The Long Game of Lawyer Marketing
This Story Starts In the Bell-bottomed ‘70s
Lawyers only got into the ad business in the late 1970s, with the seminal Bates v. Arizona State Bar case of 1977, which removed the longstanding prohibition on attorney advertising.
The Mad Men era of the ‘60s and ‘70s had reigned for the better part of two decades before lawyers got their turn with Bates – and that’s discounting all the decades of commercial advertising in America stretching back to the 1700s, during which lawyers relied solely on reputation and word-of-mouth.
As Justice Blackmun wrote in Bates, “Advertising, the traditional mechanism in a free market economy for a supplier to inform a potential purchaser of the availability and terms of exchange, may well benefit the administration of justice.”
Reasonable minds can debate whether advertising has indeed come to benefit the administration of justice, but in the 40 years since Bates, lawyer marketing has nonetheless become a large and distinct branch of advertising. And most lawyers today may well agree that advertising – to a greater or lesser degree, as per any given lawyer’s unique situation and approach – is all but required to compete in the legal market of 2017.
Commit to your goals (You’ve done this before)
Being a lawyer involves achieving a number of goals, including the goal of attending to the business side of law practice.
To become a lawyer involves college, the LSAT, law school, the bar exam, the hunt for an entry-level position, and so on. At one point or another, many lawyers enter private practice. Some decide to start their own law firms, or to build practices within existing firms. Then there’s the matter of amassing a certain level of knowledge and experience – the lawyers who excel here are those who often discount or minimize the need for certain types of advertising, understandably so, because they often benefit from reputation and word-of-mouth.
But even they aren’t likely to brush aside lawyer marketing entirely. Just because they aren’t at the forefront of online marketing trends, doesn’t mean that they view advertising as a “necessary evil.” On the contrary, many of my most independently successful clients enjoy marketing quite a bit. They understand that, just like the path that led them to their current success, a certain level of commitment and long-term perspective is required here, too.
In other words, accept that you must advertise, with the view that doing good advertising is its own sub-goal on the broader path of building a law practice.
Commit to Your Strategy (That’s where we can help)
Don’t give up too soon – change strategy or switch vendors for no good reason, and you risk undoing the hard work you’ve already invested.
Paid social advertising barely existed 10 years ago. It was just 2004-2005 when Facebook launched its first ads. Today, Facebook does billions in ad revenue, not to mention image-oriented Instagram (which Facebook acquired in 2012) and 140-characters-or-less Twitter (which broke $1B in ad revenue in 2014). Snapchat, one of the newest players (relatively speaking) already has more than 50 million users, and recently introduced an advertising program (“Snap Ads”) to capitalize on it.
Social is where millions of potential clients live today, and the whole world has watched (and participated in) the long, slow march leading up to this point.
Yet it took me three or four attempts to convince one of my longtime clients to give Facebook advertising a shot, not because he is unnecessarily conservative, but because “new” doesn’t always equate to ROI. (Nor, for that matter, do most other forms of online advertising. The process of hiring a lawyer is not an off-the-rack purchase at retail.) Today, my client is a true believer in targeted paid social advertising, because he sees the benefit of getting good content in front of the right audience.
How did this happen?
One reason is that this particular client has been with us since he started his firm roughly a decade ago. I personally began working for him in 2014 and we’ve had time to develop a relationship. He knows how I write, how the broader team operates, and is comfortable giving feedback if something isn’t working. It is a true collaborative relationship.
In other words, a long-term partnership has been much better for his law practice. Just as in his approach to becoming a great lawyer, his approach to lawyer marketing is the opposite of short-term, scattershot, and reactive.
He understands that lawyer marketing is an investment in an outcome. And, for years now, we’ve held each other accountable to achieving that outcome.