March/April 2019

Marketing

The Law Marketing Up/Down Drill

Micah Buchdahl

If the best marketing ideas are really just tweaked versions of something you saw and liked elsewhere—and you know that is predominantly true—then there is no reason I can’t do the same in this column space. It seemed appropriate for this marketing-themed issue of Law Practice to touch upon the hot and cold, the trendy and the passé, in this first annual up/down drill.

On the morning after each Philadelphia Eagles game, I look at the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer for a listing of the players and the plays that earned either a thumbs-up, thumbs-down or simply a sideways image to convey who or what is hot or not. And like a good marketer, I’ll steal the concept (with proper attribution, of course) and offer up my own law marketing version.

Online Reviews

The online review is a thorn in the side of many attorneys. Whether it is on Avvo, Yelp, Facebook or Google, reviews can make or break attorneys in many practice areas. To ignore them is a mistake. And if you are in a consumer-driven practice, they may very well be the key component to business generation, from the reviews themselves to the power of review “quantity.” Numerous new programs exist that simplify the process for a client to click on a text and leave a rating. Because the more ratings, the merrier. Ideally you are always providing five-star service. But the programs are out there to legitimately grab the review and maximize the value from it.

Budgeting

Too many small- and medium-sized law firms seem to have an aversion to budgeting. I get a combination of blank stares, snickers and a simple refusal to create and manage a budget for marketing expenses. This leads to a lack of commitment and accountability. Also, like taking a kid down the candy aisle on a supermarket run, it leads to a few too many impulse buys—plaques and related accolades, get-rich-quick search engine optimization programs and other ventures that do not move the needle on visibility, or, more importantly, new matters.

However, larger law firms have become stronger and more sophisticated in laying out budgets for business development efforts. When I conduct marketing audits at firms (which is a big step in making sure spending is in the right places and for the right amounts), I look at the spending on staff, attorney and practice groups, resources, etc. A better budget often equates to a stronger plan and, ultimately, results. In some cases we have a dollar amount to dole out but, for most, I’m looking to sense the support and buy-in to request a certain amount.

Lost Market Share

Recently I’ve fielded a slew of cold calls (as a result of on-point Google searches) by attorneys who fit almost the exact same demographic. They are typically solo or small-firm lawyers with extremely niche niches who have been practicing successfully for decades only to find, in recent years, that a market share they once cornered is rapidly shrinking. The culprit? In some cases it is midsized and larger law firms creating a practice group for that niche. In others it is marketing-savvy lawyers who see the market and be the market—by making it appear online (maybe in a blog or a web page; through sponsorships, self-publication or a speaking gig) that they, too, are experts in the field.

The answer I give is to adapt. In many cases there is a time and expense factor in fighting back. But you have to do it. However, in many cases the best answer or response is to take your 20 or 30 years of speaking gigs, journal contributions, board participation and related activities and translate them to the web. Let that niche speech to an audience in 1982 live again to a much wider online crowd in 2019 and beyond.

Ethical Considerations

If you read the marketing column in the July/August 2018 issue of Law Practice, “Law Marketing Model Rule Revisions—Better Late Than Never?” we covered the advertising ethics changes that were passed by the ABA House of Delegates last August. The bottom line is the best attempt yet—first through changes to the Model Rules (and ideally subsequent adoption at the individual state bar level)—to modernize what you can and cannot do with a better eye toward the realities of technology, globalization, uniformity and an overall understanding of competitive and changing market realities.

Staffing

If there is an area in my more than 20 years of overseeing marketing efforts for law firm clients where the advancements have not equaled the decades, it’s proper hiring and staffing. On the positive side, firms continue to understand the need to build and commit to a marketing team. On the not-so-positive side, firms continue to churn through people. The disconnect is often in understanding proper compensation—and that goes both ways. I’ve seen firms underpay and overpay for upward of $100,000 annually. Firms still fail to do proper due diligence in hiring flops from other law firms and (yes, a sports analogy) seem to simply feel more comfortable hiring someone who was a National Football League coach before, even if his record was 4-28, rather than a really accomplished offensive or defensive coordinator.

Constantly Contacting

Whether you are a mid to large firm with a supercharged client relationship management system or a small to large firm that uses Constant Contact for email marketing, many law firms are guilty of severe overuse. An Am Law 100 firm sent me Halloween greetings last year. A major conference that marries in-house and outside counsel sent a warning to law firm attendees about angry in-house counsel being inundated by see-you-at-the-conference-style emails off the Excel registration list. A firm in the Midwest—and I mean way Midwest, not Chicago or St. Louis—sends me “updates” more than once per week. The bottom line is that email overuse is alive and rampant in law marketing circles—and your recipients are getting pissed and opting out. Less is more. Way less.

Content Marketing

An attorney recently called me because he did a Google search, read an article I wrote and followed up with a phone call. The rub? It was an article written and published in 2009. But as he said during our chat, “It was still good.” Content is the new advertising. And it gives greater marketing value to everything that we do—teach a CLE, write an article, host a seminar, whatever—it is all content and repurposes itself through blog posts, tweets and social media. The beauty of searching is in our ability to specify refined subject matter and geography and pretty much anything else we wish to put into a word string of parameters. And when presenting a CLE webinar, for ABACLE as an example, you have the live audience of the broadcast day, reruns in the ABACLE library, reruns in third-party provider arrangements, search results on the CLE that might lead to a journalist call (which translates to a public relations call), an invite to another CLE and an opportunity to republish slides or written works as online content. It goes on and on. But the beauty is in the possibility—and knowing one effort can pay multiple dividends.

Virtual Law Practices

Pajamas? Check. Laptop? Check. Wi-Fi? Check. Virtual law practices might be working from home, or the beach, or an entire law firm operation from a home office. But armed with new, looser ethics opinions, corporate cultures that don’t expect to see you in a brick-and-mortar setting and an overall portability to a law practice (be it a book of business or simply the tech tools that allow for office operations without an office), virtual law practices provide lots of marketing advantages—mostly saving people time and money—but much of the operations flow to a better way of life. And a better quality of life is always worth advertising.

The State of Law Marketing

With each year, “marketing” becomes less of a dirty word to some attorneys. The sophistication and seriousness improves. The strategy, game-planning and spending is more aligned with other elements of a law practice. Here is to more thumbs-ups than thumbs-downs as the year progresses. But we still have a ways to go before catching up to the corporate marketplace.

Micah Buchdahl

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on business development initiatives. Based in Moorestown, New Jersey, he is president of HTMLawyers Inc., a law marketing consultancy. He is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. micah@htmlawyers.com

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