Marketing Trends And Techniques For Law Firms

By Dennis Duitch & Marcia W. Wasserman
Los Angeles Daily Journal California Law Business May 8, 2000

In today’s rapidly changing business marketplace, clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated about the procurement of legal services. Loyalty of most clients to the firm has diminished, while clients are demanding better quality (as they perceive it), faster turnaround and discounted rates.

The Internet is starting to influence how business is conducted; several companies are poised to introduce “on-line auctions” for legal services, whereby law firms will have to bid for legal assignments with major corporations.

Therefore, a renewed focus on marketing by lawyers and their firms has become critical. Firms are changing the way they view marketing and becoming more innovative in their firm approaches as well as expectations of partners.

Sharon Berman, a marketing consultant and Principal of Berbay Corp. in Tarzana, finds that law firms are taking more risks with marketing. “They are having fun with advertising and their image and are positioning themselves as more approachable in an attempt to overcome stereotypes about lawyers”. Firms are starting to integrate a logo, visual print materials, and a tag line as the essence of who they are. More firms now think of branding with respect to every ad and every paper they produce in order to reinforce the messages they are trying to impart.

Berman sees other trends, including increased creativity with Web sites. Firms are beginning to view Web sites as more than an on-line brochure and as an opportunity to position themselves. Some firms are using their web sites to help clients by providing access to password-protected areas to facilitate interactive communication.

Berman has also noticed increased use of e-mail for marketing, as firms create e-mail invitations to events that are replete with graphics and enable the recipient to e-mail back a response. She does feel, however, that both e-mail and print invitations should be utilized simultaneously.

Mark Waxman, a marketing consultant and partner with SK Consulting in the Silicon Valley, sees a trend toward integrating marketing and sales in law firms. That is, firms are integrating materials, Web sites and brochures with individual marketing-development plans, which are being written together for the first time. He also notes a trend toward branding in the naming of firms, particularly in the Silicon Valley where brands identify an entity rather than individuals (e.g. Venture Law Group, Summit Law).

Waxman further sees a change in how firms view and use their Web sites. Once just used as “brochureware,” the equivalent of an online brochure, sites are now being used for client project management, status updates and timelines for clients, as well as sharing document storage on secure intranets.

According to Waxman, “Firms are also more aggressive with their advertising, going beyond the tombstone ads that focused on name recognition. Today’s ads are more strategic. Now, specialty practices are targeting industry associations and targeting their audiences with meaningful information.”

Waxman also sees an evolution in advertising materials for lawyers. The aesthetic of how they look and feel is changing. The “marble and mahogany British banker look” is out. Logos go beyond typeface. Firms are changing their collateral materials for a more contemporary and distinct look and feel, which ties into branding, naming and differentiation of themselves.

At the individual lawyer level, coaching has evolved as a tool to assist attorneys in overcoming obstacles to marketing. Over the past several years, a significant marketing trend for law firms has been the development of coaching as a technique for instructing and motivating lawyers in personal business development skills.

Robert Kohn, Senior V.P. of Kohn Communications believes that “most lawyers historically have been uncomfortable in the role of marketer. And, because coaching requires that lawyers modify their habits, and actually do the marketing themselves, they have been reluctant to try coaching. Many were unwilling to make the personal commitment to marketing or they felt they didn’t have the potential to become good marketers.”

According to Kohn, however, “In the last few years, we have seen a dramatic shift in the attitude of lawyers. They really appreciate the fact that they are personally responsible for business development. And, coaching has become much more widely accepted as an effective technique for lawyers to learn how to develop new business.”

Beyond trend-setting marketing ideas, firms can embrace and better use basic marketing techniques, such as client surveys. According to a recent survey of Fortune 500 general counsel conducted by the management-consulting firm Altman Weil, 70 percent of general counsel feel that client surveys are important to a continuing relationship with their outside law firm.

Some firms retain a consultant to conduct a sophisticated survey of its top 50 to 100 clients. Others conduct a more simplified direct survey in writing, by telephone, or by going out to the client’s place of business.

Jerry Beckerman, President of Communitypoll.com, offers law firms the wider alternative of utilizing its user-friendly online research engine to write and evaluate poll results using in-house staff, Communitypoll’s professional research staff, or some combination thereof.

A survey should generally include specific questions about satisfaction with legal work performed by the firm, and query the type of services they might need in the future. The results of the survey should yield important information about how the firm and its attorneys are viewed by current and former clients.

In addition, the survey process is a good time to cross-sell other areas of the firm’s expertise. Many times, clients who initially seek out a firm to handle, for example, a litigation matter, will send estate-planning business or corporate work to another firm because they are unaware that the firm has expertise in additional areas of law.

Since approximately 80 percent of all new business or referrals come from existing clients, attorneys should strive to improve client communications and feedback. Also, staff members need to be trained on the importance of their role in marketing to existing and potential clients.

Marketing is much more than public relations. It is also communication — starting with the way the telephone is answered; how many times the telephone rings before it is answered; how many times the telephone rings before it is answered; whether the firm has direct inward-dial telephone numbers to reach attorneys; how quickly telephone calls are returned to clients; and how accessible the firm’s voicemail system is to callers. The same rules apply for e-mail messages from clients — prompt responses are important.

In addition to being responsive to client requests, lawyers should learn about a client’s business and industry to better anticipate their future needs. Client service should be a central consideration to the firm’s planning, culture and vision.

Marketing Plans are another important, yet sometimes overlooked, tool. Lawyers should prepare individual marketing plans on an annual basis, which should then be incorporated with the firmwide marketing strategy.

Firms are allocating anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent of gross receipts to marketing, although the majority of firms with marketing budgets spend less than 4 percent. Each lawyer should be allocated a marketing budget based on completing an annual marketing plan and be held accountable for performing the tasks included in the plan.

For those lawyers who have never prepared such a plan, a good place to start is determine three personal marketing goals for the year (e.g. increase the number of clients by X percent, increase fee receipts by Y percent, improve client service by Z percent). Then, action plans can be developed in order to accomplish those goals. Such a plan might include visiting two existing clients at their place of business each month, writing an article for a trade publication or taking two possible referral sources to lunch.

Newsletters are yet another effective marketing tool when properly planned and targeted. They can be used as a means to stay in touch with existing and former clients and contacts, provide information about firm practice areas and current updates in the law in those areas, cross-sell services that the firm provides and promote individual lawyers and their areas of expertise. The newsletter should be integrated as part of the firm’s branding, and have the same logo, colors and feel as the firm’s other collateral marketing materials.

Whether staying at the forefront of marketing trends or using basic marketing techniques, law firms today need to focus significant attention on business development to position themselves for the future. They need to attract clients’ attention through their marketing activities, perform quality legal services and be sensitive to every client’s unique business needs.