Marketing is fairly new to lawyers. Here are some of the major changes that have taken place in family lawyer marketing over the last 10 years – and what may be coming your way.
By Martha Chan, Family Lawyer Marketing Expert
Fifty years ago, it was considered unprofessional for law firms to market themselves. Lawyers listed their names and contact information in law directories, and they had printed stationery, but that was about it. Today, the attitude toward marketing has changed drastically at many levels, including the bar associations, the law firms, and the clients.
The Change in Attitude Towards Marketing
Thomson Reuter’s study on the 2021 State of U.S. Small Law Firms shows that:
- 80% of them have websites
- Law firms utilize a wide range of marketing options
- Only 16% of law firms do not utilize any of the marketing options indicated (see Chart 1, below)
- 25% of the small law firms said that acquiring new client business was a significant challenge and 50% said it was a moderate challenge.
Over the last 10 years, our marketing agency has definitely witnessed a change in family lawyers’ attitude toward marketing – even those who are hesitant about marketing feel the need to do it. Ten years ago, having a website was considered optional; today, it is a must, and many lawyers understand the importance of having good content and search engine optimization (SEO) on their websites. Social media is no longer something they “wouldn’t be caught dead” on.
Some law firms are paying to be listed on relevant directories and to display “badges” such as SuperLawyers and Best Lawyers. Videos and podcasts are now considered to be legitimate marketing options. We have seen an increase in firms advertising on Google. Online reputation management is becoming a concern for many firms since online reviews have gained major momentum among consumers. For the most part, the bar associations have not challenged these marketing options.
Younger attorneys are embracing marketing at a greater rate than attorneys who have been practicing for 15 or 20 years, taking full advantage of all options available to them. They proudly display their Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok accounts on their websites and email signatures. Aside from the fact that they need to generate new business and cannot wait till they have built up a reputation, social media, videos, and podcasts are simply second nature to them. They do not believe that marketing is distasteful, and they do not need to be convinced that texting is a good feature to offer on their websites.
In time, young attorneys who know nothing about the old restrictions on lawyer marketing will replace reluctant marketers, and the competition will get tougher.
The “Pay to Play” Model Will Expand
As the leading marketing platforms become ever more entrenched in the daily lives of consumers, marketing freebies will disappear. Businesses will have to pay to be noticed by their prospective clients. Let’s take two examples: Google and Facebook.
- Google Ads vs. Free Organic Search Results
Google, which used to provide impartial results, has gradually given way to the “pay to play” model. Today, when you search for “family lawyer,” you will often see three ads across the top of the page, followed by four ads down the page, and then another four ads at the bottom of the page. Most of the time, unless you scroll down the page, you cannot even see the organic/impartial search results. On smartphones (which now account for the majority of web traffic), consumers will have to scroll for quite a while before seeing organic search results.
This has led some family law firms to shift their spending from optimizing their websites to Google advertising. Google engineered this change because the money law firms pay for SEO does not go to Google – but payment for Google ads does.
- Your Facebook Page
Similar to Google, Facebook has to generate revenue, so it keeps on changing its criteria that determine who will see your posts. They too want to push you towards buying their advertising options.
Ever-Changing Technology and the Proliferation of Marketing Options
Technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, and it is now growing exponentially. With new technology comes a lot more marketing options and an even more pronounced change in the behavior of family lawyers’ potential clients.
The internet has given birth to endless websites, directories, and social media for consumers to pursue when they need a family lawyer. Online content and reviews have become a factor when choosing a professional or service. Websites like AVVO.com, launched in 2007, has over eight million visitors a month – largely because of its lawyer rating system. This relative newcomer forced the more established Findlaw and Martindale Hubbell to change.
Then there are the big technology companies that are investing heavily in new products. Take, for example, the metaverse created by Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Meta is developing and betting on the 3D experience being the next big thing for consumers. Metaverse is touted as “the next evolution of social connection.” It has 3D spaces that will “let you socialize, learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what we can imagine.”
The metaverse is meant to encompass everything that exists virtually, including virtual real estate parcels that are being purchased by different companies and celebrities. Some of the parcels’ prices have already increased by 10 times! The metaverse offers a variety of user experiences and hyper-realistic graphics. However, most developers and investors admit the metaverse is at least 10 years away from mass adoption.
A major law firm, Arent Fox, has already purchased a virtual property next to parcels purchased by big brand names in the metaverse, hoping that their popular neighbors will help bring visitors to their virtual office where lawyers can socialize with clients and meet for business. Arent Fox’s crypto chair James Williams said: “We don’t know what the metaverse will be like in five years, but we’re not waiting five years to find out.”1 This is their marketing attitude.
The Specialization of Marketing Family Law Firms
We see the change in technology, the proliferation of marketing options, and the trend of family law firms adopting marketing continue. As family lawyers gain more experience and become more educated about marketing, we foresee them taking a page from sophisticated marketers by creating an in-house marketing position with an annual marketing budget and marketing strategy. Their marketing staff will have the ability to assess and work with ethical providers with relevant marketing expertise.
Gone will be the practice of using a paralegal to do the firm’s own Google advertising or to work with a marketing agency. Smaller firms could share the use of marketing consultant if a dedicated staff position is beyond their budget. Having a knowledgeable marketing expert dedicated to the marketing of the law firm will result in a more cohesive marketing effort vs. an unplanned, ad hoc “marketing” spend – thereby improving the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the law firm’s marketing endeavors.
We predict that more marketing agencies will start to specialize in marketing family lawyers the way our agency has been doing since 1995. A marketer specializing in family law firms is no different from lawyers specializing in family law. We look forward to this future.
Martha Chan is a marketing expert for family lawyers, the V.P. Marketing of Family Lawyer Magazine, and the Co-Founder of Divorce Marketing Group – a one-stop marketing agency dedicated to promoting family lawyers and divorce professionals since 1995. www.DivorceMarketingGroup.com
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