Marketing vs. business development for law firms (and why you should care)

Young woman showing and explaining a concept to two colleagues from a tablet.

If you work at a small law firm or are in solo practice, chances are that business development and marketing may both be your responsibility.

But that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.

Understanding the difference between legal marketing and legal business development is important. When you grasp the ways in which they are similar, you will be better at knowing how the two concepts work together to become something greater than the sum of their parts. After you understand the ways in which they’re not the same, you can look at your track record and decide which one needs a little more time and effort, if necessary.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to each concept before explaining how they complement one another — and, perhaps most importantly, why you ought to care.

What is legal marketing?

Let’s start with the topic that’s easier to define since it’s more familiar. At its broadest, legal marketing or advertising means showing a targeted audience who you are and what it’s like to work with you, while staying within the ethical parameters of the legal profession. Common legal marketing tactics include:

  • Lead generation: Bringing likely clients to your metaphorical doorstep and teeing you up to have a productive conversation geared toward a signed engagement letter.
  • Content and thought leadership: Substantive, informative content that burnishes your image and demonstrates that you’re a knowledgeable source — in fact, just the kind of source consumers with a legal need want to hire.
  • Social media: Broadening your brand through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so that you meet potential clients where they are.
  • Search Engine Optimization: Strategically writing your website copy and online content so that search engine algorithms realize you are providing users with the information they are seeking.

What is legal business development?

If legal marketing starts and continues the conversation, legal business development is intended to finish it successfully. At its most general, legal business development refers to doing what it takes to convert the opportunities legal marketing creates into paying work. Some frequently used legal business development tools and techniques are:

  • Revenue building: What type of work is most lucrative, and how can you get more of it? Are the opportunities you’re pursuing worth the expenditure of resources, time, and energy?
  • Relationship building: Once legal marketing has done its job and made a promising introduction, what do you do with it from there? How do you deepen the relationship and forge a productive working partnership?
  • Referrals: Client referrals don’t just happen on their own. A common legal business development initiative is to generate a robust referral pipeline.

How is marketing related to business development (and why do I need both?)

Think of legal marketing and legal business development as two sides of the same coin. Legal marketing creates opportunities, but they have to be taken advantage of — and that’s where legal business development comes in. Legal business development maximizes opportunities but can’t create them out of thin air. It needs legal marketing to prime the pump and get the new work pipeline moving.

As a final thought, here’s the most compelling reason to engage in both legal marketing and legal business development: Many of your competitor firms aren’t well-versed in either, let alone both — meaning they functionally leave paying work on the table. That’s paying work that could be yours.

To learn more about marketing and business development challenges and opportunities, read the 2022 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Report.

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