By Melissa Kandel, CP
Commercials, billboards, radio spots, and signs on the sides of buses are just a few of the many ways today’s law firms choose to market their services. However, not all firms can afford the tens of thousands of dollars some of these forms of advertisement can cost. Many of those same firms still overlook one of the most efficient sources of marketing–happy and knowledgeable employees armed with information and the ability to interact with a community of potential clients. Small firms with minimal marketing budgets can especially benefit from using staff members as vehicles for building the attorney and firm’s reputations, and there are many ways for them to do so.
One of the easiest ways your attorney can utilize your position to help market the firm is to provide you with business cards containing the firm name and logo, your name, your position, and relevant contact information. Employees are more likely to pass out business cards that have their own name, and a simple set of 500 business cards can usually be purchased for no more than $30. If your firm does not provide business cards and refuses to do so, you can still ask for permission to have your own cards printed and to use the firm’s name as your employer on the cards. Business cards are valuable networking tools that no professional should be without anyway. Smart firms recognize that they can realize great added value by putting the firm’s name in the hands of their competent and professional employees.
Another way for small firms to utilize employees is to appoint a liaison to the local Chamber of Commerce. While attorneys are often busy with substantive and urgent matters, the staff liaison can attend meetings and gatherings on behalf of the firm—be the face of the firm, so to speak, and build goodwill among other members of the Chamber. Having a firm representative at Chamber events puts a face to the organization, and other members of the Chamber are more likely to remember the attorney or law firm when making referrals or when in need of legal services in the future. Being an active member of the local Chamber may also come with benefits such as free advertisement in organizational publications.
Firms can also capitalize on a staff member’s impeccable writing skills by designating a writer for press releases and newsletters. A good suggestion is to send out one relevant press release a month. Press releases can be about any news of note that the local paper might find interesting, such as new hires or important, largely publicized wins in court. A short newsletter can be distributed weekly or biweekly to firm clients and any other interested subscribers. Newsletters are a casual way to keep the firm’s name in the recipients’ memory. They can also highlight the professionalism and competence of all members of the legal team by focusing on intra-firm features, such as an assistant’s educational achievements or a paralegal’s attainment of certification.
Firms can also capitalize on free marketing through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or a law firm blog. Employees can often manage these profiles, which contain explicit statements about the public nature of the forums and the standard disclaimer about the appropriate way for interested users to seek legal advice (hint: it is not through the Facebook page). The Facebook profile is a way to present a full page of information in a community setting, take general questions about the firm, and interact with potential clients or referrals in a public forum. Clear communication about parameters between the employee managing the page and a supervising attorney can ensure that no legal advice is inadvertently given via Facebook. Any specific questions or requests can be immediately directed to the private law firm email or phone number.
LinkedIn provides a good source of marketing to professionals and a great community for sharing ideas among members of the same industry. It also provides a way for firm staff members to reveal their professional links to the firm and thereby validate their position to the greater business and legal world. Personal LinkedIn accounts can be linked to the firm’s page, and individuals can and should interact with other members of the greater legal community in groups and on boards. Additionally, LinkedIn can be a solid source of marketing ideas, as groups have been formed to discuss nearly every business topic, including law firm marketing.
Twitter is similar to Facebook but at a faster pace. It is a great forum to provide links to legal news and to contribute to a global conversation about your practice area or the legal world as a whole. While Twitter is great for individual branding and exposure, it can also be highly beneficial for companies, including law firms. Through it, you can link the firm’s name to intellectual, professional sources of information, and you can even field general information questions from interested users, engage in direct conversations, and ask questions of other legal professionals.
Both Twitter and Facebook provide greater exposure when linking to a law firm blog, perhaps on the firm’s website. Blogs should be well-maintained, like the website, and should be updated often with news, articles, and general information. A nonattorney staff member may maintain the blog, and attorneys can contribute educational information, answering issue-related questions from time to time. Blogs are a great way to discuss general legal concepts or provide important updates like Supreme Court opinions.
Yet another efficient use of marketing resources is search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is a new buzz word, but it is key to solid online marketing. Google Webmaster and Google Analytics are free services that can provide important information about who visits your firm’s website, where they are, and how they find you. Google Webmaster is especially helpful with optimization as it offers a list of search terms that led to your website and shows you how far down you were on their list with each search term. It also shows popular search terms related to your industry. Keep up with it, and update the website with relevant words and phrases accordingly.
All too often, firms find themselves spending thousands of dollars a year on attorney education, but fail to invest in legal education for staff members, or even to acknowledge the potential benefit of such education. Meanwhile, they miss out on opportunities for free CLEs through staff membership in legal organizations (like NALS!) or the discounts offered when multiple individuals from the firm attend the same CLE. Many CLEs that attorneys attend are also open to other members of the legal community. Seek these out and remind your attorneys that the education you could receive through these sessions also increases your marketability as a legal professional. The whole team wins when all members are knowledgeable and engaged in their careers. This is a little more expensive than some other forms of marketing, but is a very important investment.
Finally, firms can seek out free or inexpensive printing in local and community publications. A local legal directory is free, and most people in the legal community will have one. To reach outside of the legal community may take a little creativity. Many online directories are free, already in place, and simply need to be updated with the most current information. They tend to show up in a Google search too. Lawyers.com, elocallawyers.com, and merchantcircle.com are all examples of free online directories that probably already show your firm’s very basic information. Make sure that information is correct.
The best thing about all of the marketing strategies outlined above is that none of them require a lawyer to implement them. The second best thing is that most of them are free or inexpensive ways to get the firm’s name in the ears of potential clients and referral sources or that will enhance the professional reputation of the firm. Any firm can benefit, but small offices especially may find greater value in dedicating some staff time to these marketing endeavors. The potential benefits are much greater than the costs.
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