Blog Post

Money can’t buy you love (or effective legal marketing)


A reader of our last blog post (entitled Is SEO snake oil?) wrote a comment that really resonated with me:

“All too often attorneys want to believe that there’s an easy answer: something they can throw money at that will automatically bring new business in the door…” wrote Fina Wert, Director of Marketing at McNees Wallace & Nurick.

Exactly. That’s the underlying tension in legal marketing. Everyone wants it to be faster and easier than it is.

Fina’s words really connected with me because I spent nearly a decade trying to develop a way for law firms to outsource marketing to my company with minimal input from their attorneys. I figured that I’d make a fortune if I could find a cost-effective formula. Despite much effort, I couldn’t figure out an effective way to take attorneys out of the marketing equation.

In the end, here’s what I learned: Most of legal marketing is about building a reputation and developing relationships. And to do this with any degree of success, it’s vital that attorneys are directly involved in the effort.

So, what’s the role of the marketing department? To help craft a plan of action – and perhaps offer some organizational support. However, at the end of the day, individual attorneys must make a commitment to do the heavy lifting (like writing, speaking and networking) that will bring clients in the door.

As far as I can tell, the fast and easy solutions (i.e., those that minimize attorney participation) never seem to deliver a decent return on investment. Am I missing something? If so, I’d love to hear your stories.


10 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. Dion, you’re on a roll. In addition to helping craft a plan and providing organizational support, your web marketing consultant might:

    – Audit technical aspects of websites/blogs to ensure optimal organization of online content.
    – Help attorneys understand key web performance indicators.
    – Assist attorneys in understanding how to effectively publish and publicize on the web.
    – Identify people & sources that the firm should consider engaging online.
    – Audit various online marketing and advertising efforts.
    – Teach attorneys how to implement various web-based networking tools.
    – Explain what competitors are doing effectively and where there is opportunity for advantage.

    The relationship between the attorneys at the firm and the web consultant should be more like a partnership, and less like vendor-buyer. Planning & communication between consultant and attorneys make the difference.

    After all, a large part of effective web marketing is about publishing great search-mindful content and developing creative strategies to get that content in front of people who are ready, willing, and able to consume, link to, and further publicize it.

  2. That makes a lot of sense. After all, if you’re marketing the lawyer’s services, the lawyer needs to demonstrate his/her credibility, approachability, and willingness to help clients. Maybe in this world of technology, we’re used to getting immediate results with the latest gadget we buy. And this mentality and expectation is extended to anything that deals with technology – namely online marketing and SEO. But the difference that needs to be recognized is the fact that marketing and yielding more business deals with people. It takes time to build trust and some kind of working relationship with people.

  3. Lawyers absolutely need to be front and center in the marketing of their firm/practice – at the end of the day, the General Counsel is buying an expert.

    Lawyers should be serving their clients first and foremost and this is where marketing professionals come into play. It is very important that marketing pros help the lawyers develop the framework for how they’ll get their good names out there and track effectiveness in doing so. We all know that the best time to do business development activities are when you don’t actually need more business; the efforts will pay off in the long term. But, if a lawyer is serving their clients 12 hours a day, when are they supposed to look for highly-targeted speaking engagements or pitch article ideas to reporters or strategically respond to RFPs or mine their contacts or put together an event or…the list goes on. While it is often hard to track the work of a marketing professional, it should be noted the many things they do to help the lawyers behind the scenes so they can show up at a conference and speak as the expert they are; think of how many hours were saved since that lawyer didn’t have to find the opportunity, pitch the conference programmers, deal with sponsorship talks, etc. The marketing pros handled it all.

  4. c aguila says:

    In an economic climate where differentiated value propositions are getting more and more significant for law firms, the role of the marketing function both as a department and as a function of lawyers themselves as “part-time” marketers is crucial.

    Lawyers need to learn how to leverage information that resides in the marketing departments and view the department not only as internal support/business development consultants, but as providers of significant information as they do with financial information; and turn these into tools for their own advantage. However, the marketing dept must be able to convey useful information to the lawyers so that lawyers can better service their existing clients and help with increased opportunities to develop new business whether through more effective cross selling or referral programmes or helping them to build their profile more effectively within the sectors they serve.

    It has been a rollercoaster ride for our own marketing department but it is achallenge, the department has to come out of its shell, feel empowered, and change perceptions where they are continued to be viewed as newsletters, brochures, or website specialists for it to be able implement strategic marketing effectively. A firm might have the budget to build a team with roles that could cover all areas of the marketing and communications mix, however if marketing capabilities do not match or fail to meet the firm’s expectations from a marketing department then as you say – “money cant buy you effective legal marketing”

    Marketing professionals have to be strong innovators who can guide their lawyers, measure return on marketing activities and transform opportunities into prospects then into clients , – if they can do this successfully and build a good partnership between lawyers and the marketing team then it can become a real asset for the firm.

  5. Dion Algeri says:

    Jennifer — I couldn’t have said it better. Beyond the tactical benefits that the in-house marketers provide, the most valuable thing that they offer is strategic guidance – on a firm-wide level and for each attorney and practice area.

    And as you point out, lawyers need to be “front and center” when it comes to marketing themselves. The blog writing, speeches, social media updates, networking – they just can’t be outsourced. Which brings me back to SEO (see previous blog post) – we all wish it was the magic stuff that drives new business, but sadly, it doesn’t quite work that way…

    [Side note: Interesting article in the Lawyerist about the importance of attorneys taking ownership of their blogs/social media etc.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Great minds think alike Dion. After reading and commenting on that first article I also wrote a piece reminding my clients that there is no “magic bullet” to law firm marketing and including a warning to avoid thinking a single marketing tactic or action or activity can maintain a profitable firm.

  7. Wow, the answer to this could (and does) fill a large book.

    There are no easy answers to lawyer marketing. In fact, marketing lawyers and law firms may be one of the toughest marketing gigs on the planet. Let’s face it, consumers don’t trust lawyers, consumers don’t like lawyers (except their own) and lawyers do not sell anything that consumers really want.

    The marketing department’s role should be to define the most effective marketing opportunities for law firms. Is TV the best approach, radio, ads, articles, billboards, taxi signs, the web?? The lawyers should be given a thorough evaluation of those venues, including a cost benefit analysis.

    The marketing department should also set forth a cogent plan for approaching the firms marketing. Media and web will undoubtedly be in the mix, but the most effective marketing tools will often receive the greatest resistance from lawyers.

    Lawyers, generally speaking, are lousy business people. They think they are good business people, which makes them all the more dangerous to themselves. The marketing department should have an organized process for teaching and mentoring young lawyers on marketing skills. That process should start when the young lawyer walks through the door and continue until he or she demonstrates solid marketing skills.

    Lawyers sell a service. The public does not see lawyers as real people. So, the hardest part may be the personal, on the street, connections lawyers make with the public. Certainly on a local marketing basis getting out and meeting other lawyers; meeting consumers and the public; and demonstrating expertise in the lawyers’ field is invaluable in establishing a solid marketing base.

  8. In fact, no marketing program can work without the cooperation or participation of lawyers. At least, lawyers must supply the grist for the marketer’s mills. As the competitive environment has heated up and evolved in the past few decades, an increasing number of lawyers have recognized that the more they know about both the process and the marketers, the better they become at practice development.

    At the same time, in most cases few clients will retain a lawyer or a firm without meeting the lawyers — no matter how good the non-lawyer practice development person is. Lawyers are then successful to the degree they accept person-to-person training. Lawyers who best understand the subtleties of networking are the most successful ones.

    The days of the lawyer insulated from the marketing process are fading. I call it, in my forthcoming book, Professional Services Marketing 3.0 –which is an analysis of the new phase of marketing, as well as how competition is changing the nature and structure of the modern law firm. Out next month.

  9. Excellent question.

    As a former Senior BD and client relationship manager of an international law firm in Europe, my comments would be: “you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink” and “one size doesn’t fit all”.

    Legal marketing is more about coaching fee earners individually over time to engage in consistent marketing and BD actions rather than designing elaborate marketing plans with little or no follow up.

  10. Greg Prosmushkin says:

    Marketing your law firm is a very difficult job and require a lot of time

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