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Marketing an Appellate Practice

Amanda Sperow


  • Marketing an appellate practice can appear to be a daunting task but, in fact, is an integral component in creating and maintaining a successful practice.
  • Regardless of the size of your practice, there are various types of marketing tools available to accomplish your profile-building goals
  • Substantive work is one of the best marketing tools to exemplify your expertise and practice.
Marketing an Appellate Practice
Igor Emmerich via Getty Images

On December 8, 2021, the ABA’s Appellate Practice Committee presented a roundtable titled “Marketing an Appellate Practice.” The event, moderated by Emily McNee from Littler Mendelson, P.C., included perspectives from three guest panelists: Jesse Dungan, Adam Hansen, and M.C. Sungaila.

Each panelist offered unique insight stemming from his or her past and current work experience. Dungan is currently the vice president at Infinite Global, a communications agency that works with law firms and lawyers regarding public relations. Hansen, founder of Apollo Law, is an appellate practitioner. Sungaila is a shareholder and leader at Buchalter, a multistate law firm.

Marketing Foundations for Your Practice

Marketing an appellate practice can appear to be a daunting task but, in fact, is an integral component in creating and maintaining a successful practice. This rings true especially because of the fierce competition within the industry. With that in mind, there are three foundational steps in developing an effective marketing strategy, which can be customized to each appellate practice and practitioner:

  1. Identify the goals for your practice and yourself.
  2. Determine your targeted audience.
  3. Select a communications platform.

Goals. The goals and values of your appellate practice behave as a skeleton for marketing strategies. Specifically, goals guide the decision on the type of marketing message you want to communicate, as well as the best method to disseminate that information. As Hansen noted, “maximum brand awareness” should be among those goals in terms of marketing. In doing so, it is important to push advertising that clearly identifies who you are and what you do.

Audience. Delivering a clear message to the right audience is equally important. Recognizing the primary source of referrals is instrumental in determining your target audience. For appellate practice, client referral sources include a broad mix of trial lawyers, judges, other clients, and occasionally various members of the community. The most likely referral source is trial lawyers. This should not discourage advertising to a broader demographic, however.

Choice of audience will depend upon the goals of your practice, including your intended specialty, desired demographic, and geographic location. For practitioners working at the state level, the targeted audience may be aimed to your region or state. On the other hand, federal practitioners may have a broader audience to market because they work at the national level. Prioritize local and national audiences by which audiences will help you achieve your goals.

Platform. Living in an age of technology and digitized media has greatly expanded the avenues for marketing. Selecting the best medium to build your practice profile will depend upon your personality, preferences, and comfort level. Some individuals thrive with in-person networking opportunities. Others prefer billboard advertising or emails. Whether you select in-person, virtual, or written media, it is important to communicate by whatever means you feel most comfortable. Be brave. Be authentic. Be persistent.

Marketing is a marathon and not a sprint, so consistency and flexibility in using a variety of platforms are key. Keep in mind, the payoff of marketing efforts may not immediately come to fruition. Likewise, it is important to explore new avenues of communication as the need arises. Doing so will diversify your opportunities to communicate to various audiences.

Marketing Strategies and Tools

Regardless of the size of your practice, there are various types of marketing tools available to accomplish your profile-building goals, including thoughtful leadership initiatives, substantive speaking, and cultivating good relationships with trial attorneys. Leadership initiatives that aim to provide important information about your practice demonstrate depth and knowledge of a particular area. For example, some large firms regularly publish comprehensive reports with legal statistics, such as the reversal rates and other data trends in a state court of appeals. This “name it and claim it” tactic is a good opportunity to identify current, relevant legal issues and bring awareness to your expertise and practice. Speaking engagements can include participating in legal panels or speaking at a conference. Cultivating relationships with trial attorneys remains a pillar of strong marketing and can occur before, during, and after the trial phase.

Other, less obvious, marketing strategies include responding to general inquiries from attorneys, sharing sample templates for legal documents, writing online publications, participating in blogs or podcasts, contributing to articles, serving as a source for media commentary, and working on pro bono cases. Engaging the media, in any context, allows you to associate your brand with that of the organization and raises your profile as an authority on a given topic.

Regardless of your choice in marketing strategy, numerous tactics are available to broaden your marketing platform, and each can work in conjunction with one another.

Targeted Marketing and Moving Your Practice Forward

Substantive work is one of the best marketing tools to exemplify your expertise and practice. For example, enlisting the press to write about a specific case you managed, and the underlying issue, is an opportunity for your work to bring awareness and potentially reach a new audience—locally or nationally. If you have a local practice, you may still be well situated to address issues that are percolating nationally. You can offer insight or commentary to a media source about current issues. Consider, for example, the commentary provided by local attorneys and law professors in Minnesota during the Derek Chauvin trial. Especially with online media resources, if you are addressing local issues and positioning yourself locally, these publications live nationally and internationally—meaning, your commentary is reaching a wide range of audiences by proactively engaging the media.

Pro bono work is also a great tool to stay current with developing law, build notoriety in your practice region, and continue moving your practice forward. Sungaila noted that “we move where the law is developing.” Pro bono cases can highlight the caliber of work and values of your practice and convey positive messages to clients, prospective clients, and new recruits, including law students. Of course, pro bono work is also of interest to legal and mainstream media. In such cases, the media may focus on the client—not just the firm itself. In doing so, the spotlight shifts toward the human or emotional result of the case, not just the legal result. Pro bono opportunities are abundant and can be sourced from law school clinics, bar associations, courts, proactive involvement with writing amicus briefs, or even direct engagement with the community.

Looking to the Future

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal world faces many changes now—and will face many changes in the future too. In terms of marketing, recent events have illustrated that the legal community has a newfound willingness to approach and embrace less-explored marketing strategies, especially with the absence of in-person networking options. We must embrace the virtual corollary to in-person networking by adapting current marketing strategies to the new legal environment. A more critical approach to marketing via virtual avenues will be paramount moving forward as competition in appellate practice ramps up.