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The most important law firm marketing decision

With so many attorneys wondering what the next best thing is for their marketing, sometimes it makes sense to get back to the basics. While there is a constant bombardment of noise telling attorneys the hundreds of things that they can buy, or do, to help build their practices, if fundamentals of a law practice are not strong, none of the bells and whistles matter.

What kind of lawyer are you?

Nobody can be all things to all people. As lawyers, we know that it is literally impossible to be the best, or even to be competent, at multiple and disparate areas of law. And your potential clients, and referral sources, know this too.

Therefore, before you start figuring out which is the next best ad to buy, social media outlet to post on,  search engine optimization tactic to deploy, link to solicit, directory to buy, email marketing campaign to send out, or anything else that might cause you to write a check or give out your credit card number, it’s important to do some introspection, and critical thinking.

The most important decision that a lawyer can make when it comes to marketing his or her law practice is the decision of what areas of law to focus on in the first place.

If your practice areas are too broad, not only will your marketing messages be diluted, and your practice scattered, but your potential clients and referral sources won’t know what you stand for.

The key is to pick the practice area (or areas) that is right for you legally, and geographically.

What should go into this decision?  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What type of law do I like practicing the most?
  2. What type of law and my best at?
  3. What type of law do I have the most experience at?
  4. What type of law, in my geographic area, will provide the best flow of potential new cases?
  5. Is there a type of law that is underrepresented by my competition in my local area?
  6. Is the type of law that I’m thinking about focusing on an area that lends itself to marketing to consumers? To businesses? Two government entities?
  7. In what areas am I already influential?

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

What type of law do I like practicing the most? This question is key, because if you don’t enjoy doing something, it’s very difficult to sell it.  For most attorneys, the good news is that the thing that we like to do the most typically is also the thing that we’re best. Hopefully this is the case for you. If you are good at, and also thoroughly enjoy your primary area of practice, it will be easiest for you to talk about it, and market it, with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for what you do is contagious, and your clients, potential clients, and referral sources will sense this. Furthermore, it’s so much easier to write content about things that you love doing, and it’s tedious to write about things that don’t interest you, or worse.

What type of law am I best at? Assuming that you have a good alignment between the type of law that you’re best at, and the type of law that you enjoy practicing the most, you’re in good shape. But what if the alignment is not there? What if you’re very good at something you hate? Depending on where you are in your legal career, it may be a wise decision to change paths. This becomes both a marketing consideration, a quality of practice consideration, and as importantly, a quality of life consideration. If you despise what you do for a living, it will show. And even if you’re great at it, your ability to effectively market and sell it will be greatly diminished. We all know that grumpy attorney who is been doing something that he hates for the past 30 years, and who gripes about being bested in the marketplace by younger, less experienced, less competent, yet more enthusiastic competitors. If you’re close to retirement, it may not make sense to change practice focuses at this point, and if that’s the case, the best marketing move that you could make would be to find a way to renew your passion about the areas in which you practice.

What type of law do I have the most experience at? The book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, published in 2008, has made popular the notion that in order to become an expert at anything, an individual must put in at least 10,000 hours focusing on that thing. If you’ve been practicing long enough to have amassed 10,000 hours in an area of law, it can be both a selling point, and a point of leverage in your content marketing. Because of your high level of experience, you likely have, nested in your brain, all of the marketing knowledge that even the highest paid Madison Avenue marketing firm couldn’t match if you had $1 million to hire them. That is because traditional marketing no longer works well, and marketing through content, which is really just another way of saying educating your potential clients, clients, and referral sources, has replaced it as not only a lower-cost alternative, but as a more effective medium in general. As long as you can write decently well, all you really need to do to market your firm at a high level, is to publish what you know online. This can be a paradigm shift for many lawyers, who came up through law school, and through their early practice years, with the notion that a lawyer’s knowledge is sacred, and something to be sold. It can also be a paradigm to be control of your law firm’s marketing.

What type of law will provide the best flow of potential new cases? This comes down to the law of supply and demand, which cannot be ignored. You have to be in a market that supports your desired area of practice. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter how well you practice or how well you market. As an attorney, before you spend any money on marketing, you should make sure that your target audience wants or needs to buy what you are selling in sufficient quantities. For example, if you are a divorce attorney in an area with relatively few divorces, it doesn’t matter how great your marketing is. If you are in impaired driving attorney in an urban area were few people drive, and were bars are plentiful and within walking distance, it doesn’t matter how many drinkers there are in town, they are unlikely to become your customers in sufficient numbers to justify your marketing. On the other hand, when you find a market fit with your area of practice, you can thrive regardless of what your competition does, by spending your marketing time and dollars more strategically.

Is there a type of law that is underrepresented by competition? While in most markets competition between lawyers  is currently at an all-time high, and lawyers are increasingly having to compete based on price, there are still many underrepresented local and niche markets out there. Is yours one of them? The best scenario is to find a market that you can own, and spend the time and resources to establish yourself as its rightful owner.

Is the type of law that I’m thinking about focusing on an area that lends itself to marketing to consumers? To businesses? Two government entities?  Who your target audience is matters. And it is very difficult to cater to multiple target audiences simultaneously. For example, if you choose two unrelated areas of practice, for example criminal defense and business formations, then your two practice areas share a very different lexicon. In having to convey information to both types of potential clients, with very little crossover, you run the risk of connecting with nobody, and instead merely shouting into the void. For that reason, it makes sense to give significant thought to who your audience is. If you must focus on multiple practice areas that have different client profiles, it may make sense to consider bifurcating your marketing into two or more websites.  I have previously written about when an attorney should have more than one website (see here also), and having potential clients with different needs and different profiles certainly qualifies as a valid reason.

In what areas am I already influential?  You know where you are influential. Most attorneys’ influence stems from what they’re good at, and what they’ve been doing for years. If you’ve noticed your perception of your own influence drying up in recent years, it may be because the channels of influence have changed. For example, in the old law firm economy when word-of-mouth, and peer referrals, could set a firm up for life, there was little need to think about other channels of influence. But today, the new word-of-mouth is online. It’s on blogs. It’s on social media. It’s on websites, and forums, and mobile phones, and apps, and webinars, and virtual meet ups. If you perceive your influence as waning, it may be that you don’t need to change anything that you’re doing, but rather just take a look at where you communicate about it.

When should you make a move to change your practice area?

Changing your focus is not something that should be done on a whim. Nor should you resolve to eliminate practice areas without giving it sufficient thought. While it is important to ultimately make decisions that move your practice forward, the worst thing that any business person can do, and that includes lawyers in private practice, is to act hastily and without sufficient data.

If you’re thinking about focusing on an area of practice that you don’t currently handle, we recommend talking with several attorneys who currently practice in that area. I’ve found that is useful to have some of these conversations in group settings. Your colleagues are less likely to hide the ball when they are unsure whether others, who are also involved in the conversation, might call them out.

After you have narrowed down your practice areas.

Once you’ve stopped being a generalist and have made the decision to focus your efforts on a limited number of practice areas and topics, then, and only then are you ready to really jump in and start making a marketing impact in today’s online legal marketplace.

About The Author

Attorney Dan Jaffe previously built successful small law practices in WA and AZ. He currently serves as the CEO of LawLytics.

Other posts by Dan.