Marketing on a Shoestring
The Small Law Firm Success Story
Not every small law firm can afford a full-time marketing director. But what the right marketer can produce with a minimal budget may surprise you. A case in point is the Law Offices of Peter N. Brewer, a six-lawyer boutique real estate practice in Palo Alto, California.
“Our firm has had a marketing director for years, in no small part because of Peter Brewer’s business-oriented approach,” says Clayton Dodds, the 20-year-old firm’s current director of marketing. “He has a keen sense of customer service, marketing and business development.”
In the context of a mere $60,000 annual marketing budget (most of which is spent on events, technology and printing), Dodds cites impressive results. For example, at the 2015 Legal Marketing Association Technology Conference, he described a free downloadable e-book the firm made available on its website. In the first month of posting it, 528 people saw the book promo, 50 people clicked through to read or download it and, ultimately, four of those people contacted the firm directly for help.
So How Do They Do It?
After his presentation, Dodds discussed the firm’s marketing strategy with me in a very open one-on-one. Some 70 percent of the firm’s work is B2C — consumers with a real estate issue to solve — but these lessons also apply to attorneys who handle criminal law, wills and estates, family law and personal injury cases. The firm’s marketing plan, he explained, is embodied in four goals.
- Establish a client-centered experience from first to last touch.
- Explain in simple terms what it’s like to work with a lawyer.
- Build and maintain a strong referral network.
- Provide a first-class user and marketing experience.
Here are the details.
Establish a Client-Centered Experience from the Start
Since many consumer relationships today begin on the web, Dodds has focused heavily on the prospective clients’ online experience with the firm. First he created an online intake form. Once it’s submitted via the firm’s website, a prospective client receives an email saying she will hear from the firm within an hour (within business hours). And the firm follows through on that initial promise, immediately garnering goodwill and building trust. Likewise, when that person makes an appointment, she is sent an email confirmation and then a reminder.
Firm staff thanks the consumer for contacting the firm, expresses enthusiasm about working with them, and provides links to the firm’s blog and helpful materials that can be read to prepare for the appointment, such as what tasks and issues a real estate attorney can help them with.
“We know the consumer has likely not hired a real estate attorney before,” says Dodds. So, borrowing a page from his previous employer, Nolo, which publishes legal self-help books, Dodds crafts the advance materials to be educational and user-friendly.
Training intake staff has been the most time-consuming part of the process, Dodds says, but the payoff is establishing a favorable opinion of the firm before the prospect has even signed a retainer agreement.
Explain in Simple Terms What It’s Like to Work with a Lawyer
This is likely the most effective — and kindest — element of the firm’s strategy. Instead of simply sending out a bill with a dizzying array of figures and billing codes, the firm includes a brochure with each initial bill, explaining important information, such as how a retainer functions, what a trust account is, how the firm bills for its time, and what matters are included in the bill, along with a simple glossary of terms.
This turns what can be an unsettling piece of communication into a narrative that shows the attorney and the firm are truly invested in creating the best possible client experience.
Build and Maintain a Strong Referral Network
While strategic use of Google ads and search engine optimization is key to the firm’s marketing success, they also rely on a referral network of realtors, since most consumers reach out to their realtors first with legal questions.
The care and feeding of this referral network is important to the firm, says Dodds. “We write a lot of our content with realtors in mind, so that they can seem like experts to their clients. We empower them with our content so they feel they can be a true resource and asset.”
The firm also provides free webinars and informational downloads, and hosts realtors at social engagements. The unanimous favorite is an annual Oktoberfest for friends, clients and real estate colleagues, says Dodds. “I put on lederhosen and we serve authentic, top-quality German beers.” Remember, this the Law Offices of Peter Brewer, making for a nice tie-in with overall branding
Provide a First-class User Marketing Experience
Each interaction and communication, down to the smallest item, is branded with consistent and clean graphics — including bills, email messages and informational materials. Dodds says this repetition and consistency increases the consumer’s confidence and comfort level with the firm.
I would add one more recommendation: Involve a passionate marketer with relevant experience. It’s that depth of knowledge that this young marketer drew on to craft a $1 million marketing program for far less.
Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She writes the "Content Under Pressure" column for Attorney at Work, and has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.
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