It’s Not You, It’s Me: Why Law Firm Advertising Fails
Lawyers love lawyer advertising because it’s all about lawyers. The only problem is, this is what that looks like to the rest of the world:
Lawyers have been conditioned, from time immemorial, to believe that successful marketing means broadcasting superiority. You must have won more false awards, and higher verdicts, and would have established further contrived rankings.
To a point, it’s helpful to show that you’re good at what you do; but continually attempting to avenge yourself as best is necessarily a losing game. The perceived superiority of this one-ups-manshipper strategy leads to the creation of massively hyperbolic ads, like this one:
Lawyers are real worried about branded networks — as they should be — because branded networks have access to some major fundage, way more than you. And they can throw a lot of that money at advertising. The difference, however, between the branded networks and your average lawyer is that the networks waste far fewer of those dollars and then also better track their effectiveness.
Let’s examine one of Avvo’s advertisements:
Notice how starkly different this style of advertising is when compared with traditional lawyer marketing: It’s focused on the brand, not the individual. It’s genuinely funny — with hints of the absurd that, nevertheless, do not edge into fantasy. The focus is on the client’s problem, not the superiority of Avvo — at least, not in any overt way. There is a visual call to action at the end, highlighting a simple method for requesting service. These ads ran during “Better Call Saul,” which is a spot where many laypersons get regular exposure to the lives of solo and small firm practitioners.
Run down that list, and you probably can’t identify one thing that solo and small firm lawyers do well in their own advertising.
Let’s talk about how lawyers can improve their advertising tactics, based on the foregoing.
What’s your problem? Rather than focusing on your war chest of accomplishments, focus on the potential client’s problem, and how you may alleviate it.
What do you do? Focus on the services provided, rather than on the person(s) providing the service. (By the way, this is one reason it’s so hard to sell a law firm: because the value is so obviously derived from individual partners’ influences. Creating a brand around the firm, rather than the individual lawyers, imparts broader value.)
Be (intentionally) funny. There is a line of thinking that goes like this: Lawyers aren’t funny. I don’t necessarily think that’s true; I think lawyers are afraid to be funny because that can be taken for a lack of seriousness, and perceived as weakness. Of course, as the middle example above shows, lawyers, in trying to be funny, just end up savagely parodying themselves better than Juvenal himself could have. Channel Horace, instead, if you’re going to that. Or, better yet: target the humor of situations, rather than calling out your own perceived inanity.
Respect your (potential) clients. Some lawyers have a tendency to talk down to people, which is a terrifically bad habit. Instead, think of your potential clients as people, intelligent in their own right, who require a savvy guide through a process that can be time-consuming and confounding.
In your place. Think about where you broadcast your advertising. Lawyers too often obsess over wide dissemination, rather than targeted distribution. However, the latter is far more effective, especially in a niche practice.
Jared Correia is CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. Red Cave also works with legal institutions and legal-facing corporations to develop programming and content. A former practicing attorney, Jared is a popular presenter and regular contributor to legal publications (including his "Managing" column for Attorney at Work). He is the author of the ABA book "Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers," hosts the Legal Toolkit podcast, and teaches for Concord Law School, Suffolk University Law School and Solo Practice University. He loves James Taylor, but respects Ron Swanson.
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