You Can’t Predict, But You Can Prepare: Managing Your Firm’s Brand in the Face of Uncertainty

Your practice doesn’t look the exact same way it did five years ago, so what is it going to look like five years from now? It’s hard to say— and, you might think, equally as hard to position your law firm for a future you can’t predict.

The good news here is that a crystal ball is not necessary. Quality brands withstand the test of time not by never changing, but by adhering to a few basic principles that help them adapt and respond to current circumstances. There’s no reason your law firm’s public image can’t do the same.

First, let’s take a look at three nationwide trends that it’s fair to assume will impact many practice areas in the near future. Once those have shown us that change will undoubtedly happen, we’ll take a look at how you can make sure your brand is prepared for whatever comes your way.

What might impact your practice?

No one trend or development will affect all areas of practice, but these three big issues are certain to impact more lawyers than they leave unaffected.

Cannabis: To date, eight U.S. states have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana. With California’s 2019 licensed cannabis market estimated at $3.1 billion, you can expect many others to follow, especially as their revenue streams from other “vice categories” like lotteries and casinos flatline or dry up. If that happens, it will pit more states against the federal government, which still forbids the sale and use of cannabis. Furthermore, consumer products like CBD oil and cannabis-infused treats and cosmetic products are blurring the line (for everyday purchasers, at least) between what’s okay and what isn’t. It isn’t hard to envision a future where lawyers in many states, not just Colorado and Alaska, have to tease apart what’s permissible from what isn’t in criminal, employment, and family law matters.

Cybersecurity and Online Privacy: The California Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020, creates new responsibilities for businesses with respect to data they retain on customers. The CCPA only applies to businesses who collect information on California consumers and have over $25 million in gross revenue, but it speaks to a developing trend toward giving consumers more rights with respect to what information is collected on them. In the absence of comprehensive federal consumer online privacy legislation, many states (as they so often do) are likely to follow California’s example and enact some type of CCPA-inspired legislation. If that comes to pass, even businesses that might have thought themselves too small to worry about such matters will suddenly be asking their lawyers what they should do.

Immigration: In states like California, Texas, and Arizona, immigration law is more or less a perennial hot topic. As the country’s political climate becomes less welcoming to immigrants, however, immigration issues have flared up in places from rural Mississippi to Boston’s tony Back Bay neighborhood. If immigration issues continue to develop at their current pace, they may impact family law, criminal, and employment law from coast to coast.

Hopefully, taking a look at three areas that can reasonably be expected to impact many areas of law in the near future has shown you that no matter what your practice looks like now, it might change in short order. With that in mind, here are three qualities of good brands that, if displayed in your law firm’s marketing, will help you be prepared for whatever’s coming down the pike.

1. Use nuance, not just specifics 

Many lawyers like to spell out exactly what kind of work they’ve done because they think it appeals to clients. The truth is, legal consumers have little patience for long lists, especially since they are likely skimming through many law firm websites on their phones. Specificity is good, but only to a point. Rather than cataloging exactly the kind of legal tasks you have done, make sure who you are as a person and how you work shines through. For example, an aggressive and thorough advocate is an image that works well for criminal law, but for some family law circumstances, too.

2.  Cast a wide net 

If your law firm’s marketing strategy is centered around one pillar, it’s too easy to topple. Case in point: Everyone knew the Internet was going to change how people shopped and informed themselves, but there was still widespread surprise at the speed at which smartphones overtook desktops. If your law firm marketing strategy is multi-pronged, you will be better able to respond to changes in consumer behavior. Furthermore, by communicating through different platforms and channels, you will become skilled at expressing yourself in different ways—a useful ability when you might have to change on the fly.

3. Understand that good things take time

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. Nor does changing it. Just like creating and executing your brand in the first place, adding to it (or toning down parts of it) will take time and discipline.

The playbook “What Clients Are Saying About You Behind Your Back” explores the concept of brand development in greater detail. It is available for complimentary download now.

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