3 Critical Elements Missing from Most Lawyers’ Digital Marketing

If you're a lawyer and you want to get into digital marketing, then you MUST avoid these three critical errors.

First – you've got to have a digital marketing strategy. Not a fluff piece that you generate whilst half drunk and put in a drawer for the year, but a real piece of strategy that you can tie yourself to.

Next you need to refine your efforts. What do you do, who do you serve, and how are you going to do it?

Finally you need to empower your people. Your logo, your colours, your catch line – these don't matter. You have a juggernaut of human potential in your firm, and you're missing out by not empowering them to do their jobs properly.

So let's drill down into each area, see why it's important.

We want to see results as fast as we can but you need to be realistic and accept the fact that you need to work hard and be patient.



Why are Lawyers Not Seeing Results in Digital Marketing?

There are a lot of lawyers who now have websites, they probably have a Facebook page, and might have a couple of social media accounts here and there.

Yet the consistent story that I hear is that most lawyers are not seeing real results from their digital marketing efforts.

So, what are we going to do about that?

The first thing we're going to do is identify why that might be happening.

Later, we're going to build up strategies that you can start to adopt in your own practice, to help you start to see results.

Let's be clear about one thing though: this is a medium or long-term strategy.

Digital marketing and really any form of marketing and relationship development is a long-term strategy, especially for lawyers where the commitment you're asking people to make is often fairly high cost.

It may be that you implement a sophisticated digital marketing program and you see success very early. But it may not be.

It Needs a Bit of Hustle

Partly the time it takes to see success in digital marketing will come down to the effort you're putting in.

It will also come down to whether you're doing it correctly.

Although I'm always in favour of “doing” rather than “not doing”, it is definitely possible to do the wrong thing. Stuffing it up is unlikely to kill your efforts in digital marketing, but it might mean that you don't see results for a much longer time.

We want to see results as fast as we can but you need to be realistic and accept the fact that you need to work hard and be patient.

In that sense, digital marketing is no different to any offline marketing and relationship development strategy that you're going to see.

Defining Digital Marketing

Before I get into identifying the factors that see law firms and lawyers fail in their digital marketing, we need to have a look at what “digital marketing” actually includes.

Keeping it simple, it's going to include any activities that you are engaging in online, which are designed to attract people to you, to get them to trust you and to have you get business from them in some way.

Hubspot says this:

Digital marketing is an umbrella term for all of your online marketing efforts. Businesses leverage digital channels such as Google search, social media, email, and their websites to connect with their current and prospective customers.

I think it's important that we have that end goal in mind. It is designed to help you get a profit.  It's designed to help you get work.

It should be (but often isn't in this space) self evident that you need to get clients, you need to have people referring you work because that's what your practice is founded upon.  Once again, in that sense digital marketing is no different to any other online or offline marketing strategy.

What's that usually going to include?

Website – Obviously

It's going to be things you do on your website or don't do. It's going to be how you design your website.  It's going to be what you put on your website in terms of content.

Still need a website and want to do it DIY but not look dodgy? Try this series on building a professional wordpress site:


Social Media

It's going to involve social media.  Lawyers and social media are a horrendous mix at the moment, and many firms are still consistently failing in this space.

Lawyers and social media need to become better friends though, because if you're going to implement a digital marketing strategy it is necessarily going to have a social component.

Email Marketing

A comprehensive digital marketing strategy is also like to involve an email marketing strategy.

If you have a good website setup then you should be capturing email addresses from people who are interested in what you have to say.

That is really them giving you permission to add value to them. To build their reservoir of trust so that you can eventually ask them for the work, or that they will trust you enough to refer other people to you.

So that is what we're talking about and the question for today is: why are lawyers not seeing results in that space?

I've got three big picture items that I wanted to touch on.

Problem 1 – No Digital Marketing Strategy… At All

The first big missing element is this: most lawyers have no digital marketing strategy.

What do I mean?

I mean they haven't sat down and actually documented a strategy about:

  • what they are going to do online
  • why they are going to do it; and
  • how the things they are going to do are connected to the ultimate goal of becoming liked, known and trusted to a target client audience or referral audience, to drive profitable action by those people.

Have you ever thought about it in that space? Many haven't. How do I know? I know because of studies like this one, from smartinsights.com:

from smartinsights.com
from smartinsights.com

What we find most lawyers and law firms do in terms of their digital strategy (and I use the term loosely) is this:

First, they spend a huge amount of money on a custom built website. Of course, you do not need to spend a huge amount of money on it. I've seen custom built websites that are no better than the $500 website you can get from the smaller operation.

Getting a sophisticated custom website isn't a BAD thing, of course (although it could be). It's a question of relative cost: over-investing in design, and under-investing in strategy.

I have a test for you

Go to any big law firm's website, go to their homepage and ask yourself this question – what does this law firm want me to do when I get to their homepage?

And my guess is you'll have no idea for many sites you visit.

You might find a good one but the vast majority have no clue what they want you to do when you get to their homepage.

As  result, they have gone for information dump. Normally what you will find is some nice pithy quotes that may or may not be attributed to anyone. You will find a million links to practice areas, to people, to searches, to contacts, to publications and various other things.

The reason you're going to find all of that is because the law firm hasn't decided what they want you to do – they have no strategy.

They obviously want you to hire them, but how are they funneling you into a process designed to get you to that point where you're actually prepared to do that?

What they're hoping you will do is click around, read about their stuff, read some of their articles, sign up to one of their newsletters. But that's hope – not strategy.

Random Acts of Content

The lack of law firm website strategy then becomes compounded with what I call random acts of content.

Most law firms produce huge amounts of content. I usually don't need to convince any lawyer that producing content is something that we should be doing.

But, beyond that acceptance there is often little through put into the content marketing strategy itself. Without a strategy, it's just random acts of content.

Most law firms adopt a “quick, let's do an update” strategy. Unfortunately that's actually not a strategy of any kind.

Waiting for something to happen and then rushing out an update on it is not a strategy. I'm not saying that it's something that you should avoid. Updates can be very useful if something complicated has happened and you want to add value to a particular audience.  Writing an update can be great but that is not a strategy.

A strategy needs to work even if something external doesn't happen.

So if you look at what's going on in law firms, most have not developed or deployed a fully fledged content marketing strategy.

Instead what they've done is they have just gone “quick, we need to write an article!”.  Whether it's an article, a video or podcast, it doesn't really matter if there is no strategy behind it.

For a strategic approach to content marketing you need to know what your client journey is, what your clients are looking for, what questions they're actually asking.  You need to consider how to get people from A to B.  To get them from the point of “I've only just heard of you, what have you got for me” to “wow, that information you gave me was amazing and relevant”.

Email Marketing Strategy

Now if you are lucky enough to actually have someone on an email list, then what is your email strategy?

Your prospect has given you a very valuable asset, they have given you their email address and permission to communicate with them. What are you doing with that?

Most law firms and most lawyers have no strategy to deal with that situation.

What that person usually gets is just updates, which leads right back to what I just said about content.

If I am a new person just signed up to your newsletter and I know very little about you, why would you not send me six or 12 or 18 emails over the next six to nine to 12 months, gently introducing me to the topic that I expressed interest in?

You've got to hone in on these people and you've got to ask where are they at now, where do they want to be and how can I help them get there?

That would be an email marketing strategy. Instead all they get is updates, and so they sign up and then some time later (it's not usually clear, because there's no content strategy), they'll get an email with here's our latest newsletter, with 637 things in it, please read them all and then call us for further information.

Once again – that's not a strategy.

Social Media Strategy

Last, but not least, there's rarely any social media strategy.

Law firms are notoriously terrible at social media and lawyers are not far behind.

For individual lawyers there are some who are actually seeing significant results on social media. I know you may find that hard to believe, depending on where you're positioned at at the moment and what you think about all of this in terms of digital marketing.

For lawyers in particular there is still a fundamental misunderstanding (or lack of knowledge) about what social media is for.

We line through the social and we just focus on the media.

Social media, for most law firms, has become a publication platform only, rather than an amazing opportunity for engagement.

Is publishing bad? Nope. Is ONLY publishing bad? Yes.

I'm going to get to social media strategy in detail later, but for now just appreciate that like the other areas you still need a strategy for social media that dovetails in with your email strategy and dovetails in with your content strategy and dovetails in with your website strategy.

My challenge to you, for this big ticket item number one is this, have you actually documented a strategy that goes across all of those subject matters I've spoken about and if so, are you using it?

Strategy Without Action is Useless

You go out to this expensive resort, you have a big dinner and supposedly you're generating your strategy for the next year.

Lots of talk happens, something might get written down if you're lucky (or, worse, someone gets asked to write it all down later).

Then whatever was discussed, decided (if anything) and documents gets shelved, never to be seen again.

When I say you need a strategy, what I mean is you need a strategy that you actually refer to and that you constantly utilise. 

Your strategy cannot go in a drawer and stay there for 12 months, you dig it out, dust it off and then go ah, I didn't do any of that, gee I wish I'd remembered I had that document.

That's not a strategy, that's just wasting your time.  If you're going to generate a strategy, it needs to be something you're prepared to actually do and refer to and refine.

Sometimes your strategy might not work and you need to change it but you need to give it time to develop as well and refine.

Enough of that – let's move on.

Problem 2 – No Refinement – Your self, your practice, your clients, and your content

Big ticket item number two as to why most lawyers aren't seeing digital marketing and content marketing results, is they haven't refined enough.

What do you need to refine to see success as a law firm in digital marketing? You need to refine:

  • yourself
  • your practice area
  • your target clients
  • your content.

An example: you might identify that you have a strategy, you want to generate an article every month (that's not much of a strategy, but it's better than nothing). But you need to refine what it is you're doing down to a fair degree of detail.

Find your Position – Be Bold!

The first thing you need to refine is what you actually do and how you're going to position yourself.

Positioning yourself in the market is critically important for any kind of digital marketing.

If you come out to me and you tell me that you are the country's greatest expert in personal injuries, insurance, insolvency, taxation, hospitality, property, business sales, transactional work and town planning – then I don't believe you.

It is very difficult for you to position yourself as an expert in all of those areas because I just won't accept that someone would be an expert in all of those things. In particular, I think that you're just talking yourself up, and don't believe that you are really telling me the truth – which erodes my trust that you'll tell me the absolute truth when it really matters later.

Of course, you might actually be an expert in all of those areas. You might have 40 years' experience across many areas and you might be able to do all of those things very, very well.

But in terms of positioning, how are you going to refine any other message if you're not 100% clear on exactly what you want to be doing?

Two Good Questions to Ask

Here's a good way to start:

  • what are you most passionate about?
  • what kinds of people can you help the most?

Most lawyers are afraid that they're going to scare people off.

I want to tell you that you need to be prepared to scare people off.  You need to be prepared to repel the people who aren't within your desired positioning.

This doesn't automatically mean you don't do those others kinds of work anymore, although sometimes that's beneficial. Perhaps you should eliminate some practice areas so you can genuinely refine your positioning, but I'm not saying you must do that. I'm saying that you need to refine how you talk about yourself in the market.

Refining Who you Serve

Once you've refined what you do, you then need to refine who you do it for.

If you can't describe your client or your desired client in a fair amount of detail – what they like, what they read about, what they are interested in, what kinds of language they use – then you can't develop a content marketing strategy because you don't know enough about them. So you need to refine your desired client in sharp detail – we'll get into more detail about that later as I broach more specific strategies to help you out.

Refining your Content

Only after you know what you do and who you do it for can you do the last step: refine your content.

Ideally you would imagine a journey that you are taking your prospective client on so that you can help them get from A to B.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • where is the person now?
  • where am I wanting to help them get to?

This could be any number of different progressions depending on what you do. It might be:

  • knowledge;
  • an understanding of a process;
  • how to do x, y and z;
  • how best to utilise legal services.

Whatever it is, you need to first ask how you can help them get from A to B. Then it's simply filling in the blanks, one step at a time, with the steps of the journey.

Each step is a new piece of content that can then be helpful to a person at any stage of the game because it moves them further along the path that they are travelling. How do you know? Because you know who they are, what they care about, and what they are trying to achieve. All you're doing is providing what they already know they need.

Refinement in a Nutshell

In this order:

  1. Refine what you do – specify, and don't be afraid to repel people who don't care about your practice area
  2. Refine who you do it for – what are they after, what kinds of questions do they ask, what language do they use, and what do they care about? Who ARE they so far as your practice is concerned?
  3. Refine your content – once you know what you're doing and who you're doing it for, you can flesh out what content you're going to generate by simply stepping out your client's journey – help them get from A to B, using the language they use, on the topics they care about.

Problem 3 – No Empowerment

The third and final thing I wanted to touch on is a lack of empowerment.

Whether it's yourself or your staff, you need to be empowered to actually take action to implement what I've already dealt with.

I genuinely believe that the first large firm, say 50 or more lawyers, who actually:

  • empowers their staff,
  • trains their staff,
  • gives their staff the necessary tools,
  • the necessary autonomy and
  • the necessary freedom

to embark on their own personal branding exercise, will win and they will win quickly.

The Law Firm Brand is Sick… and Probably Terminal

Most law firms are still obsessed with their own brand.

They don't understand that they don't really have a brand anymore – they have 50 brands, they have 100 brands.

Once you embrace this truth, you can capitalise so much more on 100 brands than you can on one.

It doesn't matter what shade of blue you've picked in your logo. It doesn't matter if it's blue and green or yellow and pink, or orange and silver.

It doesn't matter what it symbolises in particular.

None of those things matter that much any more.

Take your One Brand and Multiply it By A Billion

Imagine if you had 50 brands, each capable of touching base with different categories of people, building relationships with people, and reaching out to new people every day.

On average, most people have about 250 to 300 close-ish contacts in their personal life.

If every single one of your lawyers was consistently building relationships with those 250 to 300 people, how much scale would you see in terms of your opportunity for growth?

Most Firms Do the Opposite

But here is the reality – most firms do the exact opposite.

They put the barriers up, rather than taking the barriers down.

They don't train their staff properly in those areas, and they certainly don't empower their staff to take proactive action.

What they do is they put policies in place that actively prevent their staff from taking any form of risk, from engaging in any form of authenticity. They make rules that everything needs to funnel through someone else who is only in the office 20% of the time.

The desired result here is sound: quality assurance and risk management. But the desired result is not what you end up getting.

What you end up getting is that most people actually just don't do anything at all.  Your lawyers will put it in the too hard basket because there are simply too many barriers in the way.

A standard law firm policy might be this:

  • come up with a topic (with no guidance about the firm's content marketing strategy, I might add)
  • get your topic approved
  • write a draft
  • get your draft reviewed
  • submit your article to marketing
  • marketing sends you a final draft
  • you approve the draft
  • marketing publishes it on your behalf.

Who in their right mind would voluntarily want to go through that process? So while the steps sound like good ideas in theory, they are too focused on risk management. In reality they are killing your content marketing efforts.

You're not capable of empowering your staff if what you're really doing with your policies is stifling your staff.

I know there is risk there.

I know someone might go out and do something stupid.

But the fact is, if you're not prepared to take that risk, then you shouldn't be letting that person have a telephone call with anyone.

You shouldn't be letting that person ever go out to coffee unsupervised.

You shouldn't be letting that person go to lunch.

So answer me this: why would you put up barriers in the digital space that you're not putting up for the offline space?

Why is online so much more risky to you? Why are you so much more terrified of online strategy than you are of offline strategy?

Almost no firm would stop a young, aspiring lawyer from going out to coffee with a contact of theirs but they absolutely would stop that person from putting in an unauthorised post on LinkedIn about their practice area without it going through channels.

Do you think that that person won't say the exact same thing out loud to the person they're having coffee with?

So why are you terrified?

Here's my guess: you're terrified because you're protecting your firm's brand. You're protecting your firm's brand because you haven't yet accepted that the lawyer is a brand in and of themselves.

Here's my point: if you can empower them and help them build their brand then you will see MASSIVE benefits at the other end.

Let's Wrap it Up

Why are lawyers failing in digital marketing space? It's because of three big ticket things.

  1. There is no strategy.  They haven't gone and put in a documented, actionable strategy that they actually refer to and refine.
  2. There is no refinement. They have not refined what they do, who they do it for and how they're going to engage with those people.
  3. There is no empowerment.  You've got to empower yourself, you've got to empower your staff.




Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Click Here to Subscribe