The problem with lawyer advertising

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.

Comments

  1. Does the advert work? I don’t think it promotes the brand strongly enough. Check out the YouTube comments and they’re all about the song. Mind you, there are 8000 TV spots to come so maybe saturation will do the trick.

    @ 9:00 am
  2. I’d have to disagree, Richard. I think it’s a brilliant ad. I actually got teary eyed at one point! When has a “normal” law firm ad ever had that sort of emotional impact? I’m going to say never.

    @ 11:22 am
  3. d d smith said:

    thank you for a great post. i’d be curious to see whether it works or not in terms of instructions – and only time will tell. but the ad in itself shows the difficulties of advertising legal services- the ‘ghostly’ presence of the female lawyer, not looking at all at ease, seems to reinforce the image of the lawyer as an out of touch individual at difficult moments. it tries to cover too much and loses focus – it would have been better if they ran individual stories on individual events. but the life journey approach is good although consumers mostly use lawyers when they buy a house or divorce, maybe in probate. different story altogether for a business owner. the most important contribution of this ad is to force future ads to reconsider how to translate legal services concepts for individuals. it could go either way.

    @ 1:20 am
  4. David Stretton said:

    The fact that the YouTube comments are about the song isn’t a negative thing – it shows that someone has remembered who the ad is for, gone to look for it on YouTube by searching ‘QualitySolicitors’ – and in massive numbers. When those people next need a lawyer – where do you suppose most will look first? It’s not ‘what’ their comment is, it’s the fact they are commenting at all! If you look at the John Lewis YouTube page, they don’t comment “I bet they sell lovely teapots” – but when they want one, that’s where they go. I think QS have to be commended on a remarkable feat with this ad and, begrudgingly as a non-QS firm, think they will do incredibly well from it as a brand.

    @ 2:51 am
  5. michelebow said:

    I think Jordan’s post makes some very good points about lawyers and our reticence to advertise. I learned a lot from it, and I think the ad could be very effective — for certain audiences.

    My one nagging concern goes to his parenthetical about corporate GCs, claiming that such ads can reach them as audience members. I have to disagree. The subject of corporate GCs’ legal concerns are rarely, if ever, their own *personal life* concerns: They are by definition those of the company he/she represents. I think it’s fudging to say such lawyers/audience members will be emotionally affected because their livelihoods depend on getting good advice from the outside lawyers they hire (and whose ads they would therefore ostensibly be reacting to). It’s simply not the issue for them.

    Show me an ad that would honestly appeal to a corporate GC, and you’ve cracked the code, my friend.

    @ 8:42 pm