Law school is grueling, cramming hundreds of years of case law and legal theory into three years of classes and study. Although new JDs can graduate with a world of legal knowledge, law school does not prepare them to run a law practice or provide what it needs to survive: clients. With merely hanging out a shingle no longer sufficient, being competitive in the legal marketplace means knowing how to bring clients in the door. Today’s shingle may be different for each firm, but its design comes from a common source: a law firm marketing plan customized to your practice.
The $64,000 Question: What Is a Law Firm Marketing Plan?
What is a law firm marketing plan, you ask? A marketing plan defines your practice areas, target clientele, competition, and goals to provide a framework for your marketing efforts. Similar to a business plan in some respects, a marketing plan uses the factors above to help you determine the best marketing channels and methods to meet your stated goals.
Although there are templates for writing your law firm marketing plan, there are no prefab, one-size-fits-all marketing plans. The most effective marketing plans are tailored to your firm, and that requires effort. By putting in the effort on the front end to identify how your firm stands out from the others and who you’re competing with for clients, you can develop a comprehensive attorney marketing plan designed specifically for your firm to help you streamline marketing decisions and get the most for your marketing dollar.
Know Thyself and the Competition
First, narrow down what you’re selling. Create a narrative that describes your firm or practice. Answering the following questions will help you home in on how to write that description:
- Practice areas offered;
- What makes your business unique or special;
- Your firm’s MO in handling cases (e.g., team approach versus dedicated, hands-on attorney); and
- Brand identity (current or targeted).
At this stage, answer the questions once from the business owner or manager’s perspective, and then revisit each question from the potential client’s point of view. What aspects or features would a potential client be looking for when seeking legal assistance?
Once you have a clear description of your firm or practice, use the description to identify your competition. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to firms in your immediate area—technology facilitates the development of attorney-client relationships regardless of the client’s proximity to your office. Similarly, don’t limit competition to firms around the same size as yours. Given the right experience and approach to online marketing, small firms can be incredibly competitive with larger firms.
Know Your Clients: Identifying Your Target Clientele
Closely related to identifying your firm or practice area is identifying the type of clients you seek. To develop effective marketing strategies, you have to know who you’re trying to reach. This section of your plan should be detailed enough to identify your ideal client while also general enough to allow broad reach. Defined partly in terms of your practice areas, consider potential points of pain with questions like these:
- What drives the client’s need for legal services (e.g., urgency, practice area, problem solving, problem prevention)?
- What are the client’s financial resources?
- What are the client’s demographics?
- Where does the client live or work (for individuals) or operate (for businesses and government entities)?
- What forms of media are most likely to reach your target clientele?
By understanding your ideal client’s motivations, means, demographics, and geography, you can better identify the types of clients you are best equipped to assist. If you’re unsure about what would motivate your ideal client, consider asking a few of your best clients for input.
Taking Aim: Setting Law Firm Marketing Goals
Now that you’ve identified what you have to offer, who you’re up against, and who you’re trying to get in the door, it’s time to set your objectives. Setting law firm marketing goals means describing what you hope your marketing efforts will achieve. Is your intent to grow your practice in a particular area? Draw clients for a new or expanded practice area? Attract clients from a different or wider geographical area? By answering these and similar questions, you can identify how you hope your marketing strategies will impact your practice both in the short term and in the long term.
Putting It All Together: Developing a Law Firm Marketing Strategy
To define your law firm marketing strategy, consider everything developed for your plan so far:
- Who you are and why you’re unique;
- Who your competition is;
- Who your target clientele is;
- How to best reach your target clientele; and
- What you’re trying to achieve for your firm.
With the answers to those questions in mind, identify a range for your budget and then consider where you’ll get the most bang for your marketing buck. Some marketing channels require only your time, like networking and referral marketing. Print and airwave media can also be effective, although they are sometimes costly.
Today, clients have more information at their fingertips than ever before. As a result, clients predominantly conduct online research for an attorney. You can use many forms of social media or online legal marketing—for free—by leveraging your existing online presence on your firm website, Google My Business listing, and social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can drive qualified leads from your target audience to your site. Well-researched and -executed SEO shines a spotlight on your online content so that Google and other online platforms see the value of your online content and rank it prominently in organic search results. Online paid ads are also an option for newer firms and brand-building, whether in pay-per-click ads or paid ads on sites that draw your target clientele. One major drawback of paid ads is that when you stop paying, ads stop appearing. In addition, searchers are increasingly ignoring paid ads in favor of the more relevant results that appear in organic search.
The benefit of online marketing for law firms is that it offers a significant edge over other marketing channels: the opportunity to track and analyze the effectiveness of your online marketing strategies. For example, by setting up your free Google Analytics account, you can track how many users visit your website, what pages they’re visiting, how long they stay on a page, the search terms used that led them to your site, the geographic area where they are located, and much more.
Where to Find Help with Your Law Firm Marketing Plan
Law practices come in all shapes and sizes—solos, small to mid-size law offices, and large national or international firms—and cover different practice areas. The right law firm marketing plan for a solo practitioner would not scale well for a national or international firm, and the same is true in reverse. The Internet provides many resources for learning about how to make the most of SEO and paid services like Moz and SEMrush that can help you track the effectiveness of your online marketing strategies. With so many online platforms available for free, you can develop a law firm marketing plan that feeds your firm for years to come.
Indiana attorney Heather B. Kane is Production Chief at TOPDOG Legal Marketing, LLC, an attorney-led, data-driven legal marketing provider offering web design and online legal marketing services to law firms nationwide. In addition to her work for TOPDOG, Heather has worked in private practice, held local and appellate clerkships, and taught legal research and writing to first-year law students.