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law firm digital marketing strategyA Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, deals with the themes of duality, revolution, and resurrection. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in London and Paris, as economic and political unrest lead to the American and French revolutions. Similarly, when it comes to digital marketing by American law firms there is a sense of duality and revolution when you compare and contrast the approaches consumer law firms and corporate law firms are employing.

The level of investment in digital marketing continues to increase at a rapid pace.  According to Forrester, “by 2019, marketing leaders will spend more than $103 billion on search marketing, online advertising, social media marketing, and email marketing — more than they will on broadcast and cable television advertising combined.”  With big increases in digital marketing budgets, you’d think it would be reasonable to expect increased levels of skills among marketers managing the spend. However, data from CMO survey shows no discernable trend in increased marketing excellence.

As a former practicing lawyer who now focuses on marketing in the legal industry, I have seen two very distinct approaches when it comes to law firm digital marketing strategy. Consumer law firms (personal injury, medical malpractice, family law, immigration, trusts and estates) clearly understand the importance of digital marketing as a tool to generate new leads and compete for clients. However, corporate law firms (AmLaw 200 and other similarly situated firms) are only just beginning to understand how digital marketing can enable them to outperform their competition and position them as thought leaders in their areas of practice.

We work with both types of law firms and have first-hand knowledge of how each approaches digital marketing. Consumer firms are spending substantially more money than their corporate counterparts and are trying to stay on top of their competitors by developing sophisticated search engine optimization (SEO), search advertising and social advertising strategies in order to drive more traffic to their websites and enhance their lead generation and conversions.

Corporate law firms on the other hand seem mostly content experimenting with social media and content marketing. And very few firms have developed an integrated digital strategy and even fewer have gained an understanding of how to properly measure and analyze data in order to glean actionable insights. Most corporate law firms are trying to achieve thought leadership by launching blogs in different practice areas but are not properly measuring their reach or engagement with a desired target audience.

A few AmLaw 200 firms are beginning to realize the importance of SEO and are even experimenting with pay-per-click advertising. But this is being done mostly at the practice group level and not on firm-wide basis. Consumer law firms, on the other hand, are engaged in an increasingly competitive race to see which of them can achieve a high search engine ranking or how they can increase their conversion ratio on pay-per-click advertising.

I have to admit; I am quite frequently surprised by the lack of sophistication most corporate law firms have when it comes to digital marketing. This is especially true of the lawyers that work at these firms. Many of the marketing professionals who work at these firms are aware of the importance of digital marketing because they read what their corporate clients are doing and how much money and focus is being paid to digital marketing by Fortune 1000 companies.

However, when it comes to dealing with their own lawyers, these marketing professionals are increasingly frustrated by the lack of knowledge among corporate lawyers. These lawyers either don’t get it or just don’t care that many of their clients have developed highly sophisticated digital marketing programs and that it’s only a matter of time until they expect the same from the law firms they work with. One reason is that many corporate lawyers still do not think like business people. They care little for marketing and business development trends and cling to the idea that they can continue to make it rain as long as they are good lawyers. However, the competition for legal services is now higher than ever. Not only are lawyers facing increased competition from other law firms, they are now also facing competition from alternative legal service providers who come to the table with cutting-edge technologies, as well as a well-developed business acumen.

Consumer lawyers on the other hand are under no such illusion. They know that it is no longer enough to be a good lawyer. In order to compete and continuously grow their number of leads, these lawyers need to think like business people and take advantage of digital marketing trends as a way to reach and engage with their target audience. Consumer lawyers make it their business to understand digital marketing, SEO, PPC and they are continuously measuring results, evaluating ROI and figuring out where they can invest to enhance their return. As a digital marketing consultant, I find myself being challenged by consumer law firms much more so than corporate law firms. With consumer law firms, I am constantly asked to demonstrate results and to explain why different campaigns are successful. With corporate law firms, the challenge is to try to convince and explain to corporate lawyers why digital marketing is important in the first place.

There are, of course, a few outliers among corporate law firms, as the 2017 Social Law Firm Index shows. The firms at the top of this ranking are serious about their digital marketing and are making a concerted effort to generate meaningful business results from their efforts.

Unfortunately, many corporate law firms have yet to understand how critical digital marketing is for their business. They either don’t care or simply don’t want to bother. It really is a tale of two cities when it comes to law firm digital marketing strategy. Those that get it will prosper. Those that don’t, with a few exceptions, may eventually fade into oblivion.

Updated and republished December 1, 2017.

law firm digital marketing strategy