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Elevate Your Law Firm’s Marketing from Status-Quo to Go

  • December 18, 2016
  • Jon Holden

While still relatively new in Canada, legal marketing has experienced dramatic growth, and achieved a refined maturity in the legal marketplace. So why does it still seem like every law firm is doing the same thing when it comes to marketing? And how can your firm break the mould and emerge as a legal marketing leader?

How the legal marketing profession has grown up

What was originally the “party planning and swag department” has matured into a complex, business-focused, information-driven department that can provide substantial value to your firm, whether it’s an in-house team, external team, or mix of both.

While it’s great that legal marketing has grown up, what makes this development even more interesting is that the legal marketing profession has pulled from every area of marketing – advertising, public relations, business development, event management, communications, design, development and more to create a niche professional services marketing function backed by an extremely wide range of experience. This is an ideal foundation for a department that has to respond to a very diverse clientele and a sophisticated buyer of legal services.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Although the legal marketing profession taps into every area of marketing, law firms and lawyers tend to stick to what they know – from firm-wide art collections to overpriced sponsorships, directories, announcement ads, branded golf shirts and practice brochures, to even the brand colours, images and words they use. You could interchange the name/logos on about 90% of law firm communications and no one would be the wiser.

Law firms all believe they have the best people, doing the most interesting work, and are the best at what they do… which is everything. And they work everywhere.

In reality, law firms all have smart people doing interesting work. No one firm is the best at everything. And very few firms actually do everything well.

The ones who are typically doing it right are the boutiques, who have the flexibility to pivot quickly not only with their service offering and processes, but also their brand. This leaves the majority of regional or national firms generally producing very similar marketing, as if they were following a marketing 101 playbook.

Risk and the status quo

So what is holding firms back? Restrictions from the various national law societies are pretty relaxed compared to some of our US counterparts (looking at you Florida and New York). Access to qualified marketers is not a concern. The Legal Marketing Association has chapters in Canada and across the US, with thousands of members who are constantly updating their skills and education, and are on top of every marketing trend. It’s not resources, restrictions, or any logical or rational explanation.

The simple answer is: risk.

Risk of saying or doing something outside the status quo for fear of client perception can prevent even the best law firms from truly showcasing their culture and marketing to their potential. Risk keeps IT budgets high (for protection), and marketing budgets low (to control the brand).

Why risk putting yourself out there and showing your true firm culture, when very few others are? If there were two words to most accurately describe the legal marketing landscape today, they would be “status quo” … closely followed by “safe.”

There are, however, exceptions to the rule. Some firms are producing really innovative work, especially when areas such as IT and Marketing have full buy-in from the partnership.

In a profession that is based so heavily on relationships and connections, most firms spend very little time exploring and communicating what actually makes them different, and instead focus on ensuring they are doing everything their competitor firms are doing.

I have worked with many lawyers over the past decade or so, and they are a very interesting group. I have met lawyers that moonlight as actors, entrepreneurs, sculptors, golfers, hockey players, dancers, opera singers, educators… you name it. Then why is it the qualities and characteristics that make us most interesting and relatable as people, we often find ourselves too timid to share?

Turning fear into opportunity

How do you get past this fear? Here are three areas you should focus on to help ensure marketing success:

  1. Create a top down approach. It all starts with buy-in from the top-down. Instill a culture that embraces marketing in your firm. It is critical to ensure your Managing Partner is on board with the firm’s marketing efforts and communicates your strategic and marketing goals to the partnership. Associates and junior partners take their cues from more senior partners so this type of leadership will have a trickle-down effect on partners, associates, and students.
  2. Change the perception of marketing. Another roadblock to any successful marketing effort is perception. I have seen first-hand, and heard from numerous marketers across Canada and the US who struggle to get lawyers and practices on board with marketing, because they simply don’t want to be seen by their peers as doing non-billable “marketing fluff.” Help change the conversation by showing the benefits of marketing to clients from a value-add perspective, and relating new client wins to marketing initiatives that generate revenue.
  3. Provide access to information. In order to successfully develop a marketing strategy and see it through to implementation, you need to be willing to share critical information. Too many legal marketers out there in the wild are working blindly, throwing ideas against the wall, hoping something will stick. Marketers require strategic information. It helps them accurately determine trends, cycles, and refine their marketing efforts for maximum ROI. If you are not willing to share financial information and business goals with your marketing team, do not expect them to accomplish any level of informed marketing.

This article may only be scratching the surface of how to think about marketing more effectively, but hopefully I was able to highlight a few of the issues, and offer suggestions to get you started. 

Be open to new ideas and approaches. Be willing to allow your firm to be vulnerable and make mistakes, as that’s usually where leaders emerge. Most importantly, be willing to put trust in your marketing team. You will be amazed by the results they can achieve with full trust and the buy-in of leadership.

About the author

Jon is a partner at Forward Level Marketing, a service-oriented marketing firm with deep experience in legal marketing, both in-house (at national and regional firms), and on an out-of-house consulting basis. We work with law firms of all sizes in both Canada and the US. At Forward Level, “good enough” isn’t good enough. Our full service marketing team becomes an extension of your business, making decisions based on what’s best for you, not us. We instill trust and confidence in your marketing, so you can focus your energy on what you love doing. And together we will move your business forward.

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