August 19, 2016 Dialogue

LRS Branding in a Noisy Marketplace

By Seth Chavez

For as long as the marketplace for goods and services has existed, branding has been a factor. Things started moving briskly for mass communication and branding with the printing press. Now—about 600 years later—like our predecessors in the marketplace, lawyer referral services need to discover effective communication and branding solutions in an especially noisy marketplace for legal services.

The general goal of branding hasn’t changed. A very simple way of putting it is, “Choose me.” In a marketplace filled with a wide variety of options that are relatively similar (address a legal issue), being chosen for one reason or another can mark the difference between surviving and thriving. With a very basic tool box, lawyer referral services can simply wait for the phone to ring and it will ring. However, with a thoughtful effort toward branding and a more sophisticated tool box, lawyer referral services can move away from surviving toward thriving.

It’s simple to dig up any number of resources on branding, focus on various qualities of branding, and mull through the sometimes amusing, always expanding lexicon of branding terminology. It’s also easy to survey and learn from other organizations in the profession in terms of how they present themselves to clients. There is certainly much to learn about branding. But there are some general branding concepts that are unique to lawyer referral services, so let’s look at a few areas that relate specifically to distinguishing and branding your lawyer referral service.

Unique Messaging Platforms

Most lawyer referral services are closely related to a larger entity, such as a bar association. It is especially important to distinguish the differences between a bar association audience and a lawyer referral service audience. It’s tempting to rely on the communications channels that a sponsoring entity already has in place. They’re easy to use, they don’t cost much, and they can be effective to one degree or another. Though the communications channels of a larger bar association may be effective for a limited purpose, a bar association’s seasoned communications channels will be largely ineffective for a lawyer referral service to distinguish itself with clients. For instance, if your lawyer referral service website exists within a larger bar association’s website template, your lawyer referral service web presence may have little or no branding value. This also applies to social media platforms. Further, data that a larger sponsoring entity may collect can be mostly irrelevant to the lawyer referral service in attempts to directly reach clients, as the larger sponsoring entity simply has a different audience.

Consistent Messaging

Every business enterprise benefits from consistent messaging, and this is a vital quality of branding. Consistency in various communication types is how potential clients will begin to recognize, learn more about, and ultimately use your service. Consistent messaging can also indirectly communicate trustworthiness if the messaging is developed with that objective in mind. For lawyer referral services, being consistent means choosing a communication style, staying with it, and applying appropriate messaging intervals based on the messaging platform (social media, newsletters, email, direct mail, etc.). Also, choosing a style and staying with it is another reason why it’s important to have unique messaging platforms for a lawyer referral service, rather than using shared messaging platforms.

Tone, Color, Style

In branding discussions, the “logo” gets a bad rap. “Branding is more than just a logo,” right? Though that may be true, the type of thought that goes into developing a logo can inform an entire branding regimen. After all, a logo should communicate, to an extent, the inherent values of a lawyer referral service. With a logo, lawyer referrals services are faced with questions of tone, color, and style, all of which speak to how an audience will perceive the service. For branding purposes, consider the psychological qualities of color, and think about how a particular typeface can communicate whether or not an organization is traditional, modern, trustworthy, bold, or subdued. By adopting a type of look for your lawyer referral service, clients will visually recognize and recall your service over time. This is important, as people generally prefer things that are familiar, as opposed to things that are unfamiliar or unknown. Also, developing and implementing a cohesive look across your various communications channels will be one of the most cost effective ways a lawyer referral service can communicate professionalism.

There are countless ways to look at and leverage the concept of branding with your lawyer referral service. These three areas are merely a start. Whether your lawyer referral service is big or small, you will find that at least a moderate amount of attention and effort toward branding will make your lawyer referral service more approachable to potential clients.

Seth Chavez

Director of Lawyer Referral Services, Los Angeles County Bar Association

Seth Chavez is Director of the nation's largest lawyer referral service, founded in 1937 by the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He also is Director of Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services at LACBA.