Firms are embracing new technologies to help drive marketing efforts and reach new audiences, but doing so may require some uncomfortable changes to the ways that attorneys have traditionally thought about building their brands.

Modern audiences are bombarded by content, and for every firm that adopts a video channel or sets up a podcast booth, there’s probably another lawyer out there doing the exact same thing.

To stand out, attorneys may have to emphasize personality over personal accomplishments and perhaps even begin contemplating the true meaning of the words “free of charge.”

The Cost of Doing Business

One way for a firm to get their name out there is to put it on a product. Law firms such as Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck and Parsons Behle & Latimer have built apps designed to help clients and other consumers address needs surrounding compliance with the California Consumer Privacy Act. But building an app is not like opening a lemonade stand. Parsons Behle, for instance, has an entire tech subsidiary — Parsons Behle Lab — to draw from, but you don’t see that every day. “I think that the costs are largely out of reach for most law firms,” says Tomu Johnson, CEO of Parsons Behle Lab. Firms seeking alternatives to setting up their own tech shop can always go the Kaufman Dolowich route and partner with solutions providers such as EC Wise. The arrangement allowed clients a broader CCPA compliance service, with the firm handling revisions to vendor contracts and corporate policies while EC Wise addressed the strictly technical data security and deletion needs that arose.

They’re Listening

Podcasts provide attorneys and law firms with a travel-friendly forum to dispense insights on fast-breaking legal news or other issues that may directly impact the lives of clients. However, it’s not an endeavor to be undertaken lightly. “Will more law firms dabble in it? Perhaps. But the message I’d like to send to anyone who is listening is it requires a lot of time and effort and commitment,” says Jonathan Schwartz, host of Goldberg Segalla’s “Timely Notice” podcast series. The biggest resource drain may be time. Schwartz, for example, spends anywhere from 15-20 minutes writing the script for an episode, another 30 minutes recording and then another half-hour in editing. It’s a constant loop. “Consistently you have to be thinking about: I need another episode, I need another guest, I need another topic. And you have to be very disciplined about it,” Schwartz says.

Ready for Their Close-Up

With YouTube being considered the second largest search engine, producing video content can help lawyers or law firms boost their search engine optimization efforts and potentially net clients. However, the real trick may be standing out from the glut of videos already taking up space on the Web. “The challenge for firms is finding topics, stories and personalities that play well into video. Not all make for ‘good TV,’ so as a firm, if you have an interesting area of practice, especially personable attorneys and/or a strong story to tell, that will help you stand out,” says Cynthia Voth, president of the Legal Marketing Association and director of client engagement and innovation at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn.

Getting Personal

Lawyers are accustomed to showing their credentials to potential clients, but photos from the weekend they spent volunteering at the soup kitchen may be a bit of stretch. Nevertheless, there’s a chance that a more personal touch is exactly what clients are looking to see from firms on social media. “They assume that you’re a good lawyer. They want to see that you’re a decent human being and that you’re engaged in our world,” says Roy Sexton, director of marketing at Clark Hill. The change is being driven largely by millennial audiences, and while lawyers might not be thrilled about expanding their marketing presence outside of diplomas and think-pieces on the General Data Protection Regulation, there’s no going back. “The manner in which millennials are reshaping our culture and the way we think, we have to keep an eye towards that,” Sexton says.

It’s Better to Give Than Get

It’s hard to imagine a better way for a firm to engender warm feelings among clients new and old alike than by giving things away for free. Take the firm of Wiley Rein, which released a free smartphone app in September designed to help users navigate the laws surrounding federal lobbying gift regulations. Consider free apps to be a type of strategically branded altruism. “To connect with consumers of legal work from their phones, who are more adept at different technological innovations, I think law firms will be there to make sure they are remembered as the expert in the area,” says D. Mark Renaud, a partner at Wiley Rein. However, firms may need to stop and think a minute before giving away the store. For example, the email management system that Travers Smith released as open-source software in September wasn’t crucial to their business model. “We certainly don’t see ourselves competing with other law firms on email management, so it made sense to share it,” wrote Shawn Curran, head of legal technology at Travers Smith, in an email.

Conclusion

At least it’s a couple of steps above robocalls. Thanks to technology, there are no shortage of channels for firms to get their message out into the world. But the real secret to wrangling new clientele may require a radical change in attitude as well as tech.

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Frank Ready is a reporter on the tech desk at ALM Media. He can be reached at fready@alm.com.

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.



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