Oklahoma Bar Journal

The 10 Do's and Don'ts of Legal Marketing

By Marc Cerniglia and John Hinson

Sure, you already know how important it is to keep in touch with people, but studies show that businesses only get one-third of the referrals they should receive simply because they don’t stay in touch with

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their contacts. The key is simple: You need to consistently stay in touch with everyone. It doesn’t matter how you do it – email, social media, direct mail or something else – just do it! The lack of staying in touch is the single biggest missed opportunity for law firms.

In today’s world, “branding” is your reputation. Although you may not be able to explicitly call yourself an “expert,” a premium brand that positions you as the authority in your practice area screams your expertise without you ever actually saying, “I’m an expert.” To that point, it is recommended that attorneys niche down and focus on a single practice area or two. After all, you wouldn’t go to a general practitioner for brain surgery, would you? Why would someone go anywhere else other than the estate planning expert?

Your website is a reflection of your firm. (Think of it as a digital version of your office.) If your website is just “okay,” then it says to the world that your firm is just “okay.” Your website provides you with an opportunity to separate yourself from the competition. Creating a great user experience with a modern design, well-organized information, clearly defined
messaging and a wealth of infor
mation and resources reinforces the brand you’re building as the go-to authority figure in your community.

While niching down your practice areas makes you look like the expert to your audience, it will also make you a better lawyer. Rather than spreading yourself across a multitude of legal areas, focusing on the one (or two) areas that you’re especially passionate about allows you to really make a difference for the clients you work with. It makes your overall message more authentic because it allows that passion for what you do to really shine.

Email is a severely underutilized tool for law firms. There is a misconception floating around that people don’t want to receive your emails. It’s not true, and this thought is undermining one of the biggest ROI opportunities for law firms! For example, let’s say you have 1,000 contacts and only 100 open your email. Would you have really spent time in a given month individually reaching out to 100 people? Likely not (and that’s not even counting the other 900 who saw the email show up in your inbox and were reminded of you to begin with).

Additionally, email is an asset you can control. With SEO, social media, television or radio ads, you are relying on a third party to reach the right audience and do so effectively. With email, you already have the audience at your fingertips, and you are in control of what they receive from you. It’s the easiest way to get referrals and stay in touch ... with everyone!

Marketing companies like to throw a ton of data points at you and bask in the glory of how they increase those numbers. Unfortunately, a lot of that data is pointless. Don’t get caught up in vanity data. It’s much easier for marketers (and you as their client) to focus on data that doesn’t help you make more money. Things like click rates, open rates, bounce rates and social media engagement are relatively useless data for law firms.

Instead, the metrics you should care about are simply the numbers that tell you whether or not a specific marketing campaign is working. So rather than focusing on how many comments and likes you got on social media or what your open rate is on your email newsletter, you should track referrals, case allocation and their average hourly fee and case value. In other words, track what marketers say they’re going to produce for you and nothing else.

Not only should you diversify the actual content you produce, but diversify the channels you use to deliver it. Your content should be written (blog posts), visual (video) and more (like podcasts and webinars). We don’t all consume information the same way; some people prefer to read rather than watch (and vice versa).

Additionally, diversifying your content channels means posting your videos on YouTube, your website, social media and an email newsletter. Your blogs work the same way – put them on your website, social media, etc. Did you know you can even post videos and blogs to Avvo as publications and legal guides? The more places your content appears, the more credible you look.

Remember when you took that marketing class in law school? (You definitely learned about marketing in law school, right?!) Along the way, you may have heard the term “marketing funnel,” a concept in which the top of the funnel is where your prospective clients come from and the steps they take to ultimately reach the end (i.e., become your client). The funnel is designed to bring someone in and move them along the journey you want them to take to working with you.

The problem is that funnels end. Alternatively, a lot of prospects never reach the end. For example, you may run an ad and some people download a free resource and stop. Maybe some people call and ask about a consultation but don’t actually book one. Maybe someone comes in for a consultation but doesn’t become a client. What happens to all of those people? Hopefully you don’t forget about them!

That’s why it’s smart to create marketing loops – this way you continue staying in touch with people who haven’t made it to the end of your funnel on a consistent, recurring basis so you don’t miss out on the business you deserve.

People want to work with and refer others to the best. Unfortunately, we live in an age where simply saying you’re the best means very little. Today, the best cases go to the best marketers. According to a study by the ABA, people distrust lawyers more than banks, contractors and doctors. When you start any marketing campaign, you’re facing an uphill battle. However, you can earn your community’s trust by getting out there and speaking, putting on events and workshops at your office, starting a podcast, consistently putting out informative content and more.

If you’re just waiting around for your marketing company to make your phone ring off the hook, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. You can’t sit in your chair and just wait for the results to come in. You still need to network and grow your contact list. Look for ways to improve your conversion rate with the people who contact your office. After all, no marketer can take responsibility for the results after someone walks through your door, and any marketing that requires little to nothing from you will never produce the results you really want.

Often a friend or family member creates an attorney’s website. More often than not, it’s just “okay.” Think about this – would you advise your clients to let their friends or family handle their legal matters as a favor or at a discount? No! So, put your website in an expert’s hands.

Marketing takes time. Even more, the marketing that works the most effectively in the long run is often what works consistently. Solo and small law firms constantly deal with cash flow peaks and valleys. The key to combating that is to create a consistent flow of clients and referrals. Keep in mind that the type of marketing that accomplishes that goal doesn’t move at light speed. It takes time to build consistent communication, set expectations and establish a rapport with your audience, especially if you’re starting from scratch.

When people finally see you as an expert, they’ll send you more business, but no one becomes an expert overnight – it takes time. Whatever marketing initiative you undertake, make sure you know what to look for to make sure your marketing is working. (Track the data that matters!) Your job as a business owner shouldn’t be to find what works immediately, it should be the healthiest, smartest choice for your firm. Remember, people pay you up front for a future result. You should expect the same of your marketing.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is overrated. The best clients don’t come from Google. Instead, the clients that find you on Google are competing on price (more on that soon). Even more, you’re sinking a ton of money into the hope that you’ll be one of 10 spots on the first page (and half of those spots are directories like Avvo and Justia). Most marketing companies out there (falsely) emphasize SEO, which causes lawyers to neglect their other marketing because it forces their content to focus on Google’s bots, not the actual people they’re trying to attract.

Being good at what you do and staying in touch with the people you helped has always worked. It’s the oldest marketing principle in the book. However, the emergence of the internet has warped our minds into believing marketing has changed. Wrong. The psychology of marketing has not changed, the internet has just changed the medium in which we market. The key is to focus on what has always worked in marketing and to use the internet to make it more effective. Email newsletters, a consistent social media presence, informative content and a great website are the new tools you can use to build your reputation as an expert and stay in touch with people. The “how” and “what” have changed, but the “why” remains the same.

When it comes to writing content for your website, you’re not writing the next law school textbook. You’re writing for everyday people. So many attorneys get caught up in perfecting their content and worrying about what their attorney peers would think that they forget what their actual audience really wants. People don’t care about precedent or the latest case results. They want to know what to do when they’re facing a particular situation. Your content should focus on practical advice and answering the questions your audience has.

This might be a little jarring for you to read, but you are not the hero of the story. Marketing that focuses on the client’s needs rather than the attorney is more powerful and tells a more engaging story. A website that has a big picture of you and your team in the header puts the focus on you and makes it all about you. It’s not about you. The best messaging is always “them” or “us,” not “I” or “me.”

This is going to sting for some of you: If you have a gavel, the scales of justice or a picture of your local courthouse anywhere on your online presence, change it immediately. Don’t be like the majority of other attorneys and don’t play into the perceived stereotype people have of attorneys. Appeal to your audience’s emotions and their issues rather than a bland representation of the legal world.

Don’t get all your marketing from one vendor. Remember our brain surgery analogy from earlier? The same applies to the vendors you work with. For example, business law is very different from family law. Marketing is the same way.

An all-in-one marketing company is the jack of all trades and master of none. You’re not getting an expert; instead, you’re limiting yourself to only one (nonexpert) voice in your marketing strategy. Look for experts in different areas of marketing. Work with vendors who take initiative to interact with your other marketing partners, so your campaigns work together in absolute harmony. While it may be more logistical work, the results will speak for themselves.

Remember when we said “track the data that matters”? It’s simple: looking at the wrong data can undermine your marketing efforts. Take website traffic for example. If you want your website traffic to increase month after month, you may be failing to take into consideration what kind of traffic you’re actually getting. Having 10,000 website hits is great, but if 9,800 of those hits are crawler bots and manufactured foreign hits that are never going to need your services, what are you really accomplishing there?

Obviously, you shouldn’t lower your rates just because you want to take business from the attorney across the street, but this final point goes far beyond that. This is a decision you need to make long before you tell anyone what your rate is. The decision to never waiver on your price comes when you start building your brand as the authoritative, credible expert in your field. You are not a commodity.

If you market yourself in such a way that positions you as the expert, price doesn’t even become part of the conversation. People will know they want to work with you and will do whatever it takes to pay you for your services. Whether you’re in a small town like Guymon or a big city like Tulsa, if you follow the tips outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to growing the firm you’ve always wanted.

Marc Cerniglia is the CEO and founding partner of Spotlight Branding. He is passionate about helping attorneys find a better way to market. An avid sports fan, Mr. Cerniglia spends his free time cheering for Baltimore sports teams and his alma mater – University of Central Florida.

John Hinson is the administrative director and marketing manager for Spotlight Branding. He is responsible for driving the company’s marketing efforts, as well as several behind-the-scenes processes to keep the company moving forward. He has published several nonfiction books in his free time and also maintains a database of area waterfalls.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 26 (December 2019)