The small, sturdy law firm (5): is marketing a waste of money?

Spotted near IP Draughts’ place of work: a taxi branded by Freeths Solicitors

When is marketing legal services good value for money, and when is it a waste of time? Many of the received wisdoms of sales and marketing are based on the sale of goods. Applying those wisdoms to the supply of professional services is problematic.

This can be seen in the area of executive training. Traditionally, business schools focused on businesses that sold products. They had to substantially rethink their training courses (and their famous case studies) to make them suitable for the services of lawyers, accountants and financial advisers. Harvard Business School nowadays offers executive education programmes that are specially designed for professional services.

Marketing of products has a certain immediacy. There is, or should be, a clear ’cause and effect’ between spend and sales income.

Marketing professional services tends to be a much longer-term affair. Of course, it depends on the type of legal service and the customer. But in many cases, clients  don’t hire lawyers based on being impressed by a recent marketing campaign. Name recognition counts for something, and this can be achieved by plastering your firm’s name on the side of a fleet of taxis. But this technique wouldn’t work for IP Draughts – or at least not at a cost-effective rate.

IP Draughts and his firm are involved in some membership organisations – for example we are among the many volunteers who provide free training to PraxisAuril and ASTP-Proton. Originally, we did this because were asked to, and we were happy to oblige and “give back” to the communities in which we spend our professional lives. IP Draughts is less impressed by an increasing tendency on the part of some organisations to view law firms as a rich source of subscription monies, which increase in price every year.

In reality, some large firms are happy to pay these subscriptions, in the hope of landing a major instruction involving probably six-figure sums by way of fees. Those instructions tends to be for major corporate transactions or litigation, neither of which IP Draughts does.

For some firms, the willingness to spend money – to sponsor an event, or run a stand at a conference – is a kind of dipping the toe in the marketing water, to see if it shows a return. When it doesn’t, you probably don’t do the same thing again. But there are any number of rival firms that are willing to try the same route. For some, it may work, but for many it is a lesson in what doesn’t work. Tigger tried a lot of different meals before discovering that Kanga provided the best treats.

If IP Draughts responded favourably to every proposal that he receives for subscriptions, sponsorship, paid editorials, paid entries in legal guides, paid speaking at events (paid by IP Draughts, not the other way around!), he would quickly go bankrupt. The reality is that the vast majority of these are a complete waste of time and money. Working out which ones are useful is a difficult task.

Perhaps we have trodden an unusual path. For us, name recognition comes mostly from activities that don’t cost us money. But we are ever hopeful, looking for the event or event type that really resonates with our approach and reputation, and which predictably (rather than randomly) leads to instructions.



Filed under Legal practice

4 responses to “The small, sturdy law firm (5): is marketing a waste of money?

  1. Piers Clayden

    Good post, Mark – thanks. Smaller law firms like ours don’t have the budget for big splash profile raising advertising campaigns so we have to spend any marketing budget smarter and wiser, particularly focussed on lead-generation, rather than general profile raising.

  2. Well, there certainly are lawyers in the USA who specialize in class-action and personal injury litigation. They advertise heavily. Aside from them, I believe most solo lawyers and small firms can benefit from a website. Or to put it differently, many clients would expect to see a website and would shy away in the absence of one.

    • Agreed. We know one small firm in the USA that we encouraged to have a website, as making referrals when they didn’t have one was difficult.
      Personal injury is a different market, where even TV ads may help.

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