Marketing Strategies for Law Firms in 2022

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Legal Services Strategy

This is the ultimate guide to law firm marketing strategy, designed for partners and practice managers.

Most companies don’t have a proper marketing strategy in place.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably worried that your law firm is one of those companies.

And that’s completely normal.

After all, whether you’re a lawyer or a practice manager, you probably aren’t a trained marketer.

But you’ve probably started to see the inefficiency of your current marketing operations – the wasted spend, the constant search for better contractors, the pressure of partners wanting tangible results.

So you know that you need some kind of strategy, but the blogs you’ve read so far don’t give enough practical advice.

This article is different.  As you read on, I’m going to explain in plain English exactly what a marketing strategy is (and why it’s different from marketing tactics), as well as give you an actionable template that you can start using in your legal practice immediately.

What Is a Marketing Strategy?

‘Strategy’ is one of those widely misused words that has become so ingrained in business jargon that most people don’t know its actual meaning.

So, before we go any further, let’s define exactly what a strategy is.

I’m going to borrow a definition from Michael Watkins:

“A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals.”

This, of course, is in reference to an organisation’s business strategy, but a marketing strategy isn’t much different.  It’s the ‘how’ that guides your marketing.

I’ll use an example to make it clearer.  Imagine you want to hike somewhere – let’s say, the top of a mountain.

Your objective is the top of the mountain.  Your strategy is your map, the reference point you use to figure out the best way to get up that mountain.  Your tactics are your moment-to-moment problem-solving – when to stop and have a drink, how to cross a creek, and so on.

So, from a real-world perspective, your strategy is the roadmap that you’ve sat down and worked out with your firm’s partners and executives.  You’ve all agreed that you want to get up the mountain, and that strategy is the route that you’ve all decided on to get there.

Having a clearly defined marketing strategy is important, because you, your marketers, the partners, and even your lawyers should all be on the same page.  Without a strategy, disorganisation and inefficiency rule – you’re all walking in different directions, and you’ve got no idea where the mountain is or how to get there.

What Are Marketing Tactics?

Now you know what a strategy is, let’s take a moment to talk about tactics.  Tactics are often conflated with strategy, but they’re completely different things.

Tactics are the specific actions you take to implement your strategy.  Think of it like this: strategy = big picture, tactics = small picture.  Both strategy and tactics are essential to making things happen in marketing.

As a general rule of thumb, marketing tactics are the domain of technicians – that is, the people who actually do the marketing (social media coordinators, marketing coordinators, copywriters, graphic designers, and so on).

What Should Your Marketing Strategy Include?

There are certain areas that every marketing strategy should cover, regardless of your industry or vertical.  Below, I’ll cover each of those areas from a law firm perspective, so you can get an idea of how to start putting your own marketing strategy together.

As you read on, keep in mind that – although it’s normally easiest to lay your strategy out in a single document – a strategy should never be something you ‘set and forget’.

Strategies are roadmaps, but, unlike real-world landscapes, a competitive environment exists in a state of constant change.  A strategy that is fixed runs the risk of becoming obsolete – instead, it should act as a living guide, interpreted and implemented day-to-day by your marketing managers.  When circumstances merit a strategic shift, your strategy should be updated.

Brand

At the core of all your marketing lies your brand.  To be able to effectively create the rest of your law firm marketing strategy, you need to have a clearly defined brand that reflects who you are, who you want to be, and is flexible enough to accommodate future changes.

Brand is an exceptionally complex concept, so I won’t go into it in detail here (I’ve written a whole other article on understanding brand).  The main things you should include in your marketing strategy are:

  • A brand statement, which is one or two sentences outlining what your firm does, who you do it for, and how you do it differently/better than competitors. This helps ensure that everyone is in agreement about your general direction – if one partner thinks you’re a general-service firm helping businesses and individuals with legal matters, and another partner thinks you’re a commercial law firm specialising in commercial litigation, you’ve got a serious problem.
  • Your brand personality – if your brand was a person, what would it look/act like? This might sound a bit silly, but understanding how you want your brand to ‘feel’ is important.  Think of the differences in brand personality between, say, WebMD and Healthline.  WebMD is serious, old-school, and a bit stuffy, like your family doctor.  Healthline is younger, trendier, and more approachable – it’s the equivalent of a young GP practicing holistic medicine.
  • Your brand values – what does your brand stand for? Make sure these are meaningful (‘professional’ isn’t a brand value) and realistic (don’t say you value ‘environmentalism’ unless your firm actually helps the environment in some way).
  • Your brand positioning, which is the space you want your brand to occupy in the minds of consumers. For example, Maurice Blackburn have built their brand around giving their clients justice – when you want what’s ‘fair’, you think of Maurice Blackburn.
  • Your unique sales proposition (USP) – why should people choose you instead of your competitors?

You should also develop a brand style guide, which is a separate document that provides guidance on logo use, brand voice, brand colours, brand fonts, writing style, and other brand elements.

Because a style guide is a technical document (it exists to make sure your writers, photographers, graphic designers, and web developers create marketing that looks and feels consistent), it should be formed through your marketing team’s input, and then given over to your firm’s partners for review.

Don’t let the partners have too much control over your style guide – they aren’t professional writers and graphic designers, and, while feedback can be valuable, marketing based on consensus is marketing doomed to fail.

Marketing advice for law firms, direct to your inbox.

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Client Personas

Client personas cover the ‘who’ of your marketing strategy.  In marketing, a persona is a detailed profile of a fictional person, an archetype who represents one of your key client groups (these groups should already have been defined as ‘target audiences’ in your business strategy – if they haven’t been, do this as soon as possible).

For example, if your firm specialised in IP, you might create client personas for:

  • Bill Eriksen, an eccentric software developer who likes to get patents for his creations
  • Madi Brown, a product development manager at a major corporation who needs to get patents for new designs
  • John Roberts, a small business owner who needs trademarks for his logo, business name, and tagline

Together, these three fictional people represent the main three target audiences you want your firm to work with on IP matters.  Not everyone will be a Bill, Madi, or a John, but those are the three groups you’ve identified as being the best ones to target.

A client persona, then, is a document that fleshes out each fictional person, giving extensive details about their lives, interests, hobbies, income, goals, problems, and other key information.  A single persona is normally between two and three pages long.

The purpose of a persona is to make the target audience real for your marketing team – psychologically, it’s easier to write a web page that targets ‘Bill’ than ‘Australian entrepreneurs/inventors with annual income of $100,000–$200,00’.  Personas can help your team create better marketing that more accurately addresses the needs of your clients, and can also be used in other parts of the firm, such as when you’re working with the partners to design client experiences.

You can find more information about creating good client personas here.

Competitors

So, by now, you’ve defined who you are and who you’re serving.  The obvious question remains: who else is offering solutions to your clients’ problems?

You and the rest of the firm are probably already aware of your main competitors – you should be able to jot down five or six rival firms off the top of your head.

The purpose of competitor research is to expose new competitors, discover market gaps, and analyse their marketing.

Remember, your competitors are any other organisation offering a solution to the same target audiences as you.  A software company offering a free Will-making tool is as much a competitor to your Wills and estate planning service as another law firm is.

When you research, put yourself in a client’s shoes.  Use the search engines and social media they’d use.  Find the solutions providers they’d go to in real-world situations – not just the competitors you think they’d go to.

Current Situation

To improve your marketing (which is, after all, the point of a law firm marketing strategy), you need to work out where you are right now.

To do this, you’ll need to conduct a thorough audit of your existing marketing assets, your distribution channels, your current performance, and any ongoing campaigns or activities.

Sound complex?  It is.  A proper marketing audit is time-consuming and very technical, so it can be more efficient to hire an external expert to do this.  You may want to work with different providers for different marketing channels – for example, an SEO expert should conduct your SEO audit, but a social media expert will be better for analysing your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.

The point of this exercise is to give you a benchmark to work from.  It’s also useful for seeing what’s currently working and what isn’t, although be careful about drawing assumptions.  Just because a certain channel or tactic didn’t work for you previously doesn’t mean it’s a bad channel or tactic – it just means you haven’t been using it in the right way.

Distribution Channels

Deciding on distribution channels is the first big decision you have to make as part of your law firm marketing strategy.

In this context, a distribution channel is the mode by which you reach your clients with your marketing.  There are six main distribution channels:

  • Organic search (SEO)
  • Email
  • Paid advertising
  • Word of mouth
  • Organic social media
  • Third-party coverage

Each channel has its pros and cons.  Social media, for example, is free and easy to use, but algorithm shifts on major platforms like Facebook and Instagram have made reaching potential clients organically (that is, without ads) very difficult.

If you’re like most people, your first instinct will be “let’s use them all!”.  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with using every distribution channel.  After all, the more places your brand is, the better.

The problem is that most law firms don’t have unlimited marketing resources.  Time and budget are always considerations in a good strategy – and you probably don’t have the time or money to effectively cover every channel.

Instead, pick one channel that you really want to focus on.  It can be any channel except email – email is a highly effective distribution channel, but you need to acquire subscribers before you can start using it, which means it can’t be your main channel.

When you’re choosing that channel, consider the following four questions:

  • How do clients find out that they have a problem?
  • How do clients learn about solutions providers who can solve that problem?
  • What channels do clients pay the most attention to?
  • How do clients settle on a solutions provider?

Your main channel will be the focus of your attention.  Make sure you dedicate whatever resources you need to really get the most out of it.  You’ll still use the other five channels, but to a lesser extent – the resources allocated to them should never compromise the effectiveness of the main channel.

I recommend doing this for two reasons:

  1. Most marketing teams do this anyway, albeit unconsciously. One or two channels are given preference over the others in terms of resource allocation.
  2. Consistency is key in marketing. You can excel with one amazing channel (a great podcast, a great blog, a strong LinkedIn presence), but not with six mediocre channels.  Unless you’re consistently maintaining at least one exceptional channel, you’ll be just like every other law firm out there.

Important Note: Your website is not a distribution channel.  Clients won’t find your website unless they do so through one of the six channels mentioned above.  Your website is an asset – think of it like a virtual booth where they get to explore your services and brand before buying.  Most of your distribution channels will end up directing prospective clients to your website.

Email also shouldn’t be your main distribution channel. Why? Because emails can only reach people who have already signed up to your email list. They can’t reach new audiences (unless you’re cold emailing, which is almost always a bad idea), so you need a primary distribution channel that can connect with potential clients. Once those prospects have signed up, you can use email to nurture and convert them.

Execution (Tactics)

A strategy is pointless unless it is executed, so planning your tactical approach is just as important as putting together the rest of your strategy.  If you have marketers in-house, leave the tactical planning to them; if you’re using external agencies or contractors, do the same.

Generally, you’ll need a separate tactical plan for each channel.  A full strategy may be required for your main channel.

As part of each plan, you’ll need to consider questions like:

  • What marketing assets do we currently have?
  • How are we going to develop new assets/collateral?
  • What processes will we use?
  • What timeframes and frequencies are we looking at?
  • How are we going to distribute our assets/collateral?
  • How are we going to maintain our assets?

Remember, a tactical plan is the place to get specific.  Use numbers.  Account for every step.  Forgetting minor but resource-consuming details can lead to all sorts of problems.

Expenditure

The success of your strategy depends on how well you allocate your resources (time and money).  First, you need to work out exactly what kind of budget you have to play with.

The average business spends anywhere from 7% to 15% of their revenue on marketing.  Interestingly, though, a 2019 report from Thomas Reuters found that the average law firm spends just 2% of their revenue on marketing.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that 2% isn’t sustainable in 2022.  After all, marketing spend is an investment – creating assets like a website and blog posts and building your brand will continue to deliver returns several years into the future.

You also don’t want to fall into the trap of playing ‘catch up’.  Not allocating sufficient funds now means your business will start to suffer in the future, and you’ll be forced to spend more than you would have otherwise on repairing the damage and regaining market share.

As such, you should aim to allocate at least 7% of your revenue to marketing (dependent on your firm’s individual circumstances – use your discretion).  Remember, networking and relationship-building counts as word-of-mouth marketing, so spend for industry events should come out of your marketing budget.

The biggest obstacle to getting enough budget is convincing executives (for most law firms, the partners) that the amount of funds you’ve requested are justifiable and will deliver a positive return on investment (ROI).  If you anticipate difficulty, break down your spend by asset and channel, and clearly explain the benefits of each expenditure.

For example, you might estimate that spending $5,000 on a new website will reasonably result in a 50% increase in conversions.  Your website currently receives 700 unique visitors a month, with a conversion rate of 1% (seven calls/bookings).  Each client has an average lifetime value (LTV) of $50,000 – in other words, they’ll spend around $50,000 with your firm without you needing to spend any more money acquiring them.

If your conversion rate increases from 1% to 1.5% (10.5 calls/bookings), you’ll acquire an additional 3.5 clients with a combined LTV of $175,000 every month.  That’s an estimated $2.1 million in lifetime spend acquired over the next year – all from a single, $5,000 investment.

Suddenly, that $5,000 doesn’t look like such a big number; you’re much more likely to get the necessary funds from your firm’s decisionmakers.

Outcomes

Everything in marketing should be measurable in some way, shape or form.  As such, you need objectives and ways to meet those objectives.

Your chosen objectives should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely), and be accompanied by relevant KPIs where possible.  Some objectives may not have clear performance indicators – that’s OK.

For example, your brand is intangible, so you can’t measure the performance brand-building activities in the same way you can track the ROI of Facebook ads.  That doesn’t mean you should neglect branding.  Instead, talk to your marketing manager or hire a consultant to advise you about the best performance indicators for your specific activities.

You might measure brand awareness by running targeted ad surveys that ask ‘which of these companies have you heard of?’, or monitor consumer-brand resonance with Net Promoter Score® surveys.

Monitoring marketing outcomes is critical, but, unfortunately, it’s something that many brands don’t do.  Unless you know what’s working and what isn’t, you can’t:

  • Properly allocate resources
  • Find out which marketing activities need improvement
  • Understand the difference your marketing is making to the firm’s bottom line
  • Provide proper information to decisionmakers

In every other aspect of business, outcomes are tracked and analysed.  Marketing shouldn’t be any different.

You should also ensure that your marketing objectives align with the broader business objectives identified in your organisational strategy.  If you don’t have a strategic plan for the firm, start developing one.

Action Plan

A strategy doesn’t necessarily need an action plan, but I always recommend including one.  If you don’t have a clear path for implementation, it’s easy for your strategy to become just another file, forgotten and unused by your marketers.

Your plan should comprise a step-by-step process for each channel/asset.  For example, if you decided you wanted to pursue LinkedIn as a marketing channel, your action plan for that channel might look like this:

  1. A technician conducts a thorough review of the firm’s LinkedIn profile, identifying and updating any out-of-date information. Missing content should be developed by the technician in liaison with the practice manager.
  2. Recommendations for post content are implemented at a rate of three posts per week by the technician.
  3. Lawyers are encouraged to post about their practice areas on their personal LinkedIn at least once a week. They’ll be briefed about the purpose of this in a staff meeting, and motivated through a reward – the two lawyers who have the most engagement on their LinkedIn at the end of each quarter will receive a prize.
  4. Once a quarter, the technician creates a social media report using the designated KPIs, with recommendations for tactical changes.
  5. The report is reviewed by the practice manager and partners; consistent failure to meet KPIs may require a shift in strategic focus or a different social media technician.

Law Firm Marketing Strategy Template

  • Brand (who are we?)
  • Client Personas (who do we want to serve?)
  • Competitors (who else solves the same problems for the same people that we do?)
  • Current Situation (what are we doing now?)
  • Distribution Channels (where are we going to reach potential clients?)
  • Execution (how are we going to reach them?)
  • Expenditure (how much is reaching them going to cost?)
  • Outcomes (what do we want to accomplish by reaching them, and how do we measure it?)
  • Action Plan (how do we get started?)

law firm marketing strategy template

Download Template PDF

Who Should Develop Your Marketing Strategy?

In a large organisation, a marketing strategy should really be put together by a VP of marketing or a chief marketing officer (CMO) with input from mid-level managers and technicians.

Most law firms, though, don’t have their own in-house marketing teams, let alone marketing executives.  As such, it’s a good idea to think about the right person to develop your marketing strategy.

If you do have inhouse marketers with strategy/management experience, they’re normally a good choice.  They know your firm, they’re invested, and they’ll be around to guide the implementation.

Of course, many firms just employ technicians (or no marketers at all).  If that’s your situation, get outside help.  An agency or marketing consultant is normally the best choice, but make sure the individual working on your strategy has strategy experience – you don’t want strategy development (which is both expensive and really important) to be palmed off to a marketing coordinator straight out of university.

You can also try developing your marketing strategy yourself using the tips in this article and some research into marketing channels.  While the first strategy you put together won’t be perfect (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), it’s a great learning experience that can teach you some really valuable skills.  This can be a good option if you’re a practice manager for a very small firm with more time than money.

Be warned, though.  A marketing strategy isn’t something to develop lightly.  It will probably cost you a lot of time and money – and it should.  The person developing your strategy needs to take the time to intimately understand your firm, your objectives, and the market, or the strategy they produce won’t be effective.

Also be wary of executive overreach.  Unless the decisionmakers in your firm have extensive marketing experience, they shouldn’t be contributing to the strategy, nor should they be imposing arbitrary restraints.  Statements like “but we’ve always done it this way”, “but Apple does it”, or “that’s what our competitors do” should be off the table.

Of course, the finished strategy will have to go through the partners for approval, but there shouldn’t be an extensive back-and-forth contribution process – as I said earlier, marketing based on consensus is marketing doomed to fail.

What Should You Do Once Your Strategy Is ‘Done’?

The most important thing to understand is that a strategy is never finished, because it’s constantly changing and evolving.  A static strategy will leave your firm vulnerable to competitors and market changes, so the person responsible for its development and implementation needs to be constantly reviewing it.

You also need to periodically (every quarter) evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness.  If it’s working, you should be seeing positive, meaningful KPIs.  If it’s not, your marketing spend is basically going down a big hole.

Keep in mind that the strategy may not produce results immediately.  For example, SEO takes around six to 12 months to start ‘working’, so don’t expect overnight miracles (and make sure you temper decisionmaker expectations too).  Consider, too, that a strategy won’t just work on its own – it needs to have skilled technicians implementing it.

The most important thing to remember is that simply having a marketing strategy puts your law firm ahead of 90% of your competitors.

Without a strategy, you’re wandering aimlessly in the bush, hoping to somehow find the mountain even as you go round in circles.  With a well-developed strategy, you gain a bird’s eye view – you can see the path, you can see the obstacles, and you know exactly how you’re going to get to the top.

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By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.

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