Proven Law Marketing | Top Law Firm Marketing Blog
Attorney marketing strategies by PLM produce excellent results for small, medium and large law firms seeking to increase clients and improve revenues. The Proven Law Marketing blog is written by attorney Matt Starosciak and covers topics such as social media, SEO, reputation management and conversion tracking.
I was recently talking with a prospective client who had only been out of law school a short time. He was frustrated and felt that clients would want someone more experienced to handle their most important legal matters.
In some ways, he was right. All things being equal, most smart clients will hire a lawyer who’s been practicing longer than one who hasn’t. However, all things are rarely equal. And the advantage this lawyer had over his more seasoned competitors was that they weren’t very good at conveying their credentials and why they were a better fit for prospective clients. They were also quite a bit more expensive.
So, what can new attorneys do to reduce the negative connotation associated with inexperience? Below are three proven strategies.
Have great photos on your website. Images of you and your staff should be of the highest quality and really show your personality. Good photographers also know tricks for aging their subjects a bit and you should explain to them that this is one of your goals. Similarly, if you have an above average building in terms of appearance, be sure to include professional shots of it throughout the website as it will make you look more established and successful enough to house your firm in a quality location.
Have lots of client testimonials. Prospective clients put a lot of stock in what former clients say about their lawyer. Include at least 10-15 testimonials on a dedicated website page, but also scatter the best ones throughout other pages of the website. If you have clients with industry or community name recognition, include those first, and try to hit a variety of factors that will appeal to different clients, such as the ability to achieve results, responsiveness and service, price and value, etc.
Include non-lawyering achievements. Build prospective client confidence in your ability by discussing other things you’ve accomplished in your life that show dedication, the ability to thrive under pressure, a commitment to personal service, or other factors that can bridge the gap between inexperience and competence. Examples I’ve used for clients include prior military experience (discipline), athletic competition at a very high level (commitment), a law degree from another country (perspective), and family history of attorneys (exposure).
Given the choice, I would rank experience as a key advantage for lawyers when it comes to marketing. But not having it doesn’t preclude other attorneys from being able to attract and convert high-value clients for their practice. They simply need to understand what other strategies are available to them… and implement them.
Working on behalf of a law firm client, I recently requested that their website hosting company make changes to the contact form that appears on the Contact Us page of their website. Specifically, I wanted the hosting company to add a required field that asked the submitter “How did you find our law firm?”. This simple change would force a prospective client to choose from a number of marketing campaigns the law firm was running at the time, which included: Google, Findlaw.com, Lawyers.com, Avvo.com, Billboards, Press Release, Radio Ad, Referral, Other.
The purpose of this change was to increase the accuracy of the firm’s new client tracking. In other words, each prospective client who completed the contact form would be forced to “tell” the firm how they found it. The firm could then keep an accurate log of where all new business leads were coming from – or at least those ultimately generated via the website contact form. Pretty simple concept, but a very often forgotten one by law firms.
Here’s where it gets interesting though. After several days, the website hosting company responded to my request with an email stating that the firm would have to pay a higher monthly hosting fee if it wanted a “custom contact form”. Really? This company, with which the law firm spent a lot of money on other marketing products, was going to increase their already exorbitant monthly hosting fee to make a couple minor changes to the fields on a website contact form? Why would they do that? Certainly the cost to them is less than nominal as the requested change is very simple to make even with the most archaic website coding software.
I’m confident the reason for the fee was to discourage the law firm from making the change altogether. You see, the website hosting company doesn’t simply forward prospective client emails generated from the website to the law firm. They go a step further and put their branding on every email generated via the website contact form… even if that website visitor came to the website as the result of a different marketing investment.
Here’s an example that will clarify:
Prospective client hears the law firm’s radio commercial and visits the firm’s website.
Prospective client completes and submits the website contact form.
Hosting company ensures prospective client’s contact form information is sent to the law firm for follow-up. But before it does so, it labels the lead as “This is a lead generated from your _____________ website.”
So when the law firm receives the lead, it has no idea it was generated through their radio campaign. They only see a lead that is designed to make them believe it was generated by ______________, their website company. At best, this is a poor business practice by the website hosting company. At worst, it’s a sinister attempt to take credit for leads they certainly aren’t generating for the law firm.
Here are our takeaways:
Make sure all of your website contact forms have a required field for how the submitter found your website.
Understand that your website hosting company’s name on an email lead doesn’t mean they generated it.
If your website company wants to charge you for a change to the fields on your contact form, start looking for another website company.
When you have your renewal meeting with your website hosting company, pay close attention to how they discuss the number of leads generated via your website. See if they want to take credit for all leads received from the website, or whether they acknowledge that some of those email leads may have originated through other investments.
I was recently asked by an attorney who is opening her own practice about how to set-up her office. Of course, opinions vary widely on what constitutes a “nice” office, and the below is not meant to provide interior decorating advice, especially since I am quite color-blind. But I covered quite a bit of this in my book and thought it would be helpful to provide good office characteristics from the client experience perspective.
Not in need of repairs. One of the biggest ways to turn off prospective clients is to have broken stuff in your office. Common examples are water-stained ceiling tiles or drywall, broken or missing moldings, non-working paper dispensers in the restroom, and stained or nasty carpet.
Clean. Where are the dirtiest places in a law office? The client waiting room and lobby, of course, because those are the rooms the bosses never see. Keeping your office environment clean should go without saying, but I see dirty ones all the time. The most commons issues are dirty windows, bathroom toilets, counters, and sinks, and fingerprints or scuff marks on the conference room walls. Paint and carpeting are very inexpensive and can completely change the appearance of a room… or two. Clutter free is key, at least in the areas that clients will see.
Bathroom. Have the following…
Working toilets, sinks, and paper dispensers
Keep extra toilet paper visible as well as disposable hand towels. Use a soft soap dispenser, not bar soap, and don’t have washable hand towels unless they are embroidered with your logo and only there for decoration. Also, keep environmentally-friendly spray for smells, and a plunger under the vanity for emergencies.
Most importantly, have a loud fan or radio if the bathroom is within ear-shot of other offices or rooms where people will be. No one wants others to hear them using the restroom.
Daily cleanings. At a minimum, bathroom fixtures should be wiped down every day and should be deep-cleaned once per week. Trash removal every day is an absolute necessity.
Background noise. I’m 50/50 on music being piped throughout the entire office, but certainly it’s nice to have some easy listening tunes in the lobby to bring down client stress and keep conversations private.
Cold, individually packaged refreshments. All visitors to the office, whether a prospective client, salesperson, or friend should be offered soda, coffee, or a bottle of water. Train your staff to ask “what can I get you to drink? We have cans of soda, bottled water, or fresh coffee.” Some people would like a bottle of water, but not a glass of it. Accommodate them.
Signage. Usually, the larger the better and further from the office, the better. But at a minimum, your clients should be able to see your sign on the building or immediately upon entering it. Make sure if there are a number of businesses listed on a screen that your firm name is listed, as well as each individual attorney. A new client may know they are coming to see Mr. Smith, but may not know your firm is Daniel B. Cooper, P.C. Also, put a logo on all signs if possible to enhance brand awareness.
Landscaping: Remove dead bushes. Mulch or pine straw flower beds twice per year. Clean up the parking lot, especially trash and cigarette butts. Make sure shrubs are cut away from sidewalks or pathways.
No smoking in view. If you have smokers, provide a space for them to indulge that is out of the sight of clients.
Confidentiality. Never discuss client business in ear-shot of non-employees. This includes staff-to-staff conversations, as well as those between staff members and clients. Always ask a client to come into the back of the office, even if it’s to tell them one sentence.
Safety. Install handrails and non-slip surfaces on steps, mark changes in elevation with yellow paint, put down water absorbing rugs to wipe wet feet when it’s raining. Ensure all areas a client may access are handicap accessible. Have an umbrella bucket next to the door with umbrellas in it that you can offer visitors to take home when it’s raining.
Something for kids. It may be very rare that a younger child is in your office, but it will happen eventually. Keep a drawer with something to entertain children. Sticker books are a good choice, as are coloring books with crayons. Also keep kid-friendly refreshments such as non-staining juice boxes and healthy snacks.
Mints and candy. Nerves can result in dry mouth. Long meetings can wreak havoc on fresh breath. Always have mints or hard candy available in the lobby and conference rooms.
Logo glassware. Depositions are a great time to show off the quality of your firm, and a nice touch is new glassware with your firm’s logo. Make an investment in a quality serving tray, coasters, glasses and mugs, as well as an ice bucket and tongs.
Walls. In addition to whatever you prefer for décor, put the following on your walls, and do so where everyone who enters your office will see:
Media coverage. Articles from newspapers, magazines, or other publications. (Have these made into plaques so that the quality is very good.)
Community service photos and letters of appreciation
Mission Statement in a nice frame with professional design.
Undergraduate and law school diplomas.
Painting of any deceased firm members.
Photos of the office construction, ribbon cutting, attorneys receiving awards or with important people (e.g. Supreme Court Justice, Mayor)
A nice office won’t necessarily produce a bunch of new business just like a bad office doesn’t automatically cause you to lose business. But the reality is that you spent a ton of time, money, and effort to become a lawyer and having an objectively nice place for your practice falls under the “right way to do things” category.
Marketing is one of the few areas of society and business where the rules regarding political correctness, grammar, and imagery can be broken.
In early 2017, Sling TV began running a commercial featuring actor Danny Trejo. The spot is very simple. Trejo is sitting backward in a chair wearing a sleeveless black shirt. The background is black as well. The commercial opens with Trejo stating, “People say I’m scary.”
Whoa! Are you allowed to comment negatively on someone’s appearance in 2017? Apparently so, since there was no outrage about characterizing Trejo based on his looks. (I also assume he has no problem accepting money for the spot.)
If we are honest, Trejo is a little scary. He has lots of nasty tattoos and long, stringy hair. His facial skin is pitted and he has huge bags under his eyes. His voice is also deep and raspy — almost sinister. If a group of young children without verbal filters saw him in the park, they would probably say he is scary.
The above example illustrates an important point when it comes to marketing: Standard rules that apply everywhere else can be broken.
Below are three areas where law firms can typically get away with rule breaking:
PhotoShop: Pictures of people and offices should be “cleaned up” to enhance the way they look. For example, headshot photos should be professionally touched-up for stray hairs, wrinkled clothing, and eye circles. Exterior photos of office buildings should have power lines, garbage cans, and other “non-essentials” removed.
Grammar: Certainly slogans and taglines can break grammar rules, but even website content can bend what would be considered proper writing. For example, “their” can be used for his or her, even if the accompanying subject is singular. Lists don’t have to include every conceivable option or scenario, especially if doing so would make the content unreadable to the average client.
Political Correctness: Assume you are putting up a billboard that will feature an image of a group of people. If the community where the board is located is 85 percent black, there isn’t a need to have five different ethnicities represented. In marketing, you are allowed to speak to your desired audience.
Marketing campaigns frequently break generally accepted rules regarding grammar, imagery, and sensitive subjects such as race and appearance.
Be willing to experiment with different marketing messages and approaches, as long as they are tactful.
There is a point at which advertising can become dishonest. Stay away from it. It’s not worth tarnishing your reputation or violating rules of professional responsibility.
There are a few big-picture questions that should be answered before investing in billboards to market your law practice. They involve your firm’s overall dollar allocation between branding and direct lead generation campaigns, whether you’re in a rural or metro area, and the types of cases you handle.
However, once you do decide to buy billboard space, there are some very specific steps that must be taken to ensure a strong ROI. The most important ones are below:
Don’t buy just one board. Billboards fall on the branding side of the marketing strategy spectrum, which means they need repetition to build familiarity and produce returns. The only exception would be a very strategic location. For example, if you do DUI defense, having a billboard outside the city’s impound lot would be a great opportunity.
Don’t trust the photos sent by the vendor. They are often outdated, taken at misleading angles, and photoshopped. Always visit a potential location in person. Look for trees, power lines, board condition, and anything else that could affect the success of your campaign.
Consider changes in traffic volume due to construction or seasonal venues. A billboard on a road to a lake’s boat ramp may be a great investment in the summer and a loser in the winter.
Take stock of things other than your billboard which may draw the vehicle occupants’ eyes. For example, if your billboard is on the left side of a very dangerous curve, it’s safe to assume most drivers will be paying attention to the road and not your marketing.
Make the billboard vendor handle everything necessary to get the marketing up and running, including vinyl production and installation. When something goes wrong (i.e. damage to a vinyl due to improper installation), vendors like to blame others involved in the process. By keeping everything together, you eliminate their ability to push the blame for a mishap.
Don’t stay on one board too long. Unless it’s a fantastic location, look to capture eyes in different parts of your geographic target. I typically recommend 4-6 month contracts.
Billboards can be an effective way to market a law practice. But like any investment, you need to know exactly what you’re getting and what your expectation is at the outset.
I’m not much of a self-reflection guy. But I do make time each December to take stock of how my business performed over the past twelve months, and what my plan is for a successful new year.
For lawyers, it’s especially important to plan the upcoming year’s marketing strategies before the clock turns midnight on January 1st. Law firms should be creating marketing budgets which reflect key changes based on the previous year’s performance. And important decisions need to be made about what products to buy. (For law firm marketing product reviews, click here.)
But before getting too far into marketing budget allocation for 2018, attorneys should answer some important questions about themselves and the capabilities of their firms. Doing so will reduce the frustration associated with wasted time and dollars, while also providing peace of mind and ensuring strong returns on business development investments.
Below are those questions along with some elaboration
1. How much of your budget will go toward direct lead generation strategies verses those designed to build brand awareness? You’re in for a tough road if you expect one type of marketing to do the job of another.
2. What is your tolerance for worthless leads? This is one of the most ignored factors in the marketing decision-making process. Yet, I’ve seen lawyers nearly go crazy because of the shear number of junk inquiries they receive from marketing campaigns. Worse yet, I’ve seen some of them cancel campaigns that produce well overall because they couldn’t see past the volume of unviable leads.
3. What is a realistic expectation of revenue generation? If you are expecting a 20 to 1 dollar return on your marketing, you better brace for disappointment. The legal market is too competitive for that type of success in all but the best-case scenarios.
4. How good is your intake process? If you haven’t reviewed – in detail – how prospective clients are handled from start to finish, there is no question you are losing money. Perhaps surprisingly, the most successful law firms tend to have the worst intake.
5. Is your online resume incredibly impressive? The best law firm clients are going to check multiple sources before making a hiring decision. The first page of Google search results for your name needs to make you shine brighter than all other options available to that prospect.
There are no guarantees when it comes to marketing investments, but you can greatly increase your chances of success with the right plan. And the end of the year is a great time to put your knowledge and experience to work on creating it.
Premise If you don’t have at least one negative online review, you will. It’s the world we live in today and every firm needs a strategy for dealing with bad reviews.
Story In late 2013, I was contacted by Tom, the managing partner of a 10-attorney litigation boutique, about helping his firm improve their overall marketing direction. I was a couple years out of my sales career and it showed, because I made a cardinal error early in our meeting. I showed Tom a negative review someone had posted about his firm on Google.
I spent the rest of the meeting trying to regain Tom’s attention. The negative review absolutely consumed him. He couldn’t understand why someone would possibly write a bad comment about his firm, and he was even more distraught that the person was allowed to do so anonymously. I could have helped Tom and his firm, but we never got that far.
Online reviews have become part of our social fabric. That have the potential for great good, and also great abuse. But the reality for business owners is that they must learn how to manage the issue. Below are key takeaways and tips for doing just that:
Expect to get some negative reviews. I’ve seen everything from very legitimate ones, to ones where the reviewer actually had the wrong law firm because of a similar name. Certainly, competitors have posted negative reviews against other law firms in the past, and that won’t stop anytime soon.
Don’t respond to negative reviews. Opinions vary quite a bit on this issue, with many marketers saying just the opposite. My opinion is based on four truths:
When you respond, you invite the reviewer to post even more damaging stuff about you, exasperating the problem further.
When you respond, you have shown the reviewer you care, which gives them an incentive to post bad comments on many other review sites.
Most bad reviews are poorly written and ooze with irrationality which will cause future readers to dismiss them.
It’s much more powerful to have your positive reviews fight your reputation battle.
Don’t lose sleep over it. Whether it’s a valid critique or outlandishly false, it won’t help you to dwell on a negative review.
Ask the review site to remove it. It is generally not easy to have any type of review taken down by the publishing website. However, some do have “community guidelines”, the violation of which will cause a review to be pulled down. Usually the language must be threatening or vulgar, but it does not hurt to submit a removal request. Keep in mind, however, that the publishing site will often contact the reviewer before removing it, which can trigger the additional problems in 2(a) and (b) above.
Bury negative reviews in positive ones. If 37 out of 40 reviews about the TV you’re interested in are excellent, you will dismiss the 3 people who gave it low marks as being impossible to please. This psychology is no different for your law firm.
Don’t have staff members post fake reviews. As soon as you have to let a person go, they will have something unethical you’ve done hanging over your head.
Don’t post your own positive reviews. There are some cases where review sites have sued lawyers for posting bogus reviews. These cases are complicated, and often involve an initial lawsuit filed by the law firm, but you don’t want something like that coming out later, as unlikely as that would be.
Creating a logo for your law firm should be a fun experience because it’s a positive step toward enhancing the way your practice is viewed by the public. It is also an area ripe for mistakes. Below are several considerations and tips for creating your perfect branding tool.
First, logos are important. While your law firm logo will never achieve the recognition of the Starbuck’s siren or McDonald’s golden arches, it is a very easy and inexpensive way to accomplish a number of goals.
It shows you care about the business. Every time you improve the appearance of your practice, it shows prospective clients you take pride in your work. People will rarely hire a person or important personal affairs who they don’t believe care about their own.
Include more than just the firm name. In other words, always have a graphic or symbol along with the member names. This is important for two reasons. First, it’s nearly impossible to get people to remember a name, but they will remember and identify with symbols. Second, from a practical standpoint, there are times when you can’t use the entire firm name. For example, social media profiles usually give you a small square or circle for a profile photo, and then show your business name in a larger image. If your logo only consists of a five-person firm name, you don’t have much to put in that area designed for small images.
Be careful of gradients. Gradients are when you have fading or shading in your design. These often look great electronically, but you can’t reproduce them on apparel and other giveaway items. If you choose a gradient for your main design, be sure you also like the non-gradient version.
Create different versions. Choose a design that will accommodate the graphic on the left or above the firm name. This will allow you the flexibility to fit the logo into both horizontal and vertical spaces.
Put it everywhere. Your logo should go on:
Road signs, building signs, suite signs
Office items such as glasses, mugs, coasters, pens, and bathroom towels
Printed material like business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and brochures
Electronic material, including email signatures, websites, social media properties, and online business directories
Don’t overpay. A good logo shouldn’t cost more than $450.
Get the right files. Probably the biggest mistake in logo creation, getting a wide variety of files types is almost always overlooked. This leaves firms scrambling to meet the requirements of a printer with a deadline. You want to have different files types (.ai, .jpg, .psd, .pdf), as well as different file sizes. Of course, you will want these for all your design versions as discussed in #4 above. (Apparel manufacturers will often require a “digitized” version of the logo, but can easily create it from the files above.)
Store them online. Store the files online so you can simply send a link as needed along with a .jpg of the version you want used.
Creation time. It shouldn’t take any more than 10 days for the entire process.
Number of designs to evaluate. You should see at least 10 designs initially, maybe more depending on how much feedback you provided the designer at the project start. Narrow it down to 5, then 2, and then choose the final one.
Asking for opinions. Don’t ask for non-decision maker opinions until you’ve determined the final two options. It doesn’t help to have 10 people like 7 different versions.
The right expectation. Recognize going in that no two people will agree on the best version. Because of this, only have critical decision-makers involved in the process. Strive for a logo that the most important person really likes… and everyone else can live with.
I had the pleasure of working with one of the Southeast’s premier personal injury plaintiff firms. These lawyers were the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to trial attorneys… capable of delivering massive results for clients. Notwithstanding, they were looking to reduce the millions in referral fees they paid each year and, to their credit, were willing to spend just over $16,000 per month to originate cases.
Unfortunately, their sole intake person, Allison, was responsible for way too many things at the firm. She answered phones, sent out settlement packets, reviewed medical records, scheduled appointments, and did just about every task the firm could find for her to do. She was also my contact for marketing strategy.
One day, after going on for more than five minutes about how overworked and underpaid she was, Allison bluntly said “Matt, I’m so busy with all the work they pile on me that I treat potential new clients bad just to get off the phone.” Wow! This was one of the most shocking things I’ve heard in my 18 years working with law firms. Her employer was spending nearly $200,000 a year to bring in huge cases… and she was single-handedly sabotaging the effort.
From the perspective of an hourly employee, it is much more important to take care of the interrogatories for existing client, Mr. Johnson, than it is to talk on the phone with a prospective client no one at the firm knows.
Yet, that prospective client call is critically important and needs to receive the absolute undivided attention of the intake person. Educating those responsible for screening new business leads is critical, and in particular the necessity that they drop everything else when new business is on the phone or email. It’s also a very good idea to structure their workload so they have plenty of time to do an excellent job converting prospects into clients.
The more marketing strategies a law firm implements, the more difficult it is to determine the success of individual campaigns. For example, a firm that has strong organic search engine rankings, runs a paid ad program, and utilizes lawyer directory top spots will find it challenging to determine the true source of an “internet client.”
Skilled intake personnel can certainly add a layer of accuracy uncommon is most firms, but lead tracking is never an exact science. There are, however, some mistakes to avoid. One is using incomplete data to assess ROI.
A short story will illustrate.
A long-time client of mine was recently reviewing dashboard statistics from one of the top 4 lawyer directories. This included a list of phone calls via a call tracking number as well as emails that came directly from the directory website. Unfortunately, only a portion of the phone calls included the caller’s name. My client said, “looking through here, I haven’t gotten anything and want to cancel.”
His analysis missed the mark in two ways. First, he did not consider that the calls without identification info could have produced a client. More importantly however, he failed to consider the hundreds of visitors that the vendor’s directory was sending to his website, a number we could verify independently through Google Analytics. i.e. a potential client who started on the vendor’s website but ended up calling from the firm’s website would not be included in the vendor’s caller data. (The number of visitors in this case was 1,200+ for the year… very significant.)
Rather than assume a program is under-performing based on some data, it’s important to recognize where tracking tools fall short. In this instance, the client was receiving a high enough volume of visitors from the third party web property to conclude that some would result in new clients for the firm.