Why Marketing In Law Firms Is Crucial
“If firms do not organize their own public relations programs and also perhaps advertise whatever competitive advantages they can offer to clients, the available visual space and the airways will be filled with the images and voices of competitors.”
My father was an oil and gas lawyer in Dallas for over 50 years. In those old golden days, he and his colleagues, and those on the opposite side of a case, fought each other vigorously in the courtroom and then had companionable dinners together afterwards. Relationships between attorneys and corporate clients often lasted for decades. At least as my father practiced it, the law in those days was a genteel gentleman’s game.
An essential element in his code of conduct was that a gentleman did not toot his own horn. If you were good at what you did, he always thought, your reputation would precede you and you would not need to lower yourself to bragging and self-promotion. Clients were found through networking and word-of-mouth referrals. He never lacked for business.
He would be quite shocked at the amount of expensive self-promotion even the oldest of so-called “white-shoe law firms” indulge in these days — the advertising, the public relations campaigns, the well-staffed in-house marketing departments. What has changed?
Well, for one thing, legal advertising is no longer considered unethical. Advertising by law firms was banned by bar associations in all 50 states until the case of Bates v. State of Arizona was decided in 1977, when the Supreme Court ruled that law firms had a First Amendment right to advertise.
The law has also become a much more competitive business, in Texas and across the country. Whether the price of crude is up or down, it seems more and more law firms are opening offices in Houston and wooing partners away from long-established positions at local firms, or at other firms that have come to Texas “from away.” If firms do not organize their own public relations programs and also perhaps advertise whatever competitive advantages they can offer to clients, the available visual space and the airways will be filled with the images and voices of competitors.
Many respected attorneys make a decision to develop a public relations campaign, hire a publicist or engage a graphic designer to develop an advertising campaign, because they have read a quote by a competitor in the newspaper or in a legal publication, or seen an ad placed by a competitor whom they feel sure doesn’t know nearly as much about this subject as they do.
Attorneys who do not engage with journalists, do not put their thoughts on paper for a newspaper op-ed or a legal publication, and never grant an interview, may be absolutely sure that their competitors will be delighted to fill that space, to do that interview, to write that commentary.
Is it important for law firms, even well-established ones, to get involved in the wilderness of social media? It can be useful to establish a Twitter feed featuring brisk updates on legal issues and links to firm blogs on critical subjects, to have a Facebook page featuring the firm’s support of local charities and celebrating achievements of staffers, and to encourage the firm’s attorneys to be active on Linkedin.
The firm website should be up to date in terms of graphic design, and should feature newsworthy alerts — the kind of information that is immediately useful to a client or potential client. An ongoing campaign to reach clients and potential clients by email is also helpful if it doesn’t become obnoxious. But the key — and the difficult part — is to keep it all current, and that requires staffing. An out-of-date website, blog or Twitter feed is almost worse than nothing at all because it looks like nobody is really minding the store.
And, despite the trendiness of social media, in the long run, mainstream media coverage is still more important to a comprehensive law firm public relations campaign than even the cleverest social media.
Patricia Bernstein is president of Bernstein & Associates Public Relations/Marketing in Houston. For more information, see bernsteinandassoc.com.