Digital Legal Marketing in 2021

Gyi Tsakalakis
January 5, 2021

Happy New Year!

For many of us, bidding farewell to 2020 couldn't come soon enough. And while the simple flipping of a calendar page won't solve all the issues we faced last year, the new year serves as a milestone for us to reflect, take stock, and plan ahead. In the context of digital legal marketing, while much has changed, much will continue to remain the same. Lawyers who deploy technology to communicate value and solidify relationships will win.

While there have been a few tectonic shifts in how and from where we work, the game remains largely the same: design and deliver great experiences for clients and everyone else who comes into contact with your practice. In fact, in most ways I can think of, the change brought by 2020 was mostly an acceleration of the trends we've been witnessing, well, over the last decade or so. In fact, my best legal marketing tip is the same as it was in 2013: Be authentic. With that said, here are a few digital legal marketing topics to pay particular attention to in 2021.

The Best Lay Plans

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

–General Dwight D. Eisenhower

According to the ABA TechReport 2020 Survey covering websites and lawyer marketing, less than half of law firms of all sizes have a marketing budget. My suspicion is that the numbers are at least somewhat comparable for marketing plans (since budgets should include time, personally I don't see how you can have one without the other).

If you do absolutely nothing else this year from a marketing standpoint, go through the exercise of creating a budget and plan. Even if you aren't going to spend any time or money on marketing, the exercise itself will likely help you better understand the business of your practice, or at the very least, identify issues that impede your ability to deliver great client and potential client experiences.

While I'd love nothing more than to deliver a complete one-year digital legal marketing plan and budget for your practice, without a lot more information about you, your practice, and your business objectives, that would be irresponsible. However, I can share with you some questions that usually get folks headed in the right direction:

Who is your audience?

Who is your target client? Where are they? What motivates them? How do they think and what do they want? How do they search for answers and expertise from lawyers like you? Where do they spend time both online and offline? Can you create a list of clients that fit the profile? Can everyone at your firm do the same?

Why You?

What makes you and your practice uniquely qualified to help them? What can you do that is truly better than all (at least most) of your competitors? Don't limit your answers solely to years of experience. Identify all of the ways you can deliver remarkable experiences (i.e. service, technology, systems, etc).

Consistent Client-Centric Experiences?

Are you delivering consistent client-centric experiences? How do you know? What processes do you have in place to deliver noteworthy experiences predictably? Is everyone at your firm acutely aware these processes and following them?

What Promises Can You Keep?

What can you promise that you can deliver every single time? Hint: It's not an outcome. Maybe it's speed of response. Maybe it's a promise to keep them informed throughout the process. Maybe it's as simple as promising to treat them with respect and dignity. Whatever you decide, make sure it's a promise that you can guarantee.

How Much (Time and Money) Should I Spend?

What role(s) do you play at your firm? All of them? Lawyer-only? Rainmaker? The amount of time you spend on these activities should reflect your roles.

Once you have clearly defined and documented answers to these questions, review everything you and your team does through your answers. If it's not aligned, stop doing (or paying for) it.

What about networking?

Law remains a reputation and relationships business. Love it, hate it, or feel indifferent about it, face-to-face professional networking has been a cornerstone of client development for as long as anyone reading this can remember. Until last year...

We've traded our disdain for in-person networking events for the dread of virtual conferences and Zoom fatigue. On the other hand, the friction of rubbing elbows with our professional contacts has gone to zero. So, the annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly networking opportunities have become daily, or even multiple times per day, virtual coffee, cocktails, and even meals.

With the arrival of vaccines, and an optimistic mindset, we are likely to see the return of face-to-face networking sometime in 2021. But like many of our before time behaviors, I anticipate that our expectations around face-to-face networking are forever-changed.

That's not to say that people won't go back to face-to-face networking, I'm certain they will. However, more of us are recognizing the power (and efficiency) of virtual proximity. And while I don't intend to suggest that lawyers can merely "selfie" their way to new clients, you don't have to be a professional digital media analyst to appreciate the value of staying regularly connected and top of mind with an audience that can refer you business and hire you. If you aren't doing so already, I encourage you to make 2021 the year to prioritize virtual networking. Even a few minutes a day can deliver tremendous value in terms of staying connected with the people who can help you grow your practice.

Find Your Clusters

The cluster might be geographic (they eat different potato chips in Tucson than they do in Milwaukee) but they’re much more likely to be psychographic instead. What a group of people believe, who they connect with, what they hope for…

- Seth Godin

In the context of digital legal marketing, finding your clusters online is particularly valuable. Whether it's a Slack community of lawyers, a lawyer-specific private Facebook Group, or more importantly, a group dedicated to Chicagoland food, finding and connecting with people in your "clusters," is among the most effective ways to create, nurture, and solidify authentic relationships that matter. Interested in legal marketing? There are groups for that too.

The future truly is local. Whether it's gathering locally to a place or a passion, make a plan in 2021 to find and engage your clusters online.

Integrate and Diversify Marketing Channels

While certainly not novel for 2021, integrated digital marketing campaigns tend to outperform those that are, well, not integrated. Per Hubspot:

Integrated marketing is the process of arranging your different marketing channels to work in tandem to promote your products or services, typically through a strategic campaign. Integrated marketing also works to align the primary brand message that’s being delivered through your marketing channels and assets.

- Hubspot

Too many of the marketing questions I read and hear from lawyers go something like this: Who do like for [insert channel] (i.e. SEO, PPC, email, etc)?

While getting referrals and recommendations from people similarly situated to you that you know, like, and trust, is a no-brainer, the question doesn't go deep enough (and you should beware that you're actually asking people you actually know, like, and most importantly trust).

Too often, the response to this question is a specialist in a specific channel. So, what's wrong with that? Nothing at all. Assuming they're actively working and coordinating efforts with the specialists across channels. Typically, they're not. So, the SEO people don't talk to the PPC people. The PPC people don't talk to the email people. In our race to convert clicks to clients, too many are losing the forest for the trees.

The other issue this mindset creates is over-reliance on a single channel. In other words, all your marketing eggs in one basket. This is particularly problematic in SEO. Put simply, there is a lot of flux in search results. Further, search engines regularly make updates that can dramatically impact your visibility.

Find ways to diversify your digital marketing plans across channels. Track the percentage of qualified traffic and potential client leads from each Channel. Deploy marketing resources across Channels to mitigate the risk of being a "one Channel pony."

A Word on Reputation

You can't (really) market your way out of a bad reputation. I regularly talk to lawyers who want to "rank #1" but have really negative Google My Business reviews. First, for queries that include semantic information like "best" or "top-rated," Google will sometimes automatically apply a rating filter.

No number of amazing backlinks will help you here. Second, even if you are able to rank, go look at the reviews of the other firms that share visibility in the local pack. Even if you're in the #1 local pack position, you are losing clients to higher-rated firms. It's really that straightforward. Don't spend money publicizing your reputation for poor service. And don't spend money advertising that you're closed (that one drives me nuts).

The time for lawyers to "wonder whether digital marketing works," are over. It's time to take accountability and understand how this stuff works. Your future is likely to depend on it.

To a prosperous 2021! 🎉

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Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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