push through the list of law firms in a search result.

Marketing for a general practice

General law practices are the biggest challenges for marketers. Having multiple practice areas means your marketing efforts are diluted into several buckets, instead of just one or two larger focuses. If you aren’t able to define a niche for your firm, because of your geographical location or the firm’s employee makeup, there are a few things you can do.

On your website, make sure to have individual practice area pages that are well-developed with meaningful content beyond keywords. Describe case examples for each practice area and make sure to reduce legal jargon, for search bot and potential client readability.

Hyper-localize your marketing to boost search results within your community. List community-based organizations, write blog posts about any community activities and curate your Google My Business profile. A verified GMB profile lets Google know that your physical location is real and will help your firm stand out in search results with the knowledge panel.

Define your firm in ways other than marketing, focusing on ease of use and client development. Make sure your website has an active chatbot to answer questions and direct website visitors. Answer your phones quickly and efficiently, making sure to employ an answering service for off-hours or 24/7, if your firm doesn’t have a full-time receptionist.

In addition to initial intake, make sure the client experience is seamless, worry-free and tailored to their needs. This will help you stand out in a crowd and earn more reviews, which will attract future clients.

Ethics rules create barriers

One thing we hear over and over at our agency is fear from lawyers about what they are allowed to do to market their firm. This concern is real, due to varying state advertising rules and the overlapping American Bar Association rules, but often gets overblown or used as an excuse as to why lawyers can’t market themselves.

We leave comfort-levels up to the individual law firms if a question arises but typically ascribe to the following rules for our clients, based on the ABA’s Rules For Modern Conduct:

  1. Confidentiality of Information: A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.
  2. Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services: A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services.
  3. Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services: Specific Rules: A lawyer shall not compensate, give or promise anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule.
  4. Solicitation of Clients: A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or law firm’s pecuniary gain, with exceptions. A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless they meet one of the exceptions.

What this means, in a nutshell, is, do not reveal private case or client information, do not lie in advertising, do not make promises of outcome and do not lie about your qualifications. If you abide by these rules and any state-based specifics, your law license should be safe.

Too many options

Many firms struggle with option overload and not enough budget to market across a variety of platforms.

The best response to feeling overwhelmed by marketing options is to:

  1. Figure out how current clients are finding you.
    1. If it is through referrals, ask if they searched for you online after getting the referral.
    2. Look at your Google Analytics to see if specific websites are earning you more referrals through visits from those sites.
  2. Rewind to the section on knowing your market and clientele. Tailor your marketing methods to where your clients are looking. They are certainly online in 2018, but where? Once you figure this out, you’ll have a much easier time answering the question of where to put your marketing dollars.

Social media is another area where firms tend to be confused about where to be. My response is typically, what social media network are your clients on and, what social media platform do you enjoy most? These two questions can help define where your law firm should spend their social media time.

What now?

Now that you’ve read about the marketing challenges facing law firms, what are the challenges specific to your specific firm and practice area? Whatever that thing is, I’m certain there is an answer online - all you need to do is search for it! Good luck.

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