When Should You Market Your Law Firm?

Jeremy Hessing-Lewis

It’s About Time

In business, as in life, timing is everything. While much of our work at Skunkworks involves developing marketing strategies for law firms, we rarely have an opportunity to influence timing for these marketing efforts. The timing is either now, or just as often, yesterday. These are business-driven decisions. As more of our clients have converted to ongoing retainers, we increasingly have opportunities to develop long-term marketing strategies that track a firm’s overall business goals. This allows for seasonal projects, benchmarking, and much better transparency into the relative performance of campaigns. Like any business, our clients want to see a return-on-investment. Despite our move towards ongoing retainers, we have identified some predictable stages where timing is particularly important for law firms.

New Firms

Starting a new practice remains the most common time to invest in marketing efforts. The proverbial hanging of a shingle is much more involved these days. A basic investment will include a corporate identity package (business cards, letterhead, envelopes) and a simple website. You need to a) be found by people looking for you and b) project both professionalism and a sense of permanence. Just investing in a logo shows people that you are serious about your business and will be around for the foreseeable future. You should start considering these details at the same time you are structuring the new firm. A website should be live, at latest, on the day you start accepting clients for the firm.

Succession Planning

Your firm may have a great reputation, but this reputation is most likely tied to senior practitioners. Some day, they’ll want to cash-in their billable hours for putting greens and babysitting the grand kids. The second most common time for lawyers to invest in marketing is as succession plans are being developed. The trick is to transfer the firm’s goodwill to those carrying-on the torch. This needs to happen well before the retirement party.

Keeping Up With the LLPs

Another strong influence for the timing of marketing projects is because the firm has not kept-up with its competitors. We see firms at each price point moving forward in waves. When a group of firms starts updating, the rest will be close behind. Because marketing efforts take time to execute, you want to make sure that you have a strategy in place that reflects such inevitable updates. Budget for them. Marketing, much like software, is now moving towards a continuous cycle of smaller subscription updates rolled-out as they emerge rather than large overhaul updates every couple of years. This is one of the bigger drivers behind our increased use of an ongoing retainer model.

Slow Periods vs Ongoing Efforts

Most firms are reluctant to do any marketing while they’re very busy. They would prefer to wait until things are slow. This will be too late. Marketing a law firm takes time. The idea is not just to be busy, but to stay busy. The best time to invest is when things are moving along well and you can piggy-back on your existing success. If you receive too many inbound leads, refer the work to colleagues and bank the goodwill. Alternatively, hire some help.

In summary, I want to emphasize that legal marketing needs to be done early. We can only help if there is enough time. By working with more firms on ongoing retainers, we hope to raise the bar on legal marketing by delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time. Our upcoming case studies will show how we make this happen.

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