Jessica J.S Fowler
The application of marketing in the legal profession has arguably only taken place in the past two decades. However, the importance and total spent on legal marketing has steadily increased year after year. I have been working in the legal community for years now, and have witnessed a drastic paradigm shift in both why, and how firms are choosing to market themselves. Based on my experience, and from regular surveys, I aim to highlight important key figures to help others understand the Canadian legal landscape in 2016 and what they can do to thrive - starting with the basics.
In reviewing the legal landscape, there is no doubt that marketing is more pertinent than ever for survival. Why? Essentially, it comes down to economics 101 - supply and demand. In a Maclean’s article - Do we really need so many lawyers? - it states the profession has grown at five times the rate of the population, with over 50,000 practicing in Ontario alone; half of which are in the private sector. Moreover, competition is increasing because of the growth of sole practitioners, and the total number of firms.
In a Financial Post article, The rise of the sole practitioner, author Jim Middlemiss demonstrates why the statistics should be cause for concern. Between 2007 and 2012, sole practitioners grew by 33%, whereas small firms (2-10 lawyers) grew by 27%. Compared to 20% growth in the major firms (50 + lawyers) which only make up 1% of the Canadian private legal market. Together, sole practitioners and small practices account for 98% of all private practices in Ontario, which is similar across Canada.
Due to the increase in the number of firms, and supply of legal professions, some of the new firms are using a low cost entry model. Fixed pricing for certain files, as well as a transactional approach, are causing the customers to view legal services like a commodity. I was shocked and saddened to hear from a real estate lawyer last year that he charges the same as he did in the 1980’s for a residential file. Overall, not only is competition increasing, but the profit margin per file is decreasing, consequently requiring firms to increase the volume of new files than in years prior.
So how are firms succeeding and growing their market share? Firstly, they have accepted the fact that they NEED to invest in marketing. Secondly, they are knowledgeable about what marketing tactics work, are able to follow and forecast important trends, and collect data to measure their investments. In my experience the 6 areas highlighted below are either overlooked and/or paramount to generating new business. Marketing can be a taunting task, but when done right, can be a major determinant to the success of your firm. Here’s where I would start:
Where to Advertise and why? I have worked in all mediums, and began my career in television, selling 30 seconds commercial slots to fortune 500 companies for an obscene amount of money. The question, undoubtedly, always came down to - “how do I know it’s working?” Unfortunately, like so many mediums, it was impossible to measure. Thus, it was a logical transition for myself and companies to start working in the digital space, where you can measure and collect data on nearly everything. It is also more cost effective, can be employee driven, and the majority, if not all, of your preferred audience is there - guaranteed.
A few years ago, Thomson Reuters put out a report on legal digital marketing. The statistics were startling and I can only assume these numbers have gone up since.
96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine
74% of those seeking legal advice online will go on to contact a lawyer via the phone
87% of people who contact a lawyer hire one and 72% will only contact one!
The last statistic is something that I cannot emphasize enough, because if you can’t reach a potential client online, the chances of you receiving the business, outside of a direct referral, is extremely unlikely. Provided this data, I would encourage all firms and lawyers to ensure they focus their attention to their digital footprint before all else. Most firms do spend the majority of their marketing dollars here, so the question now is where and how to do so wisely.
2. Know where you stand - Today - This element is so underrated and yet can make all the difference. Before I reach out to anyone, I review their online footprint and 95% of the time there is room for improvement. However, I greatly sympathize with how many “digital experts” are out there and how many different stories you are told on a daily basis. Moreover, how the digital world is ever-changing. The only way to navigate and ensure accountability is to accurately know and fully understand where you are today. There are two key elements to this.
Firstly, do you know how your website speaks to the search engines? Secondly, do you know how the search engines speak with potential clients? So many times I have heard people say, “I have a website, so I am good”. Not the case. There are three primary elements to having an effective website: design, content, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Without a comprehensive strategy, you’ll end up spending more money and wasting more time. My advice to anyone is to ensure you know what your digital partner or agency is doing, and why. Data is very important but you need to know what it means. Often times digital marketers will flash, what looks like, impressive data, but often it can be irrelevant to your goals.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - This is and has been a buzz phrase for years now, yet very few people know what it means or how to do it properly. Last year alone, Google changed their algorithms 500 times, so I understand why lawyers and firms themselves can’t keep up. Not to mention the horror stories I often hear about SEO providers.
Here are some important SEO tips to consider:
SEO can mean a lot of things, but essentially it helps you align with search engines and qualified searches.
On-site SEO is how you implement key terms, long-tail searches and relevant coding on your website to increase where and how you show up in search engines
Off-site SEO helps you build trust and authority with search engines to help stay above competition as content development continues to be done more strategically
SEO should be based on facts, and not be a guessing game. Too often I see providers use keywords that they “believe” are important, but if your potential clients are not searching that way, then it is of no value
I can’t stress this point enough - how your content and SEO looks, is not always how it reads to search engines, and this can make all the difference with results
Once you navigate your way through SEO and ensure you have the right foundation to build up from, there are a variety of ways to increase revenue and new business from a digital strategy.
4. Blogs - Though we may not want to believe it, our perceived reality can cause greater action than truth. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but a study was done comparing the conversion rates between firms that had a blog and those that didn’t, and three quarters of people would choose the firm that did over their counterpart. Content remains to be a major factor in why, and for what, searches your website appears. The more content the better. It also demonstrates that you are relevant and a thought leader, which not only increases confidence in potential clients, it can keep you top of mind with peers and past clients as well. Whether you write them yourself or use a ghost writer, blogging can have a big impact on your websites traffic, conversion rates, and audience build if leveraged with other platforms and social media channels.
5. Visuals - At our company, we believe image is everything. Everyone can relate to choosing a site on the search results and being met with all text, or screams “this isn’t me”. Image is something many don’t correlate directly with results, but then again, you only hear from the people that call you. A great example of a firm that has invested in their image is Henein Hutchison LLP. If you visit their site you are met with a vampire like team photo, which emulates their seriousness and that will appeal to those wanting a firm that takes their criminal charge serious, just as Jian Ghomeshi did.
Also, when looking at how potential clients navigate, the traditional path is visiting a website, the page of content relevant to their file and then they check out the lawyer profile page. Thus, it is so important to ensure your image, photography and graphic design work aligns with your firm's philosophy and with the type of client you are after. Also, utilizing visuals in social media posts is important to consider as photos are the most engaging type of content on Facebook with 87% interaction rate and making up 75% of posts. Our attention spans are shrinking, so having a visual to share along with a message can make a big difference on whether it attracts and engages an audience.
6. Social Media - Social media has a 100% higher lead-close ratio than outbound marketing and 64% of consumers have made a purchase decision based on social content. Yet when I bring up social media to lawyers some still cringe. Lawyers, in my experience, have been quite verbal to me on their interest to do social media, but sadly for those late adopters, it can prove major results and is quite possibly the cheapest option available. I work with lawyers to help build their online profiles, grow an organic and qualified audience, and become thought leaders solely by having them adopt a 5 minute social media daily routine. Social media does introduce new platforms and it's important to keep an eye ahead, but to simplify it, go where your audience is (and where it's the largest). Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are what I still consider the staples.
Lastly, it is important that firms work on social media advocacy within the firm. Chances are, members of your team have social media accounts and use them already, possibly even at work. Getting the whole team engaged, whatever the platform(s), can help expedite results and expand the reach. In marketing, the more the merrier applies almost 99% percent of the time.