Law Firm Marketing: The importance of brand development and identity
No matter the vocation, anyone wishing to start a business will be acutely aware of the need to generate cash flow - and the legal industry is no exception. Non-lawyers assume that legal practitioners make money hand over fist, but as many sole practitioners and small firms can attest the battle to garner business is as ruthless as a courtroom stoush, especially in a period of general economic uncertainty.
The legal industry by nature is extremely competitive and in order for sole practitioners and small firms to gain business and mindshare, a sound marketing strategy is absolutely essential. Law and marketing can sometimes make uncomfortable bedfellows, but the reality is that if you want more clients, marketing your services is paramount.
We sat down with Trish Carroll, founder of Galt Advisory, who specialises in assisting law firms to develop winning marketing strategies. Trish was kind enough to shed some light on how small law firms can compete in the legal marketing front.
What marketing strategies should small law firms adopt if they wish to gain more business?
For small to medium sized firms, it's especially important they have a clear understanding of what they want to be known for and build upon that concept. It's essential that the firm has a focus, and what I often find is that small to medium sized firms are trying to be all things to all people and this lacks both focus and credibility. Small to medium firms need to be clear on their areas of practice, how they should operate, and have an awareness of who they are.
Do you have any examples of a small firm who has a clear, strategic focus?
A couple of good examples that I can think of - and which are not firms I have advised - are elderlaw.com.au, which is a firm that really knows what their area of specialty is and provides the market with services such as 'aged care agreement information packs' for example. What's interesting about the practice is that as far as I can tell, the firm is either a sole practice or a very small firm, and what really stands out is they are very clear on what they sell and who they are. This is a perfect example of a small sized firm with a specific focus. The other good example is a firm called Simpsons, which is a specialist IP firm that has very interesting offerings geared around their core capability and targeted to segments for whom this specialty is a core business need. Simpsons, for example, provide services specifically targeted at museums and galleries, as well as other businesses where creativity and IP is a core focus, while still having the ability to cater to broader based business law needs.
The fundamental point is that once your firm has a clear focus and identity, then marketing, communications, and the business development strategy can be framed around it.
Why is it essential that sole practitioners and small firms have a targeted strategy?
A sound strategy will drive planning and investment, because if there is a lack of a rational plan, then the chances of success will diminish. All firms need to make their investment dollars go further and a coherent strategy will assist practices in putting their money in the areas that will give a firm the best chance for success. It is important that firms spend their marketing budget in a targeted way. By adopting a clear plan, sole practitioners and small firms will be able to stand out from the crowd, and when potential clients are looking for that specific service, they will be under no illusions that the firm has the expertise they're looking for and should be on their contact list.
Is it important that small firms develop a unique 'brand'?
Yes, it's extremely important that law firms engage in brand development and what I've found within the last 10 years is that the smarter practices are really starting to understand the importance of having a brand that can be a point of distinction. The main advantage of brand development is that it can be seen as a point of differentiation, and provided that the niche is something that can be built upon, such firms can be true specialists and the ability to grow will be substantial.
How can firms manage their brand?
Practices should be mindful that brand management is not just about the visual features associated with their firm, but rather it refers to all aspects of the practice, which include client engagement, service, interaction, and even how partners manage, and lead their own people. The fundamental aspect of brand management is alignment, because everything will be geared around the values of the brand.
What I often see is that firms have an attractive visual identity which is not always aligned to the behaviour of the firm. For example, some firms say they are accessible and project an image of openness but the phone takes a long time to answer and staff are unable to deal with basic queries in an informed and helpful way.
The thing to remember is that brand management is an all encompassing effort.
What are the biggest advantages small to medium firms possess when it comes to marketing?
Small and medium firms have a real advantage of closeness and comfort with their clients that can be a competitive advantage if they have targeted area(s) of practice. There are examples in business that demonstrate what focus can do. Look at Apple: a company with specific focus, and fantastic products and services. They don't have a massive product range; small to medium firms should adopt a similar approach if they wish to win more clients.
Trish Carroll is the founder of Galt Advisory, which advises on marketing and business development strategy, brand issues, bid strategy, and communication.