In any service industry, a brand image can make or break a business’s success. Painting a positive brand image can be the deciding factor for potential clients to choose to do business with you. Like many businesses, law firms have long grappled with how to position their brand in a positive way. According to last year’s Honesty/Ethics in Professions poll from Gallup, 21% of Americans consider the honesty and ethical standards of lawyers to be high or very high. So, why aren’t these numbers higher, and how can the legal industry pump these numbers up?
What the American Bar Association found
In 2001-02, the American Bar Association (ABA) commissioned two national surveys and ten focus groups in five U.S. markets for the purpose of better understanding public perceptions of lawyers. The ABA’s resulting 2002 report, Public Perceptions of Lawyers Consumer Research Findings, found some American consumers to hold perceptions of lawyers and the legal industry that were quite positive, including that:
- “Lawyers are knowledgeable about the law, and can help clients navigate through difficult situations” and that “personal experiences with lawyers substantiate these positive beliefs.”
- Lawyers “apply significant expertise and knowledge to their cases, identify practical solutions, and work hard on behalf of their clients.”
- “Law is a good and even respectable career.”
Unfortunately, other American consumers were found to hold negative perceptions, such as:
- “When it comes to hiring a lawyer, consumers feel uncertain about how to tell a good lawyer from a bad one.”
- “Less than one in five (19%) of consumers say that they are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ confident in the legal profession or lawyers.”
The question then is how lawyers and law firms can go about shifting the opinions of more Americans away from the negative ones that the ABA’s research discovered and toward the more positive ones that it found. To do so, lawyers must use every tool at their disposal, including their marketing, websites, and social media profiles to their advantage. So, how can lawyers utilize their marketing to cultivate positive brand images for their law firms?
1. Showcase your team, not just your law firm partners
Unless you’re a smaller law firm, it’s likely that your clients work with your legal secretaries, paralegals, staff attorneys, associate attorneys, and litigation attorneys more often than they work directly with your law firm partners, and potential clients may know this. Thus, while it’s important to show the face(s) behind the name(s) on your building/in your office, it’s also important to show the faces of your indispensable team—the people that your clients actually interact with on a consistent basis.
Both your law firm partners and your hardworking records clerks, legal secretaries, paralegals, and other invaluable members of your team deserve to be recognized for their important contributions to your law firm.
The ABA’s findings & our recommendation
The ABA’s Public Perceptions of Lawyers report found that 57% of Americans agree that “most lawyers are more concerned with their own self-promotion than their client’s best interests.” In order to combat these negative perceptions of lawyers, Élan recommends that law firms showcase their team, not just their law firm partners, in their marketing whenever possible.
It should be noted that “whenever possible” does not mean “all the time”; the names of the law firm partners typically adorn that of the law firm itself, so putting the law firm partners front and center is often (1) fitting and (2) helpful for building brand awareness and a good rapport with the community in which the law firm operates.
That being said, turning the spotlight toward other members of your team is a great way to boost both employee buy-in and morale as well as to add a more human touch to your brand.
2. Give potential clients peace of mind by answering their questions before they even ask them
The average American’s knowledge of the American legal system is unlikely to extend beyond surface level, and pop culture doesn’t exactly help to accurately educate them on it. As a result, Americans may feel uneasy about placing their trust in somebody they’ve never met before to handle their case. According to the Public Perceptions of Lawyers report from the ABA:
- “Consumers… say that it is often unclear exactly what the lawyer will do for them and how much the lawyer will charge.”
- 40% of Americans agree that “lawyers do not keep their clients informed on the progress of their case.”
In other words, Americans often feel lost when beginning the legal process and could use a lawyer who makes them feel comfortable with the process and confident in their collective ability to navigate it together.
Seize the opportunity to educate potential clients
The lawyer-client relationship is one that demands a tremendous amount of trust from the client, and that trust is more easily built if the client has a good idea of what’s going on. Therefore, Élan recommends that law firms utilize their social media, website, and other platforms to supply educational organic content to their followers, viewers, and other potential clients.
Organic content is defined as “any unpaid marketing content that potential and existing customers can find naturally” and, rather than being paid for (like advertisements), is created by marketers at no cost for the purpose of reaching customers (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022).
Your law firm’s organic content is the best place to educate potential clients on the basics of the American legal system. You should be posting on social media at least once a week and to your blog at least twice a month; posting that often should give you enough space to cover all the bases that you wish to cover with your content (e.g., FAQs, holidays, internal law firm news, legal education, legal news, trends, etc.).
Small and solo law practices, don’t panic
Don’t panic if you’re a small or solo law firm that doesn’t have the resources to continually create its own organic content at those rates; as long as you post often enough that your followers never wonder why you haven’t posted in a while, then the quality of your content is more important than the quantity of your content. Just be sure to spread it out among the aforementioned topics in order to keep it from growing stale.
The more you post, the more space you’ll have to diversify your content
Use some of that space to educate your social media followers, website visitors, and potential clients on the basics of the American legal system. Try to ease their minds about what is undoubtedly a very scary and stressful system from an outsider’s perspective by answering questions like:
- When and where should I sue?
- Do I need a lawyer?
- What should I expect from a lawyer?
- What do lawyers do?
- How much do lawyers cost?
- Can I get free legal help?
- What can a lawyer do for me?
- How do I choose which lawyer is right for me?
- How do I know if I have a case?
FAQs about law firms to answer in your organic content
Now, the answers to these questions obviously depend on a number of factors, so don’t get bogged down in the details; this is about making potential clients feel more comfortable and in the know, not helping them prepare for the bar. You should also use your organic content to try and answer questions about your law firm specifically, such as:
- What can I expect from your law firm?
- What do the lawyers at your law firm specialize in?
- How much does your law firm cost?
- What will your law firm do for me?
- How do I know if your law firm is right for me?
- What makes your law firm different from other law firms?
Answering potential clients’ questions before they even ask them is a great way to build their confidence in your law firm and to show them that you really care about keeping them informed.
3. Humanize your law firm as much as possible (get involved!)
Like any other business, law firms have a social responsibility to the community. Seize the opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors and to really make a difference outside the courtroom by getting involved in the community. Doing so is an excellent way to live out the “integrity and civility” that, according to the ABA, “are written into the codes of professional conduct in each state.”
It’s also a good way to bolster your law firm’s reputation, increase brand awareness, and generate free publicity for your law firm. More importantly, being a force for good in the community gives your law firm the opportunity to communicate its core values to the people who are the most likely to require its services down the road.
The benefits of company volunteerism
Volunteering with your team has its internal benefits as well; the 2017 Deloitte Volunteerism Survey found that:
- “Creating a culture of volunteerism may boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception.”
- 74% of working Americans “think volunteerism provides an improved sense of purpose.”
- 70% “believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours.”
Different ways to get involved
Through Élan’s years’ of experience partnering with and/or researching dozens of law firms, we’ve come across a wide variety of ways in which your law firm can get involved in the community, including organizing, participating in, and/or sponsoring:
- Blood drives
- Community block parties
- Nonprofit fundraising activities
- Law school mentoring
- Pet adoption events
- School supply drives
These aren’t the only ways for your law firm to get involved in the community, so figure out which ones you feel best reflect your law firm’s values and would have the biggest positive impact on the community (and feel free to come up with your own). Leverage your social media profiles to promote the event, to get other people involved, and to show the community you care.
4. Let your satisfied clients do some of the talking for you
Customer reviews and testimonials are indispensable for any business looking to strengthen its reputation. This is especially true for law firms, medical practices, and other specialized service enterprises that require a significant amount of trust from their clients in order to be successful. According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2022:
- “77% [of consumers] ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read [online reviews] when browsing for local businesses.”
- “67% will consider leaving a review for a positive experience, while 40% will consider leaving a review for a negative experience.”
- “89% of consumers are ‘highly’ or ‘fairly’ likely to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews.”
So, not only should your law firm encourage its satisfied clients to leave a review of their experience with you, but you should also respond to any negative reviews of your firm (particularly on Google, which 81% of consumers used to evaluate local businesses in 2021).
Eloquently, professionally, and quickly responding to negative reviews can help you keep them from unduly influencing the thoughts of users who have not yet formed a strong opinion about your law firm.
When analyzing the competitive environments in which our law firm partners operate, we often come across negative reviews from people who were upset that a particular law firm didn’t take their case. Of course, it’s only natural for them to have felt that way; many people don’t understand all of what makes a case worthy of being taken to court.
By responding to such reviews and—without going into detail—explaining why your law firm couldn’t take the case in question, you can prevent them from turning other users off of your firm (and bolster your reputation in the process).
From boosting employee morale to becoming more trustworthy, the benefits of applying these four recommendations extend far beyond simply making your law firm look good:
- Showcase your team
- Educate potential clients
- Get involved
- Respond to reviews
According to the article Reputation and Its Risks from the Harvard Business Review, “firms with strong positive reputations attract better people [and] are perceived as providing more value.” The article also points out that “in an economy where 70% to 80% of market value comes from hard-to-assess intangible assets such as brand equity, intellectual capital, and goodwill, organizations are especially vulnerable to anything that damages their reputations.”
Working for, earning, and maintaining a good reputation is nothing short of crucial to the quality, success, and value of your law firm.
Do you need help getting started with legal marketing or revamping your law firm’s reputation? Élan and its team of expert analysts, creatives, and media planners are here to help. We’d love to talk with you about how a free marketing audit could help your law firm begin the process of taking its marketing to the next level. Contact us today to learn more.