The Basics of Marketing a Small Law Firm Online
2018 marks my 24th year of practicing law as a self-employed attorney. The day after I took the oath in May of 1994, I hung out my shingle. In 2000, I also founded a law firm marketing company. These two experiences have taken me through almost all facets of law firm marketing. I have distilled my experiences down to some basics.
The first day of law school, one of my professors informed us that the burnout rate for attorneys was 50% after five years. The thought of going through three years of law school only to ditch it all within five years was depressing. I never confirmed this statistic, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.
There are many reasons why an attorney might make a career switch, but one of the biggest is financial struggle. The business of running a law practice is not a big law school topic, so we are left to stumble through it on our own. Meanwhile, life happens and bills pile up.
I know many more struggling self-employed attorneys than I know thriving ones. They start out eager only to show up to court one day looking like they slept in their suit. Financial struggle wears you down. It creates a cycle of lowering your fees which devalues your services which leads to further financial struggle.
So how do you thrive?
Referrals The primary way a person finds an attorney is to ask for a referral. There isn’t a close second way.
These referrals are gold. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years advertising. In the beginning, it was the Yellow Pages. Then it was the internet. I’ve even tried mass media. I’ve sponsored events, taken out print ads, and once had the worst radio ad ever produced for one glorious week. But there is a big difference between a referral and a person who responds off an ad. The referral is coming to you first and foremost because you were recommended. They already believe in you. Meanwhile, the person who is responding to an ad is often price shopping.
Learn how to quote fees The key to maximizing your revenue for non-contingency fees is simple: 1. Maximize opportunities to get hired whether it’s through advertising or networking; and 2. Sell confidence, not price. Dollars aren’t irrelevant, but dollars are not always the most important factor for a client when making a decision to hire a lawyer. When I consult a prospective client, I listen, ask questions, and then give them a roadmap to a soft landing. I focus on explaining my plan to solve their legal problem. Once they believe in me, fees become less important.
Be willing to be flexible on terms, but don’t intentionally impoverish yourself by bottom feeding on fees. Remember, there will always be someone willing to work for less than you.
Website Build a website, but don’t overbuild. If I were starting fresh, I would find a WordPress developer and stick to a budget of under $5,000 and perhaps even way less. WordPress is not just blogging software. This website is built in WordPress. There are many themes available for not too much money. With WordPress, you can edit your pages and add functionality through plugins in a non-technical environment. Stick with the basics: 1. Nice looking site; 2. Clear message about your practice areas; 3. (optional) Practice area pages. I don’t believe people read much past the first page. In fact, I don’t think people look much past your picture and phone number. I have 20 plus years of website traffic statistics to back this up.
Google My Business Create a business profile on Google My Business . This will add your law firm to Google’s map results. Google is emphasizing its own products in search results and have placed a particular priority on delivering local results depending on the physical location of the searcher. Run a search for a relevant phrase and you will see that the first several listings are all local map results. Clicks are free. Some attorneys even take out multiple locations in virtual offices simply to broaden their reach throughout their city. Organic results typically are in the bottom third of the search results page, yet SEO companies will still try to convince you that is where your advertising dollars should go.
AdWords I’ve used Google AdWords more than any other form of advertising. It can be good for a narrow number of practice areas including personal injury, criminal defense, and family law. However, if you don’t know what you are doing, you can waste a lot of time and money. Find a consultant who specializes in AdWords who can show you examples of campaigns and explain their strategy. If you are in a decent sized city, you might spend $3,000 – $5,000 per month on a small campaign and much more for a personal injury campaign. Google also will provide you with a free consultant to help you set up a campaign. I have had mixed results, but they have mostly been positive. Create an adwords campaign and before you activate it, call them and ask for someone to look it over. A well-run campaign will return five to ten times your investment assuming you know how to price your services and close deals.
Law Firm Directories There are many and probably not worth nearly as much as you will be told by their salesperson. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and search for some phrases related to your practice area. Most searches are non-geographic in nature. In other words, instead of searching for ‘chicago personal injury lawyer’, people will search for ‘personal injury lawyer’. Try a search and see if any directories appear. The first several listings are AdWords sponsored listings. The next several are Google map results and appear because the person who is searching is located by their IP address, so there is no need to include the city in a search in order for relevant results to be returned. The bottom third are typically organic results that are near the searcher’s GPS location. In other words, good luck finding directories in the results of these high value searches.
But if a prospective client does find one of the many attorney directories out there, how many of your competitors are listed? Probably hundreds if not thousands. You will then be offered a premium listing to make your profile stand out. So many layers, so much money. Before you know it, you’re in the thousands and you may as well put your advertising dollars to better use.
Search Engine Optimization As I stated above, organic listings in Google populate the bottom third of the results. For the amount of time and money you can spend on SEO for competitive phrases, you might be better off focusing on your Google My Business listing. Clicks are free and the listing is easy to manage.
Social Media Social media offers an opportunity to network efficiently. LinkedIn and Facebook also offer ways to advertise in various ways. At a minimum, you should have a business listing in both and consider the options to promote/boost your posts. Once you have your profile set up in each, check their advertising options. That being said, simply connecting to more people can help spread the word along with regular posts.
After 24 years in practice as a self-employed attorney, I can safely say that effort + skill + persistence is the key. Work hard, be a good attorney, and keep plowing forward. Don’t chase your tail trying too many things to grow your practice. Focus on serving your clients well and building your reputation. Take opportunities to spread your name. Hand out cards. Take care of the basics like creating a Google My Business listing. And if you have some money to do a little advertising, try AdWords, but only if you are in a practice area that works for this type of advertising (criminal, family, personal injury).
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