The perils of “non-lawyer” ownership of law firms have been widely documented in recent months, and whether those perils hold up to scrutiny or not (my position on that question is fairly well established by now), these models already exist in the UK and will eventually spread to other shores. But even in jurisdictions where lawyer control of law firms is firmly ensconced, there’s a lot we could learn from our new rivals, not least in terms of marketing.
Lawyers market their services poorly. I don’t think I’m committing heresy by admitting that out loud: we’ve always shied away from promoting ourselves in any but the most circumspect ways. Lawyer advertising continues to labour under bans and restrictions because, let’s be honest, we find advertising a little unseemly. When we must promote ourselves, we focus on qualities that matter to us — experience, expertise, excellence — but that don’t tend to excite our clients. “Non-lawyers” don’t suffer from this handicap, which is why they’re going to blow us out of the water in the marketing and advertising game.
To view Exhibit A, watch this 90-second TV advertisement from Quality Solicitors, a British legal franchise that provides solo and small-firm practices in the UK with a powerful national brand, extensive marketing support, and back-office assistance. The commercial is designed to be a moving, evocative and memorable viewing experience, something that touches you and stays with you. Watch it and tell me if you found it effective. Then tell me how many times it mentioned or suggested expertise, experience or excellence.
This ad is powerful and effective, as Neil Rose says, because of its “effort to link legal services with the emotion of life moments.” Quality Solicitors’ CEO Craig Holt explains it further: the ad “creat[es] an understanding that legal services aren’t really about forms and documents and black-letter law, but about life and emotions and people’s families [and] businesses.” The thing is, if you asked a random sampling of lawyers if they thought that was true, more than a few would assert that no, law is about forms and documents and black-letter law. And they’re free to believe that. But clients think differently.
With few exceptions, lawyer-formulated or lawyer-approved marketing campaigns focus on lawyers’ qualifications and accomplishments. That would make sense if we were selling our services to each other, but we’re not. The QS ad succeeds precisely because it appeals to what consumers will respond to, not lawyers. You’d think that would be elementary, but for the legal profession, this kind of insight seems almost revelatory.
Step back and take a look at your own marketing efforts: your website, your advertisements, your brochures, your RFP responses, your Yellow Pages ad, your radio spots, and so on. Are they geared towards other lawyers or towards clients? And do they aim for the head or for the heart? Most lawyer marketing and advertising campaigns are about what lawyers think is important, not what clients feel is important. (This isn’t applicable just to the consumer-focused practices in the QS ad, by the way; real-life campaigns can be just as effective for corporate GCs whose careers and livelihoods hinge on getting the right advice at the right time from their legal counsel.)
Our collective distaste for our “non-lawyer” competitors could blind us to the lessons we can learn from them. They see the legal market from the client perspective, an approach that dictates all their strategic and tactical maneuvers. Let’s consider the serious likelihood that they’ve got it right.