Lawyers who say their law firm marketing strategy is reliant on word of mouth to get new work are not marketing at all. What’s more, career prospects at these firms could be limited. The issue is not that word of mouth referrals are not a good way to get work – they are. The problem is that relying on this as a marketing strategy is delusional.

Law firms being led by people who have no idea how to market their firm think word of mouth is a law firm marketing strategy. Well, it’s not. It’s a ‘Claytons’ Marketing Plan: The plan you have when you don’t have a plan.

For lawyers who have been relying on this ‘strategy’, you might remember the joke about the fellow who fell off a 10 storey building. As he went past the third floor he was heard to say, “so far, so good”! Suffice to say, it’s not going to end well. Before the internet changed everything and marketing was very different, smart practitioners used a Rolodex to keep business cards. They developed relationship marketing strategies (although it was not always thought of as marketing then) and made contact when a golf day was coming up, for example. Every firm should continue with relationship marketing, particularly with the firm’s most important clients and referrers. But relationship marketing alone is not enough.

The world has changed – so should your law firm marketing strategy

There are only so many golf days or lunches you can do in a year. More importantly, it’s just not enough because it does nothing for everyone else not taken to lunch or playing golf. A smart law firm marketing strategy caters for all your clients and referrers.

So you should continue to receive instructions from people who recommend you by word of mouth. Tick. The problem for the reliant firms is that there is no what next when it comes to marketing. So what do firms usually do when confronted with the need to get more work? They go to the profession’s default position that they think (read hope) solves the problem: Advertising.

If you’re thinking advertising, think again

Advertising to strangers or the public at large is unlikely to be the most effective marketing option available to your law firm. In fact, marketing options that speak to your existing clients and contacts directly tend to be cheaper and more effective than advertising to total strangers.

All too often, advertising remains the default marketing position for many law firms, perhaps because those making decisions don’t know what else there is. So what else is there? A decent website, database marketing and an e-newsletter are some good options to consider. But first, every law firm needs a Marketing Plan.

Create a written Marketing Plan

Every law firm needs a written Marketing Plan. After all, how do you know what’s working if you don’t have something to measure your marketing against? Knowing what you want and what you have to work with will help to make the most of your marketing efforts.

What are you doing now? Review what is working and what isn’t. What is your marketing goal? How will you get there? Review all the options on the table and find out what works best for your firm. Maybe there’s something you haven’t considered before. Next, write 30, 60 and 90 day action plans so that the whole firm knows where the firm is headed and what they need to do to achieve the firm goal.

Review your website

In today’s competitive marketplace, a good website is essential. And not just the online equivalent of a business card or an advertisement in cyberspace. Your clients and prospects may well be sizing you up based on your website. Company websites are often a first port of call for new and prospective clients. This applies to law firms, too.

It is important to have up to date, valuable content on your website that shows visitors who you are and what you do. Give examples of your work that showcase your expertise. Perhaps start a blog where you can demonstrate your experience in a particular area of law.

Take the time to review your firm’s website. Is the content up to date? Are you demonstrating your expertise? Can visitors easily find what they’re looking for? What valuable content are you providing for them? And if your law firm doesn’t have a website, then get one.

Build a database or client list

Since marketing to people who already know and trust you is more effective and less expensive than advertising, it pays to build a database or client list to communicate with these people regularly. Most likely, you already have a lot of contacts in your email and office management systems. The trick is to transfer this valuable information into a format that is accessible and useful.

A simple spreadsheet with separate columns for each contact’s first name, last name, email address and phone number will be enough to get you started. Once you have established your database, remember to update it regularly and continually add new contacts. With a healthy database, your firm will be in a strong position to manage regular communication with all of your clients, referrers and leads.

Communicate with a newsletter

Communicating regularly with all of your contacts is an important part of any law firm marketing strategy. It’s the next step beyond the golf days and lunches with key contacts, because it reaches everyone.

With today’s technology, it’s now easier than ever to send regular newsletters for your firm. You can also co-ordinate newsletters with other online marketing. If your firm runs a blog, you can use that content as part of your newsletter. Another option is to send seasonal messages, such as Christmas greetings, to all your clients and referrers. Perhaps you use social media that can work with your newsletters, too.

The aim of newsletters is to keep your firm ‘front of mind’ by building a relationship with people who already know you and demonstrating your expertise to them. You can write about legal topics, firm news or events in the wider community. The key is to create valuable content for your newsletters and send them regularly.

Perhaps it’s time to review your law firm’s marketing strategy.  Remember, relying on word of mouth for new work is not a strategy and advertising is not the only option. Why not explore the benefits that technology can bring to your firm’s marketing today?

About the author
Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.

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