In the wake of the 2008 recession, many solo attorneys and small law firms rushed to hop on the bankruptcy representation bandwagon. From a business and financial perspective, it made sense. Purse strings were tightening in most other practice areas and bankruptcy looked like the smart place to invest.
While data related to whether the post-recession rush to offer bankruptcy services paid off is sparse, given how many attorneys took part in the stampede, it seems fair to assume that quite a few law firms lost out. Not only did many of these firms waste money, time, and effort—they also put their overall brands at risk. There’s no telling how many potential clients were turned off by the appearance of say, a criminal defense attorney who tried to take advantage of the financial downturn and become a bankruptcy lawyer overnight.
Expanding your brand is possible, and in some cases advisable, but you need to be thoughtful, consistent and focused when doing so. The complimentary playbook “What Clients Are Saying About You Behind Your Back,” delves into this issue in greater detail. The following are some high-level concepts discussed in the playbook to help solo and small law firms that are thinking about adding a new facet to their practice and brand.
Capitalize on what makes your law firm unique
Looking again at the example of the rush to attract post-recession bankruptcy clients, a common problem was a failure to move beyond the very basic brand position of “I can handle bankruptcy work.” This alone isn’t a very compelling message, especially when trying to appeal to stressed out clients who need a skilled and trustworthy advocate and not just a run-of-the-mill attorney with base-level qualifications.
If you make the decision to expand your brand to include a new area of law, you should have a clear and compelling message that speaks to why you’re the right attorney to hire, and that message needs to be part of a comprehensive marketing plan. For example, if family law matters are no longer sustaining your practice and you want to take on DUI cases, you could highlight that you understand the stresses and challenges of dire situations and are a good ally to your clients. “I know what you’re going through and I can help,” is a much more persuasive pitch, and one that is more likely to gain traction with a potential client than just saying, “I’m now open for DUI business.”
Put your words into action
Few marketing techniques are as powerful as client testimonials. If you are moving into a new practice area, ask former clients for reviews and make sure to prominently display client reviews on your website and share via social media.
The power of third-party endorsements cannot be overstated. Potential clients are much more likely to be swayed by the opinion of someone who has firsthand experience working with you. While relinquishing control and relying on the endorsements of former clients can be intimidating, remember that reviews are just one part of your branding equation. You may not be able to totally control your firm’s reputation, but you can manage it.
It’s about repetition, not redundancy
Academics who study the way people communicate often note that redundancy isn’t as effective as repetition. In this context, redundancy relates to saying the same thing over the same channel to the same audience multiple times, whereas repetition means repeating similar messages over different channels to related, yet different, audiences.
More informally, people tune out messages that they don’t perceive as relevant or useful. The same general principle applies to your law firm’s branding and marketing. Today, law firm marketing is a multi-channel game. One ad in your state’s bar journal relaying that you now handle a certain type of matter isn’t going to cut it. However, when promoted in conjunction with supporting topical blog posts, social media messages, and an updated directory listing, you have a much better chance of winning over prospective clients.
To reiterate, your key branding messages need to permeate your marketing plan, and your marketing plan needs to be comprehensive. The fact that you’re branching out into a new legal area should unfold over time and in layers.
To effectively expand your firm’s brand, you need to be strategic and communicate with prospective clients using multiple channels. With diligence, time, and reasonable expectations, you can have a thriving new practice area on top of your robust, tried-and-true brand.
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