research approaches
share TWEET PIN IT share share 0
Stop Second-Guessing

Three Research Approaches to Help You Make Better Decisions for Your Law Firm

By Candis Roussel

To make the best decisions for the future of your firm — whether setting marketing priorities, undergoing a new strategic initiative or developing a new mission statement — it’s essential to obtain the right insights and perspectives. That’s where these three research approaches come in: primary, secondary and internal research.

Conducting frequent and thorough research has been shown to help law firms grow faster and become more profitable. However, before you jump headfirst into any research project, it’s important to understand the purpose and limitations of each approach.

Primary Research

This involves enlisting a third-party market research firm to gather input and perspectives from your firm’s clients, referral sources and, in some cases, prospects. Primary research provides an external perspective and understanding beyond what you think you already know. For instance, you may discover a competitor that wasn’t necessarily on your radar, or you may learn what clients believe is the true value or benefit of working with your firm. This is ideal for gathering the necessary intelligence and perspective to set new business or marketing priorities or to uncover the need for a new strategic initiative, like a rebranding.

Secondary Research

This refers to studies conducted by others. Though you shouldn’t rely on it solely in your decision-making, secondary research can be very informative when considering new market opportunities or the needs of a particular geographic area. One key benefit is the volume of respondents. Ideally, when conducted by large research organizations, secondary research can provide statistical relevance through large sample sizes. While primary research is considerably less dependent on sample size since it is directly targeted to your firm, be cautious about relying on secondary research that doesn’t have significant volume.

Internal Research

Internal research is exactly what it sounds like: research conducted internally at your firm. This could be in the form of focus groups, strategy sessions or online surveys. While this can be beneficial for addressing issues within your firm — for instance, whether employee goals and firm priorities are aligned — it isn’t ideal for determining business and marketing priorities. Instead, internal research is best as part of a larger initiative that can validate or uncover outside perspectives.

Using Research to Achieve Your Business Goals

Whether you have a large firm with concerns about developing a succession plan as senior partners retire or a smaller firm worried about your relevance in a competitive market, these approaches can give you the information and insights you need to achieve your goals. Ideally, you would use all three approaches to gather as much information as possible before making a big decision. However, since that isn’t always an option, it’s important to make sure you use each form of research intentionally and recognize the limitations.

Bonus: Seven Research Questions to Ask About Your Law Firm

With the answers to these questions, you won’t have to worry about second-guessing your decisions.

  1. Why do your best clients choose your firm? Knowing what draws your top clients can help you figure out how to attract more like them.
  2. Who are your real competitors? This information helps determine how you should distinguish your marketing and positioning to stand out from the competition.
  3. How do potential clients see their greatest challenges? Knowing this answer will inform how your firm meets those challenges.
  4. What is the real benefit your firm provides? Understanding what clients get from their side of the relationship can ensure you continue to uphold your end of the bargain.
  5. How strong is your brand in your various markets? This answer can help you learn which markets need more visibility.
  6. What is the most effective way to attract your best target clients? Maximizing efficiency can help you get better clients in the easiest way.
  7. How do your current clients really feel about your firm? With the answer to this question, you can not only address problem areas, you can boost reviews and referrals.

Candis Roussel is Account Director at Hinge Marketing, where she leads a team of researchers, marketing strategists, brand designers, writers and integrated marketing experts. Candis has held senior marketing roles in agency, law firm, corporate and nonprofit settings. She is a graduate of Louisiana State University and a devoted Tigers fan. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @HingeMarketing. 

Illustration ©

Subscribe to Attorney at Work

Get really good ideas every day: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch and Weekly Wrap (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.

Categories: Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Strategy
Originally published January 11, 2018
Last updated April 26, 2022
share TWEET PIN IT share share
MUST READ Articles for Law Firms Click to expand

Welcome to Attorney at Work!

Sign up for our free newsletter.


All fields are required. By signing up, you are opting in to Attorney at Work's free practice tips newsletter and occasional emails with news and offers. By using this service, you indicate that you agree to our Terms and Conditions and have read and understand our Privacy Policy.