No Magic Pill for Lawyer Marketing

As we begin the new year, a lot of my clients are developing their 2011 marketing plans, and that means I’m getting a lot of questions about what they ‘should’ do to market their practices this year. Here’s part of an inquiry I received from an existing client:

I simply must know what works for lawyers in my practice area, in a similar geographic area. What I need to do is to focus on best practices of other attorneys specifically in these areas of law, and replicate them to the extent possible….

In other words, I need a direction: cable TV, radio, newspaper, bus shelters, benches, web, pay-per-click, pay-per-lead, mailers, coupon inserts, “free reports,” whatever it is. I have tried many of these methods with mixed results because I do not know what has worked for other similarly situated attorneys. …I must find a way to obtain this information for my specific practice areas.

If there was a single answer to this question, don’t you think everyone would be doing it? And even if there were some big secret answer, do you really think it wouldn’t change tomorrow? If everyone did the same thing in the same way, it would be impossible to stand out. What was effective, for a time, then becomes entirely ineffective.

Unfortunately, time marches on, people get jaded, markets change, new media arrive and old ones fall out of favor. There is simply no magic pill to marketing. If there were, and if I had it, I probably wouldn’t be writing this column!

The myth of ‘best practices’

If you haven’t figured it out already, I am not a big believer in ‘best practices (or in ‘shoulds,’ for that matter). There are too many variables at play to think that the same methods will work for everyone, everywhere, all of the time – even within the same practice area. Each lawyer or law firm is different; they have different skills, experiences, values, cultures, knowledge and mindset. Seemingly similar geographic areas are not the same – Boston is not the same as New York or Toronto, although they are all metropolitan areas. And of course, clients are not the same, and although they may have similar problems, they may not be seeking similar solutions.

Each of the methods my client mentioned can work (and has worked for lawyers with whom I have had experience), but their success is heavily dependent upon how each of those tools are used and why. When lawyers are successful with a particular marketing endeavor, their success is not the result of having chosen the method for their practice area; rather they have figured out (probably through trial and error, a lot of effort and tweaking and maybe some professional help) how to make those methods work for them at a particular time. 

Simply put, there is no one single tool or even one single way of using a particular tool that will work for everyone. You need to find out what works for you, in your practice areas or niches, in your geographic area with your specific target clients. 

My client’s marketing results have not been mixed because he does not know what has worked for ‘similarly situated attorneys.’ They have been mixed because he does not know what works for him, which may be due in large part to the simple fact that he’s chasing the non-existent “answer” to how he “should” market his practice.

 Notwithstanding the above, there are some general principles that do apply across the board. 

Know your ideal clients

First and foremost, you must know what kinds of clients you want to attract – and know them intimately. One lawyer swears by billboards, another fills her practice as a result of radio advertising and a third is a master networker with more business than they can handle. The reason these methods work for these lawyers is that they are reaching their clients. 

The people who need your legal services will dictate what you should do to reach those people effectively. Where do they go for information and what they do when they find themselves in a situation which would lead them to need your services? Who do they talk to? Where to they go for advice? What information might they be searching for online? How do they talk about their situation? What specific terms do they use? What are their criteria for choosing a lawyer? Who refers them to lawyers or is in the best position to do so? 

Remember that not all clients who are similarly situated are created equal – and not all clients who need a lawyer that practices in your area are ideal clients for you.(For more on your ideal clients, see my post: “Who Are You Marketing To?”) Once you have a good idea of who your ideal clients are, your marketing efforts can be tailored to attract those people. 

You may have to engage in some trial and error to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Talk to people. Find out what they would do if facing a criminal charge (or if someone in their family was facing one) or if they were in financial trouble and needed bankruptcy advice. Talk to some of your former or existing clients. Find out what other lawyers think the biggest ‘hot buttons’ are for your target market. But don’t rely solely on what others tell you – test it out; research shows that what people say and what they do are often two very different things.

Make Adjustments

This is an ongoing process. No matter how well you know your target audience now, their needs and hot buttons will change over time. Their habits will change, as will their preferred media and methods of communication. To continue to be successful, you will have to continually learn and adjust both your marketing and your services. 

As you begin to see results, make changes and test to improve your success rates. For example, in a pay per click campaign, more traffic doesn’t necessarily mean better results, particularly if the traffic doesn’t take the next step toward your or doesn’t respond to your call to action. What can you adjust? You might consider changing your keywords so they are more targeted to your market. They may be less popular, but bring you more qualified leads. You might consider revising the wording on your landing page so that it resonates more with your ideal clients. You may want to change the call to action to increase the urgency factor.

Be consistent

A common mistake is to create a brilliant marketing piece, well-suited to your target market, which delivers excellent results and then to abandon marketing like a hot potato. Marketing when client work is slow and then forgetting about it when the work comes rolling in is the kind of short-sighted behavior that leads to the feast or famine roller coaster so many lawyers are familiar with, with another rough period ahead when the current round of client work is completed. 

Provide exceptional service

Doing good technical legal work – in essence, being a good lawyer – is not enough to bring referrals from existing or former clients. Merely doing a competent legal job is not sufficient if you want clients to remember you, to bring their new business to you and to talk with others about what you do. Satisfying clients or providing ‘good’ service is not enough. 

When others recommend you, they put their reputation and good name on the line. Do not assume that just because the client paid the bill and did not fire you that they were happy with your work or that they would go out of their way to recommend you to others.

You want ambassadors for your firm. Go above and beyond. Do the unexpected. Create an exceptional client experience. Make raving fans out of the clients you work for now and have worked for in the past and they will have your name on the tip of their tongue when they hear of someone who needs a lawyer.

The real answer

For most lawyers, a combination of marketing methods works best. Your marketing will be successful if your efforts are all geared toward reaching your ideal clients you want to reach, consistently and continuously. It all comes down to getting out there in front of your audience so that they know who you are and how you can help them. 

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