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10 Marketing Mistakes of Lawyers
Do you recognize any of these mistakes in your law firm? The author of this article shares his top ten mistakes law firms make when marketing their firm.
In my experience advising law firms across the country, I consistently find ten dumb mistakes the law firms make. See if you can recognize your firm in this parade of horribles, and get your marketing back on track.
1. Focus on yourself, not on your clients. This is the traditional approach to law firm marketing. Firms will describe their practices on their Web sites and printed marketing materials. They will promote their internal administrative structure in an approach I call “marketing your organization.” Instead you should describe work done for clients.
2. Don’t mention representative clients. I’ve heard partners recoil at the suggestion of revealing whom they work for, saying they thought it was “creepy” and “exploitive.” They are appalled at the idea of having to ask a client for permission to use their names.
Failing to list whom you represent is what I call “stupid” because it is one of the first things a potential client wants to know about a law firm. Your clientele reveals “whom you swim with” and answers potential clients’ questions about what kind of business you work with.
3. Fail to list success stories. Lawyers are known by their reputations, so hiding the firm’s record undermines its marketing. Yet many firms do this. The problem, of course, is getting lawyers to write down their accomplishments, and generally the most successful lawyers say they have the least time available to write. But this is no excuse. This information is easy to get by simply looking up the firm’s public cases using Westlaw or LexisNexis, or transactions using Thomson Financial.
4. Institutional mistakes. These are the marketing errors the firm commits year after year because “we’ve always done it.” Typically, the firm has gotten into a habit of buying tables (that go empty) at charity events, or mailing out thousands of holiday cards that nobody reads, or sponsoring expensive annual parties that attract freeloaders but no new paying business. There is usually a high-ranking partner behind these chronic errors.
5. Have no marketing strategy and focus instead on tactics. Whenever I begin working with a law firm I always ask for a copy of the firm’s marketing plan. I am repeatedly astonished to hear that the firm doesn’t have one. The strategy may exist in the mind of the managing partner, but it’s not written down anywhere. Firms will typically have a lot of individual marketing activities, but they’re not connected or organized in any way. This is like having an orchestra where the musicians can play whatever they like at the same time. Having a written plan has the benefit of being readable by other lawyers, so that they can align their activities with the firm’s overall goal.
6. Don’t get feedback from your clients. A survey this year by the BTI Consulting Group in Boston revealed that only 42% of law firms have conducted a formal client satisfaction survey in the last two years. This means 58% of firms don’t really know whether their clients are pleased with them or are about to fire them. The only way to truly find out is to ask.
7. Run million-dollar TV advertising campaigns. Brobeck did this with their splashy “When your future is at stake” commercials broadcast on CNN. It was a bad idea, IMHO, and the firm is now out of business. Other variants of this approach include hiring an ad agency to design gorgeous ads, and running an ad that says nothing memorable. Another variation is to create an effective advertisement and run it only once, or run it in a publication that is not read by your target clients. Firms have flushed hundreds of thousands of dollars this way.
8. Use a compensation system that discourages marketing. At many firms, marketing is a distraction and a nuisance to the lawyers, because they get compensated based on the number of billable hours they record. At these firms, very little marketing happens. The rule is “what gets rewarded gets done.” You cannot run a marketing program based on lawyers being “good citizens” and voluntarily doing their part to market the firm. The worst compensation systems are “eat what you kill” programs that reward a lawyer only for new business he brought in. This is death to firmwide marketing.
9. Keep your marketing impersonal. Many law firms buy advertising, put up a Web site, mail out newsletters, write articles and broadcast e-mail. However, the firms fail to mix in any personal interaction. As a result the marketing is impersonal and gets few results. It’s no good if all of a firm’s marketing is done by remote control. New business comes in “belly to belly,” as I used to hear from one partner who had the belly to go with the advice.
10. Believe the myth that your Web site doesn’t bring in any business.There’s new research from TouchPoint Metrics proving that law firm Web sites do bring business, so long as they are tuned up to do so. Yet many lawyers disregard their Web sites, overlooking the fact that it is online 24/7/365 and is usually the first contact a client has with the firm. Where do clients go on evenings and weekends when the firm is closed? That’s right, the Web site. Be sure to include the three things clients look for on a law firm Web site: industry experience, a list of representative clients, and a collection of success stories. 
- Larry Bodine, a strategic Web and marketing consultant based in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Larry has helped firms draft marketing plans and coached lawyers in developing individual marketing plans..
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