Law firm marketing changed a lot when the world started turning digital. But not as much as many people think. As you're going to read in this comprehensive guide to marketing your legal practice, the principles are the same – only the tools have changed. Sure, the word “ultimate” is always a bit optimistic, but it's pretty comprehensive and will help you out.
Marketing your legal practice was then, is now, and will always be about relationships. This is the truth whether you are writing your next blog post, doing a video, sending an email, or building a new app.
Relationship means people, people mean clients, and clients mean revenue.
Although we use phrases like business development and words like marketing, at the end of the day we're really just talking about:
connecting with relevant people and building their trust and confidence in you and your services until they decide to take some action that is profitable for you
You're becoming known, liked and trusted, which isn't new at all.
This guide to law firm marketing is going to take you through the fundamentals of setting your firm (or yourself) up as a powerful presence in the digital age. So let's start with a confidence builder…
Law Firm Marketing is Now an Even Playing Field
One of the best things about digital marketing is that there's essentially no difference between what a mega-firm can do, and what a solo practitioner can do. Isn't that cool? In fact, I'm going to go one step further and say that smaller firms have some considerable advantages in their marketing strategy.
First, the lower amount of bureaucracy means that decisions can be made and action taken very quickly.
Second, the sheer impetus of being the “little guy/girl” will motivate you (because that's just how people are).
Third, the smaller the firm the more likely it is to be connected to its personality – its humanity. And as we're going to see, that's a huge advantage in this game.
Why bother telling you this? Because many small law firms seem to think that their lower budget is the determining factor in success. Yoda answered this best:
Judge me by my size, do you?
No matter what size law firm you have, we're going to go through a number of steps that your firm can utilise to commence, build on and profit from in the digital marketing space. It looks like this:
- Phase 1 – Build your Foundations
- Get your Website Working
- Identify your Social Media Assets
- Compile your Email Database
- Phase 2 – Spread your Wings
- Constant, High Quality Content
- Connect and Engage
- Start Using Email More
- Phase 3 – Measure, Refine, Pivot and Expand
- What to Measure
- What to Do About It
- Where to Go Next
- Phase 4 – Turning Leads Into Clients
Are you ready? It's going to be fun.
Phase 1 – The Foundations of Law Firm Marketing with Digital Tools
The best way to get your law firm marketing off on the right foot is to start on strong foundations.
In this phase we're going to lay down our primary digital assets for your law firm.
An asset is something that brings you value over the long term. For law firms, they might be staff, investments or intellectual property.
Firms often don't consider their digital inventory with that mindset, but they should.
Done wrong, it'll be like buying shares in a company whose entire staff has just quit, has no products or services to sell and no customers. Done right, your digital assets will deliver some of the highest returns you can imagine.
But what does “doing it right” look like?
If you were going to buy shares or an investment property that was supposed to make you money, what would you do?
You'd take it seriously. A serious investment warrants your attention if you want serious returns.
You wouldn't just randomly buy something because everybody else was doing it. You'd check the research and decide what you wanted to invest your capital in first.
And you'd pay attention to your asset. Was it performing as it should? Does it require some attention? How should you change the asset balance in your portfolio?
Start thinking about everything you do online as a digital asset.
Treat it with the attention it deserves. That means giving it the time you need to get it done, and the help you might need to get it done right.
Get your Website Right
Many firms' digital marketing begin and end with their website. They get the shiniest, nicest looking site they can find and believe that's the ball game.
Getting your website right involves significantly more thought than just writing a bunch of words, designing a logo and uploading the nicest WordPress theme you can find.
Your website has a few purposes, but before you choose a design you're going to need to decide which is most important. Why before? Because purpose informs design, not the other way around. This is why hiring a website designer to do your website without a strong sense of the strategy behind it is a really bad idea. Inevitably you'll end up with something that doesn't align with your primary purpose. So what might those purposes be? Perhaps:
- Delivering blog content;
- Capturing email addresses or leads;
- Getting phone calls or initial consultations;
- Providing information about staff;
- Providing information about practice/service areas.
There are many more, but you can see the issue: you can't have your cake and eat it too.
If you want to focus on content, then focus on content. If you want to focus on lead capture, then do it. But if you try to do everything you'll succeed in none of it.
After purpose comes execution. With a million opinions out there, your website should be:
- designed to drive people to take the action you desire based on your chosen purpose
- easy to navigate
- mobile first (not mobile friendly – mobile first)
If you can tick those boxes, then your website is ready enough to go.
Social Media Assets
Although social media marketing is mainly about engaging with people, you'll need a few things to get going.
The first and most obvious question that everybody asks is “which platforms should we be on?”. That's a terrible question that I hate answering because the answer is always “it depends”.
Where do your clients hang out? Are they professionals on LinkedIn? Are they the IT crowd on Reddit? Are they avid video watchers on YouTube? Are they creatives on Instagram?
If you're fishing, you can't just throw out a tonne of burly every hour to attract the fish you want. Far better to go where the fish already are, right?
Find out where your fish hang out and go there.
If you're completely stuck, then set up these social media outposts in your firm's name (in order of my suggested priority):
- LinkedIn (put this in #1 spot if your clients are mostly in professional services, not because LinkedIn company pages are any good (they're not) but because of the easy leverage you can get through your personal profile and that of your staff);
- YouTube (this is part asset storage, part search engine, and part social media);
- Twitter (Twitter can be a powerful engagement and connection tool, but since many lawyers don't have the time or inclination to do it right I have put it last).
For most firms, that's going to give you enough to do. Any more and you'll probably do it badly or throw it into the too hard basket.
If you've nailed all of these and need something more to do, then feel free to add to your social media platforms from the many available options. The principles remain largely the same no matter which platform you're using anyway.
Most law firms have an email database. The way most of them have been collected over the years is a bit questionable, with options like:
- Everyone we've ever met;
- Every client we've ever had;
- All our LinkedIn connections;
- Anyone who submits an enquiry;
- People who sign up to our list.
Of these, number 5 is the only one that actually complies with any SPAM legislation.
You'll need to get your email database humming along if you're going to get your law firm's marketing into shape. Not just to collect emails, but to use the database appropriately.
If you don't have any email marketing software, then get some. Let's make it easy: if you want a shallow learning curve and a simple interface, then get ConvertKit. If you want something that will scale with you over the longer term, get Active Campaign.
Don't get Infusionsoft. It's unnecessarily confusing and expensive.
Once you've signed up for your software of choice, then you'll need to spend a little time figuring out how to use it (unless you want to just use it as you need to, and learn along the way). Find out how to:
- create lists (not relevant for ConvertKit);
- import your database, if you have one;
- create forms;
- tag or segment your clients;
- send an autoresponder or sequence to your emails, and how to trigger them (eg – when they first sign up);
- send a broadcast email to all of your subscribers.
Those things will be all you need for some time if you're just getting started.
Phase 1 Checklist
It's traditional to crack a bottle of champagne when you finish laying the foundations for your house. I see no reason you shouldn't do that in this case too…
- does your website design align with your strategy? how can you fix it?
- do you have your social media platforms set up? are they the right platforms for the people you want to connect with?
- do you have your email marketing software in place, and do you know how to use it?
Phase 2 – Spread Your Wings… A Bit
Quality content, engaging social media, and meaningful email use – these are the most important parts of your marketing agenda
Do you know why most law firm marketing plans fail? Because nobody actually does any of it.
They're normally planned out over a strategy session when everyone is feeling really optimistic and excited about how much time they are prepared to devote to the process. The moment you get back to the office, your email inbox and your telephone take over and the marketing plan is shelved until further notice.
Occasionally you might dust it off and paddle around a bit by scrolling through your LinkedIn newsfeed, but rarely is the necessary dedicated effort put in to make it work.
Then you complain that you just don't have time to market your practice.
Remember what I said about the mindset of building assets earlier? This is where that kicks in.
Setting up a website, email marketing and social media outposts is a good accomplishment but probably won't achieve anything by itself.
In this section we're going to start leveraging those assets.
Generating Constant, High Quality Content
If you pick only one thing to do properly, then pick this. Number 1. Not negotiable and not to be put aside because yet another social media platform is “the new Facebook”.
There are only four types of content: video, audio, images, writing.
For most law firm marketing efforts, I'd suggest you focus on them in this order:
Video marketing comes in a very close second to writing.
The main reason being that complex legal topics are often better explained in writing so your prospects can read and re-read the bits they might not understand at first. Beyond that, many people like to scan complex articles before committing to reading the whole thing (I'm betting that's what you did with this guide, right?) – which you can't do with video.
But what does “high quality” mean and how do you make it consistent?
I measure quality in these terms: how well does it address the question, problem or aspiration that I had when I found it?
If the answer is “amazingly well”, then you have high quality content.
But often it's not. Often the answer is:
- not enough information
- not enough information relevant to my question
- too broad
- too hard to understand
- wall of text – where are the paragraphs and headings, folks?
- not what I was looking for
Some of these you can control, and others you can't.
You should probably just sit down and do a proper content strategy. But if you can't be bothered or need something more slimline, here's how I suggest you make your content high quality, no matter the format:
- start with a question, problem or aspiration that your prospective clients actually care about;
- if in doubt, make the question more narrow than you are inclined to;
- answer that question completely and comprehensively, but without waffling on.
Generally, for your law firm's blog this should lead you to an article that is somewhere between 750 and 2000 words.
In video terms, this is going to be 3-5 minutes or so.
Images are a different kettle of fish, unless 0.5 point font appeals to you. For that reason, I'd better talk about why I listed the content types in that order.
Law Firm Marketing Is About Trust.
Done right, video is the highest trust builder, which is why it can be so powerful. People can see and hear you, and get an idea of who you are as a person as well as a measure of your expertise.
Audio is next, for similar reasons but without the seeing part.
A well written, personable blog post will give you a chance to demonstrate your expertise, but doesn't offer you quite as much opportunity to develop trust as a video does. It's much harder to get your personality (assuming you have one) across in a blog post.
Despite those things, I put written content at the top of the list for these reasons:
- most lawyers will be more comfortable with writing, which means you're more likely to do it;
- you're not going to freak out about writing something the same way you will when you first see yourself on video;
- you'll probably stick to it more regularly because you don't need to set much stuff up to write something professionally as you do to make a video;
- all things being equal, I think it's going to offer you longer term benefits of search engine optimisation.
That all said, you could pull out your phone right now and do a live video straight to Facebook. So the barriers on video are extremely low, and if you can do it well then it might be a game changer for your practice.
Images come last because I think they are ineffective for generating leads. I could build a large Instagram following with a bunch of quotes with nice pictures, but not a single one of them would ever become a client of mine.
Sure, images are great at getting “likes” and impressions on social media. This will make you feel good, and give the pretence that you're accomplishing something. But ultimately this doesn't position you as an expert in your field or deliver any real value to your clients. It's just a warm fuzzy feeling that passes quickly.
How do you make it consistent?
That part's fairly easy. Set aside time in your diary, just like you would a client meeting. Make time for each of brainstorming, creation/drafting, and finalisation/posting.
Then don't let anybody, ever, get in the way of that appointment. It's not secondary, it's not “movable” and it's not to be put to one side.
Connecting and Engaging With People
Don't do anything, say anything, or express anything that in any way confounds expectations about our firm image. Sounds fun, right?
You already know that social media is about engagement? Great! I know that too, so now we all know it.
But what's engagement? Does it just mean responding to comments on your firm's social media pages (which most law firms don't do very well anyway)?
One of the best lawyers I've seen in the area of connecting with people on social media is Mitch Jackson, a lawyer from California who connected with me on Twitter a while back. He reached out, we had a chat, and now we interact regularly with each other.
Here's what “not engagement” looks like:
- you post links to all of your stuff to social media
- you sometimes reply to comments.
Those two dot points above are how 95% (made up statistic) of law firms approach social media.
Often this is because none of the lawyers actually have any control over the social media accounts, and the marketing staff that manage the accounts haven't been empowered to use them properly. This is compounded by ill-advised social media policies which actively work against any kind of marketing success on social media.
No jokes – that's unprofessional.
No personality – you might offend someone.
Don't do anything, say anything, or express anything that in any way confounds expectations about our firm image.
That's what I call anti-social media.
Although social media is a good broadcast tool, and you should use it for that, it's a tiny fraction of what you can hope to achieve.
Also bear in mind that personal social media accounts sometimes have much more power than law firm accounts do (in particular on LinkedIn). This is for all the reasons I've mentioned above, and because of the way the platforms themselves work with what humans vs brands can do.
For example, people can join Facebook groups – Pages can't. People can join Groups on LinkedIn, but company's can't. Most of the person-to-person engagement tools are going to be best used by you as a person, not you as a firm.
The world is your oyster when it comes to marketing your law firm with social media, but here are some suggestions to get your headspace right:
- on Facebook, join some groups relevant to your clients – share good information, offer comments and suggestions, be friendly and helpful.
- on LinkedIn, comment on posts, share other people's work (yep – even your competitors!), join groups and engage with people.
- on YouTube, comment on applicable videos as your brand. Stay positive and don't get sucked into the crazy world of YouTube commentators.
- on Instagram, comment on posts and send relevant people DMs to say hello + something nice. Share some native content of things happening around the office, people saying stuff and generally showing a bit of personality.
Your Email Strategy
Although most law firms have an email database, it surprises me how few lawyers use email marketing to best advantage.
In setting up your foundations, you found out how to use your email marketing software. Now it's time to put that information to good use.
First, set up your website with email forms. Somewhere between “put forms everywhere” and “hide them entirely” is the truth. How crazy you go here depends on your primary website strategy from earlier. For most lawyers, the main goal is to make it obvious how to sign up for your email list without bugging people too much. If you want to offer people a lead magnet (a free thing designed to encourage them to opt-in to your email list) then this is the place to talk about it. It might be an ebook, a checklist or a mini-course designed to give people some front-end value.
Set up your email to ensure that people who sign up actually get the thing they were promised.
Next, hook those people into your autoresponders. If you're doing a mini-course, then the next emails most people will get will be to deliver that course. But if not, why not send them to some of your best, relevant content? Drip out a few emails over the next few weeks which take people to the things that matter and will build your trust.
Ensure that new subscribers get your email updates – this is a no-brainer. You also need to consider whether you want them to get your “latest article” updates if they're still going through your email sequence. Personally, I still send updates to those people, but you might decide it's too many emails in quick succession and will annoy your readers. Most email marketing programs will let you segment your email broadcasts to exclude people who are still going through your initial sequence.
But what then?
The hardest part of email marketing for lawyers is how to pivot into a sales request. If you're totally against the “hard sell” then why not just ask people: Can We Help You? After all, that's kind of your job anyway, right?
A simple email, timed to arrive after your initial sequence, with an open question inviting a reply.
You'd be surprised just how effective that can be.
Phase 2 Checklist
If you have managed to get your house in order with your content, social and email strategies then that is a HUGE accomplishment. Perhaps a dinner to celebrate?
- what will you publish, when will you consistently publish it, and how are you going to ensure it's high quality?
- what's your social campaign going to look like? Will you join groups, use searches, engage in comments? How is that going to drive relationship-building?
- Have you developed a strategy to get people onto your email list, deliver them value, and increase their level of trust and confidence in you over time?
- Have you set aside regular time to do these things that will not, under any circumstances, be put aside for something “more important”?
Phase 3 – Measure, Refine, Pivot, Expand
The only people that matter are your prospects… so how can you tell what they think, and what do you do about it?
Now you have built your core assets and you're generating consistent content for your chosen group of people. But how do you know if it's “epic”?
You can't assume that what you think is epic is, in fact, going to be epic for anyone else. The measure of “epic” is usually in the hands of your audience.
Knowing how to market your law firm isn't about getting everything right the first time. Instead, law firm marketing requires you to pay attention to what your prospects are doing in response to your efforts.
That's why we measure things and respond to what we see.
This isn't a short-term project. Sure, you can measure the effectiveness of certain topics through open rates and click rates with your email marketing software, but that doesn't give you much search engine optimization (SEO) information and doesn't mean that you should throw something in the bin immediately.
Take your time and look for trends as well as immediate information.
What to Measure…
I'm confident that you don't want to become a statistics nerd, so I'm going to keep this list fairly short. The list of things you could measure is insanely long.
I've also done a longer guide to what measurements matter in your content marketing here, so if you want a bit more information then check that out too.
But for now:
- In your email marketing, monitor your open rates and click-through rates. Open rates will tell you generally how good your subjects lines are, and click-through rates will tell you whether your content is interesting to your audience. Anything over 20% open rates and 2% click-through rates and you're doing OK.
- In your site analytics keep an eye on:
- sessions – this will tell you how often people actually visit your website in a particular time period
- landing pages – this will help you know what your most popular content is
- time on site – if people bounce off your site within a few seconds, then there's a problem with your headlines, your site layout or your load time
- In each social media channel, pay attention to click through rates and shares for your articles (n/a for Instagram) – ignore likes.
If you do this, you'll find that you're paying attention to more than most firms do.
What to Do With your Measurements
Just measuring things is kind of useless unless you take action based on the information you find.
I'd measure for 3-6 months before getting too caught up with reacting to things. It's only over time and trends that you'll really be able to start noticing what's important and what's temporary.
In response to any given metric there's really only two things you need to do:
- Identify the issue (whether good or bad)
- Take advantage of that information.
Because there are many possible variations on your data, here are a few examples to highlight what I mean.
Example 1 – if you have low click through rates on social media (bearing in mind that it's pretty low at the best of times), then perhaps your headlines need some work. After all, the sole job of your headline is to get people to click – if people aren't clicking then perhaps your headline is off? Are your images coming through OK, and is your introduction/excerpt selling the benefits of the article?
Alternatively, perhaps your topic selection just isn't relevant to your audience. They don't care about that thing, and so aren't wasting their valuable time reading it.
Example 2 – if lots of people are clicking your article, but aren't staying on your site for more than a few seconds then your headline and topic selection are probably fine. This could suggest that your headline is misleading people about what they'll find. It could also suggest that your layout or site design is making your content hard to view. If your site is slow, then people will give up pretty quickly if the article isn't loading.
Example 3 – if you have an article that is especially popular, gets lots of shares or comments, and seems to have hit the mark – then why not double down on it? This is a chance to run some advertising, or share your article with a wider audience, or to break up the concepts and really nail the topic even more comprehensively.
How to Pivot
Not everything is going to require a systemic pivot, but sometimes you might just find things aren't going as intended.
Figuring out what the problem is should be phase one, but if you need to change up your strategy then often it's going to be:
- you're writing for the wrong audience (eg – your topic selection is off)
- your content isn't engaging or helpful enough
A pivot means that you need to tweak something in your underlying strategy. Often this is going to be your content strategy because that's what we're focused on here in terms of asset building.
But perhaps it's your website. If you're getting lots of traffic to your site through your content but generating no leads, does your site design need a tweak?
If you're gradually building email subscribers but 0% of those people become warm leads or clients, then perhaps you're off topic or your email sequence isn't doing a good job of selling.
Whatever the case, here's what I suggest:
- only try one variation at a time – tweak something then leave it to see what (if anything) changes
- don't do this regularly, or you'll never have enough data to make useful decisions – 6 monthly reviews are probably appropriate, although perhaps if you're just getting started waiting a year is a good idea because your first 3-6 months will be fairly quiet
- make sure you pivot with data, not just based on the last blog post you read about what you “must” be doing in digital marketing.
Phase 3 Checklist
Metrics aren't everybody's cup of tea. I recommend a nice single malt to accompany the analytics programs if you struggle with data analysis.
- have you set up Google analytics, email analytics and social analytics? Do you know basically how to use them and find the information you need?
- what information are you going to focus on right now? how is that information going to help you adjust your content or your strategy?
- how often are you going to review your analytics in each area? at what milestones will you decide whether to pivot or not?
Phase 4 – How to Turn Leads Into Clients
If your strategy isn't actually resulting in clients, then something is going wrong. Is it just that you're afraid to ask for business?
This guide is about law firm marketing, not sales.
But I think we can all accept that lawyers aren't great at sales.
At some point, you need to ask for business though. If you're afraid to do this, then why? Don't you believe that what you're selling is useful? As a result of this fear, lots of lawyers do this:
I'd like your business but I'm embarrased to ask for it so I'll skirt around the edges and hopefully you'll get what I'm trying to communicate
It doesn't work.
I'm not going to suddenly turn this into a page about sales methods, but I wanted to highlight that the entire point of marketing your law firm is to get more clients.
Not to get likes. Not to get shares. Not to get traffic or even email subscribers.
If that's not happening then it's all a big waste of time and emotional labour.
Here are some key places and times that you might be able to ask for the sale:
- on social media if you've had a private discussion with somebody (LinkedIn messages, Facebook messenger or Instagram DM) and believe you can help, invite them to talk on the phone;
- in your email marketing sequences, like I've described above;
- directly on your website as a call to action – this stems back to the purpose of your site though, so don't confuse people by offering too many “primary” calls to action.
It really depends on what service you're offering. The higher the risk (often, the higher the fees) the more you'll need to engage with people. The less complex the nature of your service, the more likely you can ask for the sale earlier on.
Phase 4 Checklist
Selling is hard, and I'm not going to promise you that it gets any easier.
- when is it time to ask someone if they want to hire you?
- how are you going to do it?
- if this is terror-land for you, how about you practice with someone in a little role play? It will be awkward but at least you'll get used to saying the words aloud
And Now It's Your Turn
If you scrolled to the bottom, then here's what you need to do:
- Set up your assets – at a minimum, this is a strategically designed website, your social media outposts, and your email marketing database
- Use the assets right – constant epic content, engaging social media, and actually using your email marketing platform
- Review, refine – measure what's going on, pay attention to what's working or not, and use that information to your advantage
- Sell – at some point you've got to ask for the business. Whether it's in person, by email, on social or on your site – if you're going to sell, then SELL.
Now that you know what to do, your next step is to break your law firm marketing down into small pieces, allocate yourself time to get a piece done regularly and start the process of marketing your firm and your legal practice.