The 7 Surefire Steps to Successful Law Firm Marketing
Running a successful law firm has two elements: client acquisition and client fulfillment. Fortunately, law schools only teach you the client fulfillment part—you probably learned little or next to nothing about client acquisition. There is no point in knowing how to practice law if you don’t know how to find clients that will hire you.
Why do I consider it fortunate for you that law schools don’t teach marketing?
If every law student graduated law school knowing surefire ways to get paying clients, you would be forced to compete in an amazing competitive marketplace. Lucky for you, most lawyers have little to no knowledge of marketing a law firm. They end up wasting time and resources, lurching from strategy to strategy, never quite gaining the momentum necessary to grow a practice and dominate a market. You’re not going to waste time and resources.
While we are a digital marketing firm, we fully realize that there are offline strategies that can deliver tremendous results. This guide is going to give an overview of a few of these offline strategies as well as tactics to integrate them with online strategies.
Before we get into the meat of it, here are the 6 steps:
- Craft the right message about your practice, figure out whom you need to reach, and when to reach him or her
- Establish a marketing budget and stick to it
- Build a website that communicates your message through both imagery and text
- Become an online authority
- Become an offline authority
- Tend to your online reputation
- Hire a professional to run a paid search campaign for your firm
1. The Right Message, The Right Person, at the Right Time
Good marketing gets the right message, to the right person, and the right time. Before you start spending any money, time, or effort on marketing your practice, you need to determine what your message is, whom you should deliver it to, and when he or she will be most receptive to it.
Craft a Unique Value Proposition
The right message is not a tagline; the tagline is simply a succinct communication of that message. Why should someone hire you vs. a competitor? What are you able to offer that another law firm does not offer? Why does your practice exist?
Maybe you’re a former appellate prosecutor that has decided to go into private practice. You can craft a message touting your past experience “on the other side” as an asset to your client.
Maybe you’ve specialized in a specific niche, such as intellectual property in the software industry. By declaring a specialization, you can craft a message around the specialized expertise that you have about your client’s industry.
Regardless of what you have done or whom you are, you should be able to offer some uniqueness in your services. It is imperative you communicate your unique value proposition in your messaging.
Target “The Right Person”
Most advertising that you’re familiar with is an unmeasurable, “pray and spray” approach to marketing. Daytime television or late-night cable ads for “aggressive local lawyers that will fight for you!” are basically targeting people that don’t work 9-5 jobs (or don’t work at all). This will include lots of people who are not your target audience.
It is advisable that you start by creating “buyer personas,” even if you do so informally. Imagine the client that is most likely to hire you and your practice and determine that person’s:
- Preferences related to your services
- Questions that this person may have about topics related to your services
Jonathan Ramirez, age 42. He owns a bodega in Philadelphia and nets $45k a year. He is a member of both the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and and the Association of Bodega owners in Philadelphia. He has a number of questions about what would be involved with converting a small warehouse on Lehigh Ave. into a small supermarket.
Margie Levine, age 53. She is an executive at a fast-growing fast casual restaurant based in Philadelphia. She is tasked with overseeing the opening of new locations throughout the region and is unsure about how certain regulations vary between Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Deliver Your Message at the Right Time
A regional advertising firm approaches you with a pitch. They’re going to put an advertisement for your land use firm in every bar bathroom at the Jersey Shore. For both Jonathan and Margie, this is going to be the wrong time for them to see your message.
While this may be an extreme example, it is not uncommon to hear from attorneys that want to advertise their services on platforms that are new, but entirely inappropriate for their target audiences. Snapchat may be the newest, hottest social media platform, but it would be an entirely inappropriate place to run personal injury ads.
A Tale of Two Law Firms Marketing On Facebook
Users go on Facebook or Instagram with a certain goal in mind; they likely want to catch up with friends, read about things that interest them, or share the minutia of their day. This is a decent medium for a real estate attorney to place sponsored content about real estate on the feeds of people interested in real estate. It is a terrible medium for a local personal injury lawyer to share content about slip and falls.
Why is it “decent” for one lawyer yet “terrible” for another? Timing.
The content about real estate will likely be in alignment with why some of the viewers are on Facebook in the first place; they want to read about things that interest them. No one goes on Facebook hoping to read about slip and fall lawsuits.
This is not to say that no one is interested in content about slip and falls—it’s just the wrong time to deliver that content. The local personal injury lawyer would be much better served by running a paid search campaign targeting searches related to slip and fall injuries. He should also consider creating a blog/video series that runs through all of the particulars in slip and fall cases in the state where he practices. The right time for the PI lawyer to deliver his message is when the client is explicitly looking for it, not when the client is more interested in cat videos.
2. Establish a Budget For Your Marketing
Does Your Law Firm Serve Businesses or Private Individuals?
Marketing a divorce lawyer has very different costs involved with it that marketing a firm focused on subrogation.
Marketing law firms that serve individuals
The 2018 Deloitte CMO Survey indicated that b2c businesses spend the highest percentage of gross revenue on marketing at 18%. This would indicate that a startup personal injury firm should consider spending anywhere from 10%-20% of gross revenue to get started.
One rule of thumb recommends spending 7%-8% of gross revenue on marketing if your business generates less than $5 million dollars in gross revenue annually. Considering that most startup law firms are earning less than this $5 million a year, this might be the right number for your firm.
Marketing law firms that serve businesses
If your practice provides legal services to other businesses, your marketing efforts will be quite different from those of a firm that aims to reach the masses. The 2018 survey by Deloitte in the previous paragraph reports the “service consulting” industry allocating 12% of gross revenues to marketing. For a firm whose area of focus could be described as service consulting, it may be necessary to spend 5%-15% of gross revenue on marketing, especially in the case of a startup law firm
3. You Need to Build a Website
In 2018, the most common content management system (CMS) on the internet is WordPress. You’ve almost certainly heard of it before.
WordPress is great for law firm marketing for a number of reasons:
- It is probably the easiest CMS to use
- It is open-source and boasts a massive community of users and contributors. If you can dream up a function that you would like your website to perform, someone has likely developed a free or inexpensive addon—referred to as a “plugin”—that can provide that feature
- For a cash-strapped startup law firm, there are tons of local developers that can get a template WordPress site up to help you market your firm
- WordPress will allow you to begin blogging. By writing blogs, you’ll be able to answer the sorts of questions that potential clients are likely to type into the search engine. By answering these questions, you’ll demonstrate your expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) to the search engine while gaining an opportunity to pitch your services. E-A-T is how Google determines the “worth” of your site, which will impact your likelihood to rank. More on this later.
Should Your Law Firm Build a Custom Theme or use a Customized Theme or Template?
This is a hotly debated topic in the world of web design. Our agency rarely builds custom themes because they cost markedly more than a customized theme or template and can deliver the same results. Here is a rundown of the upsides and downsides of each:
Custom Theme (typically $5k-$15k)
This is a WordPress theme that is coded from scratch.
- When designed right, they can be very fast to load
- Saves storage space, often 80% smaller than a premium customized template
- Expensive; usually cost $5k-$50k depending on the complexity of the design and the skill/reputation of the developer
- When designed wrong, can perform worse than a well designed customized theme
Customized Premium Theme (typically $2k-$7k)
This is a premium theme that was purchased and customized to your specifications.
- If it’s a good theme and the developer knows what he is doing, it can also load fast
- Often widely used, so most bugs have already been discovered and addressed
- Much more affordable than a custom theme
- They are usually bigger than custom themes, often as large as 15mb-20mb
- More expensive than a template
Template Theme (Typically $500-$1500)
This is a paint-by-numbers theme.
- You can get started fast
- You have a WP site, which some SEOs believe is better for search rank than a Wix or Weebly site
- You are often limited in your customization options
- There’s a high likelihood that your site will look like someone else’s
You Need a Website that Clearly Communicates Your Message
Messaging is the #1 problem with most attorney websites.
You read the previous section and now you understand what you need to say, whom you’re saying it to, and when you need to say it. Now it’s time to build a website and make sure that you’re delivering this message.
Most attorneys fall short during this step. They often rely on IT and web designers to deliver their message, despite the fact that neither has a background in marketing. If you are not crystal clear about what you want to communicate to your visitors, the person building your website will not do so effectively. Unless you are working with a marketing agency to craft your message and build your website, you must have everything spelled out for your web developer. Fail to do this and you’re probably going to miss out on a lot of business.
Visuals are just as important as the site copy
Visitors are going to look at the photos, graphics, colors, and typefaces on your website before they read a word of what you’ve written. Craft that message with your images.
Case Study in Using Images to Communicate Benefits, Not Features
We began working with a law firm that handles life insurance claim denials for beneficiaries. This was the website that they built originally:
Months went by and visitors to the site were not contacting the firm for consultations. The firm that built the site changed to the header image, resulting in this site:
The site still wasn’t converting visitors. This was mostly due to faulty visuals that did not effectively communicate the benefits of having the firm represent beneficiaries.
The initial design was simply of a plaque outside the office, which communicated nothing at all. The contact form and contact information did not really stand out against the design, resulting in a website that did not drive leads.
The redesign addressed the issues with the contact information, but the header image communicated nothing other than “our clients are sad and helpless”—the exact opposite of what a firm should want to communicate.
We rebuilt the site with visuals that focused on the outcome of hiring the firm. The father is not in the photo, but the mother and the young girl are ok, enjoying a beautiful sunset—the entire reason why the family purchased the life insurance policy in the first place.
Law firm website headers most commonly feature pictures of the partners. No one cares about them. The header of your firm’s website should say something about your client, not you. If your client needs workers’ comp benefits to pay the bills, get better and go back to work, the header should feature workers in an industry that is prominent in your area. If you’re an expert in land use, show some images of the groundbreaking of a large construction site. Focus on why people hire you and not who delivers the services.
4. Become an Online Legal Authority
Now that you have a WordPress website, you’ll be able to start working on creating an online reputation. As I mentioned in a previous section, becoming an online authority in your area of expertise has a number of benefits. The first is that it helps your site to rank in Google.
Ranking On Google Is Much More Than Being #1 for 3 Keywords
When we began working on the Boonswang Law website (see previous section), the founder expressed that he “had to rank for life insurance lawyer and life insurance lawyers.” After running pay-per-click ads for 4 years and collecting data on hundreds of thousands of queries, the term “life insurance lawyer” and its close variants only account for roughly 30% of client inquiries that he received.
The remaining 70% of client inquiries came from people that had performed searches such as:
- What to do when beneficiary of life insurance is deceased?
- Lawyers to sue metlife over death benefits
- Can insurer deny benefits over lapsed payments
These, along with the thousands of other relevant queries, are great opportunities for your practice to get in front of potential clients. To start, it gives you an opportunity to pitch your services while they are on your page. Second, when Google receives positive user signals—meaning that the visitors seem to stop searching after they visit your site—you’ll earn “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness” in the eyes of the search engine. This will increase the likelihood that your site will show up for other queries.
Online Content Can Be Much More than Blogs
There are tons of different ways that you can provide valuable content and build your reputation online. Among them are:
- Facebook live
- Webinars where you share your expertise
- Linkedin videos
- YouTube videos
- White papers
- Infographics (though I’m not the hugest fan of this content)
5. Become an Offline Legal Authority
Several of the most prominent personal injury and workers’ comp law firms in the Greater Philadelphia Region built their practices around their relationships with labor unions.
Do what you can to cultivate relationships with trade associations, chambers of commerce, unions, or any organization that your prospective clients may interact with. This is a time-consuming process, but one of the most valuable assets that your firm will have.
Speak at as many Meetups, CLE events, conferences, or any other gatherings as you possibly can. Build a reputation in the market that you wish to serve. When a member of the local organization is injured, you may be the attorney that his friends recommend. When someone is injured on the job, the union rep may be the person that recommends he hire you.
6. Cultivate Your Online Reputation
According to Review Trackers, 83% of clients check reviews before hiring an attorney.
That’s something that you simply cannot ignore.
In addition, quantity and quality of online reviews are a ranking signal for local SEO, making online reputation management a part of a solid SEO plan. Your practice must develop a plan to solicit reviews from happy clients and know how to handle negative online reviews. Having a long list of positive reviews of your firm will help you to close the leads that you have and quite possibly play a role in getting your practice onto a prospective clients’ shortlist.
Doing so can be as easy as creating a template email to send to all of your happy clients. Within that email there should be a link to leave a Google, Facebook, Avvo, and/or Yelp review. If you can only pick one out of the bunch, my recommendation is to focus on your Google reviews. After setting up a Google My Business account, you can create a link that will send people right to a box where they can leave reviews. Simply sending them a link to your Google profile or knowledge panel will add unnecessary steps and confusion, so learn how to create the link. This link will show you how.
7. Hire a Professional to Run a PPC Campaign for Your Firm
If your law firm is marketing to the general public and not businesses, you should be running paid search ads.
We’ve heard all of the nonsense excuses; ignore them. We’ve never run a PPC campaign for a law firm that wasn’t ROI positive. If you’ve tried and haven’t gotten any business from it, it was because you didn’t know what you were doing.
PPC management for law firms is not something that just anyone can do. You’re going to be going up against professionals that are using sophisticated scripts and techniques that a non-professional simply won’t be able to compete against.
Before you do hire someone, there are a few steps that you need to take:
- Calculate your customer lifetime value. How much is a case worth to you? You need to know how much you stand to earn per client acquisition and how much you can spend to acquire a new client.
- Set up robust conversion tracking. By setting various conversion goals and importing them into Google Adwords, you’ll be able to know how much it cost to get a prospective client on the phone.
- Keep track of your close rate. Out of every client contact that you receive that you can attribute to your Adwords campaign, what percentage turn into revenue?
By keeping tabs on how much it costs to generate revenue for the firm, you’ll be less likely to complain that “Adwords is expensive.” If it costs you $600 to acquire a new client that is likely to generate $8k, that $600 cost is money well spent.