Writing a Law Firm Marketing Plan
That’s why writing a strategic, actionable and measurable law firm marketing plan is so important. It’s a roadmap that tells you how to get from “here” to “there” and how to increase profits along the way.
You wouldn’t take a family vacation without a GPS, smartphone or folded map in your glove compartment (who wants to arrive in Minnesota when you’re trying to get to California?), yet every day law firms work and hope for a profitable future but have no plan on how to get there.
With dollars on the line and local market share in the balance, law firms can’t afford to rely on good luck to determine their growth and year-end profitability. There’s way too much stress and uncertainty in that.
With some efficient processes, benchmarking, technology, training and focus, firms can create a concise marketing plan that jettisons waste and emphasizes revenue-generating activities. An effective marketing plan takes the guess-work out of ROI and provides sign posts directing you toward growth and increased revenues.
Yikes! Not Another Dusty Document on the Shelf!
Yikes, is right! We’re not talking about an expensive spiral-bound 4-color glossy presentation that looks beautiful but nobody reads. (Shelf space is better used for pictures of your kids or a candy jar full of Reece’s Pieces.) We’re talking about a well-researched, concise crib sheet identifying your top goals and cost-effective action items that can be implemented right away. It’s a living document that you can keep handy and double check to stay on track. And its flexible so you can update, add to and amend the plan over time. At its best, an effective marketing plan focuses on processes and decisions that have a direct-line impact on revenues and client conversion.
Remember that “one size doesn’t fit all” where law firm marketing plans are concerned. The best plans are customized to an individual firm’s needs and take into account practice areas, size of staff, resources available and future goals. A marketing plan doesn’t have to be big to be effective – in fact, the more concise the better.
Not all law firms emphasize the same practice areas nor are they all located in the same geographic area. That’s why a marketing plan needs to be unique, strategic and designed for your specific law firm. A generalized marketing plan template with drop-down lists and pre-populated content is likely not going to get your firm where you want to go. Rather, a succinct and well-crafted plan created by law marketing professionals is your best bet.
Talking about lofty ideas for growth is enjoyable, but better left for Sunday mornings over coffee or a weekend at the lake. The ideas and initiatives in a law firm marketing plan need to be concrete, quantifiable and actionable. Your staff needs to understand what’s being asked of them and given the tools to accomplish it. A team is better equipped if they know how their work impacts the bottom line.
“Making progress” doesn’t mean much unless there are quantifiable numbers and data to back it up. New initiatives and efforts must be measurable so you can decide whether they are worth the investment of time and money. After all, most law firms have a limited marketing budget so you want to emphasize the efforts that give you the biggest bang for your buck. Do you invest your marketing dollars in sponsoring a community event or buying some new technology? Do you advertise in a local directory or invest in staff training? By measuring the ROI of each option and aligning it with your firm’s goals, making decisions becomes much easier.
A Law Firm Marketing Plan Is Essential
It’s true that most small and mid-size law firms have at least thought about developing a marketing plan, but this task often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list because of immediate and pressing legal tasks that need to get done. It’s the dilemma of most workplaces – the urgent supplants the long-term important.
With an effective marketing plan and processes, some activities will become automated and this will free up time to concentrate on firm growth and goals for the future.
Elements to Consider When Writing a Law Firm Marketing Plan
The best law firm marketing plans typically address the following issues:
- Setting Goals
- Evaluating Processes
- Advertising/Community Engagement
This may sound daunting, but it really isn’t. And the rewards your firm will enjoy more than outweigh the time invested. Each of the above elements can be improved with readily available tools. And when all elements are working together, a law firm can experience exponential momentum toward its growth and financial goals. Firm leadership can either write its own marketing plan, or it can hire an outside agency to collaborate and craft one for the firm. Either way, it’s worth doing.
An effective plan will contemplate what actions you need to take, who will do them, when they’ll be done, and how you’ll measure the success (or lack thereof) of the marketing activities you pursue. This way, you will be able to decide where — and where not — to put your money. This will maximize your return on investment.
Writing a successful law firm marketing plan takes some critical thinking and a little bit of your time, but it shouldn’t require the labor-intensive and time consuming boardroom sessions needed to create a business plan. So don’t feel overwhelmed.
- Setting Goals
Every law firm’s goals will be different depending on what it hopes to accomplish. Goals can be financial, geographic, attorney and staff size, client volume, or all of the above. Whatever the goals, they need to be specific and quantifiable. For example, “being a statewide leader in personal injury cases” is not a well-articulated goal, even though it may be very important. Consider these alternative ways of articulating a measurable goal:
“Achieve personal injury law firm leadership by speaking at 3 professional conferences each year.”
“Achieve a reputation as a personal injury subject-matter expert by cultivating relationships with journalists and being quoted at least 5 times annually in legal and business publications.”
At the end of a year, it will be easy to measure whether you reached these goals.
Goals should be specific to your firm, and can include one or more elements. Here are some examples of law firm goals:
- Increase revenues in each practice area by 10% annually for the next 3 years. (Financial)
- Open an office in the state capital during the first quarter next year. (Geographic)
- Hire one new attorney and two paralegals this year. (Size)
- Increase client conversion rates by 20% next year. (Client Volume)
Concisely stated and quantifiable goals make it clear where your law firm wants to go. That way you will know when you’ve arrived and crossed the finish line!
- Evaluating Processes
Behind every good idea is a process that will either help or hinder its execution. That’s why evaluating processes is so important. After all, it’s hard to achieve the goal of “increasing client conversion rates by 20% this year” if your process for capturing information on potential client phone calls is writing it on a sticky note. No matter how many ads you buy or how many phone calls you receive, you’re not going to reach your conversion rate goal if sticky notes get lost or buried on an attorney’s desk and no one returns a phone call. To reach this goal, you must have an effective and firm-wide intake process.
Similarly, if your goal is to “increase revenues in each practice area by 10% annually for the next 3 years,” it will be hard to achieve this if you don’t have an accounting process that captures revenues and expenses by practice area. You can’t measure what you can’t see.
There’s a lot of software out there that can automate your firm’s intake process or accounting methods, and purchasing one of these might need to be high on the list of priorities when writing a law firm marketing plan.
It’s also important to remember that effective processes must be “replicable.” If a process can’t be repeated over and over with ease, it probably won’t become a habit for your staff and will eventually get pushed aside as time goes by.
When you make processes more efficient and replicable, your firm is able to capture momentum and economies of scale.
There is a plethora of technology out there for law firms, and more technology products are being introduced daily. As part of writing a law firm marketing plan, take a look at your current technology (or lack of technology) and determine if some of it needs to be upgraded or replaced. By automating processes and getting your firm’s different software systems integrated (i.e. “talking” to each other), you can save time and money. Do a quick Google search of “law firm technology” and see what products might be useful to your firm.
Some technology and software you might consider include:
- Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)
- Some intake software will have this built in, but there are also stand-alone products available. Be sure to get a CRM that is built specific for lawyers. This will help keep all your sales leads organized. Lead Docket is a CRM some of our clients use.
- Call Tracking
- This helps you know where each phone call came from. Our recommendation is to use Call Rail. This software is not the cheapest option but it isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things. (~$50 / Month) Call Rail has proven to be the most reliable and customizable for your needs.
- Reputation Management
- This software helps you manage your online reviews and conversations. You can approach this in a few different ways. If you are a large firm spending tens of thousands every month on marketing, we recommend Podium. The downside to podium is that it costs $400+ per month and is overkill for smaller firms. But what they offer is cutting edge and larger firms are typically willing to spend what it takes to have the best, which Podium is. Some intake software is starting to have this built in. If your intake software doesn’t offer it and you are a smaller firm, we recommend partnering with your marketing agency because they will likely be able to offer you access to great software at a discounted rate since they buy in bulk.
Employees want to be successful at their jobs. To do this, they may sometimes need professional training. Whether it’s training on new technology or training on a new client communications process, it’s important to make sure that every staff member knows their job responsibilities and is trained on how to do them.
As part of your marketing plan, assess staff assignments. For example, a shy staff member who’s great with numbers may not be the person you want answering the phones or responding to a disgruntled client. Similarly, a staff member who is meticulous with details may be a great office manager, but he or she may not be the person you want brainstorming about design ideas for your advertising. Staff training and team member assignments should be addressed when writing your law firm marketing plan.
While it’s tempting to hire your neighbor’s nephew to build your website in his basement because he’ll do it for $250, think twice before making this decision. Your law firm website is your most important outward-facing advertisement, and it is often the first place potential clients come into contact with your firm. We all know that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and first impressions are what’s at stake when it comes to your firm’s website.
When deciding where to spend your limited marketing dollars, your law firm website is not a place to skimp. Even if it means foregoing other marketing efforts like creating a glossy brochure or sponsoring a local 5K race, it’s worth doing fewer things if it means doing your website well. An upgraded website may need to be part of your law firm marketing plan.
Some Thoughts on Content
The bar is getting higher and higher where quality of online content is concerned. Gone are the days of cut-and-paste or simply asking staff to write a few paragraphs on a slow afternoon. High-quality original content must be sharp, relevant, well-written and appealing to readers so that users are drawn in and stay on your page. The attention span of today’s digital natives is very brief, so if your website content doesn’t capture them in the first few seconds they will likely click the “back” button and leave your page in search of greener pastures.
Perhaps the only thing worse than having no law firm website is having a poorly written and unattractive website. The quality of your content sets the stage for the perceived quality of your law firm and legal services.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an increasingly important aspect of law firm marketing efforts. It’s a highly specialized expertise, and your best bet for SEO is likely earmarking some funds to contract with an outside SEO professional. SEO affects your Google ratings and your firm’s online searchability, so its’ importance cannot be overstated. SEO can be easily overlooked if you’re not familiar with online optimization, but overlook it at your own peril. SEO in websites, social media, advertising and internet directory listings should be an action item when writing a law firm marketing plan.
- Advertising and Community Engagement
Whether we like it or not, perception is reality. Part of growing a law firm is establishing a strong firm reputation and highlighting your attorneys’ Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness – otherwise known as E.A.T. Attorneys’ education credentials and courtroom experience can be highlighted in well-written bios on your website, in legal directories like Avvo and SuperLawyer, and in general listings on Google and Bing. Announcing large client settlements and jury awards in press releases can also strengthen a law firm’s reputation, as can positive visibility in the media and leadership roles in professional membership organizations. These efforts tend to be less costly than paid advertising, and they can be just as, if not more, effective in supporting your firm’s perceived status and value.
Law firm community engagement is also an important element in marketing, though sometimes it is not utilized as fully as it could be.
Community engagement – such as sponsoring a fundraiser for a local hospital or serving as a volunteer panel member at a high school career fair – can generate a real sense of goodwill in your local community and build your law firm’s brand awareness.
Community involvement and outreach can be done with a little bit of time and a modest amount of money, and these activities are often a good place to concentrate your brand-building efforts.
Goals for advertising and community engagement should be articulated when writing a law firm marketing plan. Measuring the effectiveness of your efforts in these areas will also help you decide where to spend limited marketing dollars in the future.
Creating a budget for marketing – and adhering to it – is an essential part of writing a law firm marketing plan. All too often, law firms approach marketing in a “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” method. While this may be the quickest way to spend marketing dollars, it is rarely the best way. Random, in-the-moment advertising buys and untargeted mass email efforts does not a law firm marketing plan make.
Decide how much you want to spend on marketing each year, then plan in advance where you will focus your dollars, when during the year you will spend them, and who on your team is in charge of carrying out these tasks, measuring their effectiveness and reporting these findings to leadership. Any marketing spending should be closely tied to efforts that directly impact revenue generation and client conversion. Generalized brochures and television spots may be pretty and fun, but they don’t always provide the best ROI.
Do you ever wonder how you stack up against your competition? Information is power, and competitive data on other firms’ winning cases and the amount of revenue generated can help you set growth goals for your law firm. It can also give you information on best practices and insight into whether your current goals are reasonable and achievable. One of the worst things you can do when writing a law firm marketing plan is create goals that are too big and lofty in too short a time span, thereby setting yourself up for failure before you begin. While you want your firm goals to stretch you, you don’t want them to be unreasonable and unachievable.
Find ways to measure your marketing efforts. This harkens back to the “If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there” idea. To measure efforts, you need to capture information. For example, when a potential client calls, ask them how they heard about your firm in addition to writing down their name and number. If several clients mention your website but no one saw your print ad in the local weekly newspaper, then this gives you feedback about where the real work engines of your marketing efforts reside.
Similarly, when establishing client conversion rates, you don’t want to determine this based on a gut feeling or the frequency of pleasant phone calls with members of the public. You want to have a concrete, well-established method of measuring the percentage of inquiries that convert into new client relationships. These percentages will help you set goals and alert you to the potential need for implementing a new intake process.
By establishing revenue goals for individual practice areas and measuring the year-end results, a law firm can see in black and white which practice areas generate most of the firm’s financial bread and butter and which areas may not be worth the focus they are currently receiving.
All of these measurements provide valuable data that can inform future decision-making.
Refining Your Marketing Goals Over Time
As we’ve said, a law firm marketing plan is a living document that can be updated and refined over time. It’s a good idea to modify and tweak your plan during the first few quarters. While there are many ways to represent “bad,” “good” and “great” progress toward your goals, “stoplight” metrics can be an easy way to start. This involves color-coding measurable numbers with green, yellow and red to indicate “success,” “caution” and “critical.”
Consider this example using the goal “Bring in three new clients every month.” Your stoplight metric might look something like this:
Then capture the specifics of these goals…
January: Jane Smith, Tom Johnson, Harold Lake
February: Falls City Plumbing, Ellen Acton
April: Helen Cooper, Jimmy Tubbs, Jessica Benson, Elaine Frost (great job!)
May: Gene Simpson
By using the above method, it’s easy to get a quick “at-a-glance” snapshot of where you stand on achieving your monthly new client goals. Over time, you may also spot patterns in the numbers that help inform future marketing efforts.
Keep in mind that if you’re in the early months of a new marketing plan, most of your numeric goals will just be an educated guess. As you begin to capture monthly or quarterly data, you can decide whether these metrics need to be adjusted up or down to reflect realistic and achievable goals. Be thoughtful with your goal setting – if you’re in a highly competitive market that is saturated with law firms, make your goals incremental but consistent. If, on the other hand, you’re in a niche practice area and there are only two other firms in the state that handle these kinds of cases, you can be more aggressive when setting growth goals.
There’s a little mnemonic device you can use when setting law firm goals for growth. Think S.M.A.R.T.
S = Specific. The more specific the goal, the easier it is to achieve and be accountable for.
M = Measurable. Once again, be sure to set goals that are quantifiable and can be measured.
A = Attainable. Don’t put yourself behind the 8-ball. Set goals that are realistic.
R = Relevant. A goal to get your office painted, while nice, is not going to affect firm growth.
T = Time-bound. Always attach a date or specific amount of time to accomplish each goal.
If you keep these S.M.A.R.T. elements in mind when writing down your goals in a law firm marketing plan, it should be easy to keep track of over time the efforts you identified as priorities and how close you are to achieving them.
For most small and mid-size law firms, referrals are the life blood of new client growth. It’s so much easier to convert a new client who has been referred to you by a fellow lawyer or business professional than it is to make cold calls or try to write persuasive advertising copy that prompts a potential client to call your firm.
This is why networking is so important. When you get out there and meet people, attend events, speak at local engagements and expand your ever-widening network of acquaintances, you’re much more likely to receive referrals. While networking can feel like time away from getting real legal work done, it isn’t. Leadership has to remember to work on the business as well as in the business. That’s how growth and profitability happen.
As part of writing a law firm marketing plan, it is important for each member of firm leadership to set personal networking goals. You’ve spent an entire career meeting other lawyers, judges and professionals – groom those contacts to establish an ongoing referral pipeline.
As part of your marketing plan, you might consider establishing an Attorney Referral Program in which you mail out postcards or an email blast to fellow attorneys, court clerks and others announcing a program in which your firm will pay a referral fee for any case that achieves a positive financial outcome. Typically these fees are a percentage of the final settlement amount or jury award.
Above all, be consistent and intentional about your networking efforts. Consider stepping up your participation in these kinds of activities:
- Be active in professional associations – both legal and otherwise.
- Serve on charitable and community boards.
- Take colleagues and clients to lunch or dinner.
- Present at CLEs.
- Get to know some local journalists and offer to be a subject-matter expert if they need a quote for a story on deadline.
- Attend cocktail parties and networking events.
- Consider coaching a kids’ baseball or volleyball team.
By pursuing these activities consistently, you will absolutely expand your network of potential client referrals.
Scripts for Answering Phones
This may seem like a bit of overkill, but providing receptionists and staff with simple scripts for answering the phones can be a lifesaver. Rather than leaving a phone encounter to chance based on whether or not your receptionist is having a good day, a phone script can ensure consistent and professional greetings every time a potential client calls your firm. It’s also a way to ensure that important contact information and additional details are captured, such as how the person heard about your firm. A phone script doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should include the following elements:
- Always be cheerful and polite.
- Express sympathy for callers who have been injured or are struggling.
- Write down name, phone number, email address and a few notes about the nature of their case.
- Ask how the caller heard about your firm.
- Provide a warm hand-off by connecting them to an attorney in the office, or reassure them that you will give their information to an attorney who will call them back within 5 minutes.
Creating a script prevents forgetfulness and ensures consistency and professionalism.
Bringing In an Expert
If all of this sounds like more than you want to tackle alone, there are lots of agencies out there that can help you write a law firm marketing plan. Your best bet is to hire an agency that specializes in law firm marketing rather than just a general public relations or advertising agency.
Bringing in an expert costs a little bit of money, but it can save time and ensure that your law firm marketing plan is well-researched, customized to your firm, actionable and measurable. What you spend on a marketing professional may be saved by eliminating current advertising or communications efforts that are ineffective. If you need help writing a law firm marketing plan, our Gladiator professionals can help. Call us at 888-683-3212.
The Takeaway on Writing a Law Firm Marketing Plan
The most important thing to remember about law firm marketing plans is that you should have one. It’s impossible to know how to get somewhere if you don’t first establish where you want to go. This is true of a road trip and it’s true of growing you law firm’s size and profitability. By establishing strategic, actionable and measurable goals for growth in a law firm marketing plan, you are creating signposts and roadways for getting to your desired destination.
With dollars and market share on the line, you can’t afford to have a haphazard approach to marketing that is low on your list of priorities. Your competitor is planning his next move, so you should be, too.
With some efficient processes, benchmarking, technology, training and focus, you can create a concise marketing plan that eliminates waste and emphasizes revenue-generating activities. Writing a law firm marketing plan is an excellent exercise in prioritizing firm goals and measuring your success. An excellent marketing plan takes the guess-work out of ROI and provides sign posts directing you toward growth and increased revenues. What could be better than that!
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