“If you have been injured in a car accident…” The staple phrase of advertising for legal services, which has been repeated infinitely on television commercials and radio ads, has not only entered the lexicon of popular culture—it has also been adopted by stand-up comedians as part of their repertoire, and caricatured on highly-rated TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
For marketers and advertising executives, a satirical treatment of one of their creations is extremely flattering. That’s how they know they have done the highest goal of promotion: their client enters the popular consciousness.
Legal Marketing is Perfectly Legal and Effective
The marketing and advertising of attorneys and law firms has always caused a certain degree of controversy and criticism. The issue has been largely divisive, starting with the infamous decision of the American Bar Association in 1908 to rule advertising for legal services as unethical, only to be followed by the landmark 1977 Bates v. State Bar of Arizona ruling by the Supreme Court— clearing the way for advertising thanks to the Burger Court’s application of the First Amendment protection.
Ghosts of the “dark ages” predating the Bates ruling still resurface occasionally in relation to legal advertising. Many attorneys are rightfully worried about the ethical consequences of legal marketing, and to that extent everyone agrees that familiarity with State Bar rules regarding marketing and advertising should be reviewed prior to adopting a promotional strategy.
The legal profession in the United States has clearly flourished since the early 1980s, and much of its success can be attributed to the Bates ruling and its permissive effect on marketing of legal services.
Once legal and ethical considerations have been undertaken, it’s time to discuss reputation, image and dignity. While deciding on these factors is entirely up to the law firm or individual practice, the opinion of an experienced legal marketer can be extremely valuable in this regard. An attorney who specializes in intellectual property protection for hip-hop recording artists, for example, will go a different route in terms of marketing than a family law attorney.
Not every law practice will benefit from seemingly gaudy radio and television advertising. We have every right to laugh at those late night TV commercials, but we should not underestimate their power and effectiveness. Think about Johnny Cochran’s TV commercials, which aired years after defending OJ Simpson; his law firm went on to become a national litigation powerhouse. Other attorneys have chosen more extreme advertising approaches. Gloria Allred went from occasional appearances as a legal expert to hosting her own television, show thanks to a carefully crafted marketing strategy.
A burgeoning approach to legal marketing is taking place online. It involves leveraging the power of online social networking combined, with our increasingly growing thirst for knowledge and information. Many law firms and individual practitioners have found success by cultivating a solid online presence, which is appealing to potential clients.
The image of the greedy and avaricious attorney that will not, under any conditions, extend a discount to clients is probably to blame for the popularity of tacky lawyer jokes at cocktail parties. Could it be that law schools are too busy teaching about the American Lawyer magazine’s top firms by gross revenue—or that they simply don’t teach about small business economics?
Any law firm would naturally love to become the next Skadden or Jones Day in terms of profit, but the reality is that even overpriced firms offer discounts, especially to long-time clients. Law firms should offer discounts for the same reason other businesses do: to set themselves apart from the competition, to reward loyal clients and to help create a buzz. Some firms go as far as to become known as discount firms; this is just a matter of branding.
What every attorney needs to understand is that the days of hanging a shingle and waiting for clients to materialize from thin air are virtually over. After keeping their Bar memberships current, marketing should be one of the most important considerations for legal practitioners.
As a small business consultant, Tom Blanchard researches new ways to market your business on the web, and highly recommends coupons for business marketing. He also writes for Coupon Croc, a UK site that has helped to introduce the region to this beneficial practice.