The Most Important Trait of Successful Law Firm Marketers

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There’s a particular marketing mindset which makes each expenditure of marketing dollars exponentially more valuable.

Making a switch in the way you think dramatically increases your effectiveness. The funny thing is that it’s not hard to do. It’s a quick fix that changes everything.

Marketing a law firm is challenging. We need to (1) find the right people and (2) say the right thing.

We’re not selling body wash.

Body wash is something everyone needs (been on a bus lately?), and it’s inexpensive. It’s a mass-market product.

Legal services, by contrast, are needed only by a very limited number of folks and only in certain circumstances. Legal services are also, at least according to most clients, definitely NOT inexpensive.

This is the way most of us market our practices

Most law firms lack subtlety in their two-step marketing approach. We:

1. Seek out the troubled

Different firms do it differently. Some scour the business news. Some publish lots of great articles. Some garner good press so the troubled will come to them. Some harvest auto crash data. Some use marketing pixels to track website searchers who are looking for help solving a particular legal problem. Every firm takes a different approach, but they all want the attention of someone with a legal problem.

2. Scream the law firm name–LOUDLY

Once the law firm has identified someone with a legal problem the typical approach to reeling them in is to scream the law firm name over and over in one form or another. Some do it by stalking the target with online advertising. Some do it with automated email sequences. Some do it by calling and pitching their services. Some do it with a website that features–mostly–the name of the law firm wrapped up with adjectives like “professional, excellent, and affordable.”

Most law firms use the seeking/screaming approach. They spend their marketing dollars buying websites, search engine optimization, canned content, online and offline advertising, slick collateral materials, direct mail, etc.

Here’s why our marketing fails

The seeking/screaming approach works in a limited way. Some folks respond to screaming. Screaming puts you ahead of those who aren’t as loud. But the marketing investment would work much better if it incorporated empathy. We end up screaming louder and louder to be heard over the other law firms who speak more softly, but saying the right thing would be far more effective.

Seeking out prospective clients is, of course, an essential marketing behavior. If you’re going to sell something, then you need to know to whom to sell it.

But screaming? Is that the most valuable use of your marketing dollars? It’s the screaming-your-law-firm-name part that misses the boat. That’s where empathy would make a difference–a powerful difference.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

When we incorporate empathy into our marketing we have an exponential impact. Empathy is the turbocharger. Empathy, aimed at the right target, delivers a thermonuclear reaction called a retainer.

Unfortunately most of us let ego get in the way of empathy when it comes to marketing. Our egos are the biggest barrier to maximizing the effectiveness of our marketing efforts.

“No offense” is the way one of my kids prefaces any attack on me. “No offense Dad, but….”

I’m nevertheless offended. Who raised these kids?

Anyway–no offense, but when you let your ego take over, you do stupid things with your marketing money, and then you’re upset when it’s not particularly effective. Unsurprisingly, your prospective client sees your marketing, assumes you’re a big-headed egomaniac, and doesn’t like you. Some of them hire you anyway, because your competition isn’t screaming as loudly or has an even more annoying ego.

Here’s how we put our ego ahead of our clients

Evidence of the big lawyer ego shows up in pretty obvious ways. We don’t notice it, because we’re busy listening to that very ego. “Of course people want to see my picture, read about my awards, and watch a video of me telling them how great we are at what we do,” says the egomaniac.

Oh, and let’s just be clear–I’m right there with you on the ego thing. My ego is so big that I have to spend most of the year a continent away from people I know to protect them. My ego spreads out for thousands of miles. If you’re not here with me, count yourself lucky. I plead guilty to having a big ego. You are not alone.

We egomaniacs do lots of dumb things with our marketing dollars:

1. Websites about us

Most law firm websites are all about the lawyers–big lawyer pictures, long bios, extensive descriptions of the services provided, and even a “history” of the firm.

Vanity project marketing is a big part of most law firm marketing. If you find yourself scheduling a big photo shoot for your website (which is a blast, by the way), please know you’ve fallen prey to your ego. That photo of you on the homepage isn’t going to get you more clients.

What do prospective clients care about? Themselves.

What do most lawyer websites feature? Lawyers.

See the mismatch? What if your website demonstrated your ability to understand and share the feelings of others? What if your prospective client read the information on your site and saw themselves in the website copy, instead of you?

A website focused on the client, their story, and their issues, is persuasive because it proves that the law firm understands the client’s situation and feelings.

2. Blogging without understanding

I love blogs. They’re a great place to express your empathetic thoughts. They allow you to demonstrate your understanding of the prospective clients.

But that’s not what happens on most lawyer blogs. Most of these blogs are cranked out by a third party content creator.

The blogs are generally aimed at increasing visibility on the search engines (which mostly doesn’t generate revenue) and when someone finally clicks on the link from Google they’re unimpressed by what they find.

Most of these blog posts, written by third parties, fail to resonate with the client’s experience of the problem they face. Most of these blog posts fail to demonstrate the humanity/empathy of the law firm. Most of these blog posts inspire action–the wrong action–causing visitors to click the “back” button.

Unfortunately, even many lawyer-written blogs get the same reaction. They provide the lawyer’s perspective on recent legal developments, or on rare occasions, perspective on life. The best of these tell the lawyer’s story from a more personal perspective.

But nearly every lawyer blog misses out on the empathy opportunity. We rarely tell the client’s story, from the client’s perspective, of the problems and stresses they face given their circumstances.

3. One-and-done lunches

Have you been to lunch with one of our brethren lately?

You can count on the conversation to keep going. Unfortunately, most of us talk about one thing: ourselves. I get it. I do the same thing. But it’s not good for business.

We go to lunch with a prospective referral source. We spend ninety minutes talking about ourselves, and we’re surprised when referrals don’t come pouring in.

Why don’t we ask more questions? Why don’t we follow up? Why don’t we talk about our clients instead of ourselves? Why don’t we express more interest in our lunch date?

Referrals are about connection. To generate a referral, you have to build trust. The ego-driven lawyer believes that any referral source with a brain will send us business once they know what we’re all about. The empathetic lawyer knows the referrals will come when the referral source feels understood.

4. Wasting money on SEO, leads, videos, shifting tactics

Money spent on lawyer marketing services might, in some circumstances, generate some inquiries. But you’re wasting money if you’re not demonstrating empathy when those prospective clients come calling.

Your search-engine-optimized pages need to tell the client’s story so they know you understand. When purchased leads call, you want your intake people to demonstrate empathy first. When you make a video it needs to convey your understanding of the feelings of the viewer.

When your mediocre marketing results discourage you, it’s better to shift to empathy instead of shifting to another tactic. Switching from blogging to video, or from Google advertising to Facebook advertising isn’t the solution. The solution is empathy.

5. Not expecting the call or visit

Calling your office is a huge moment in the life of the caller. Calling a lawyer is a big damn deal for nearly everyone who calls.

We spend a fortune making the phone ring.

Then when it happens we’re surprised.

Why isn’t someone waiting for the call? Why isn’t this moment as important to your team as it is to the caller? Why does the coffee delivery guy take precedence over the prospective client vying for the receptionist’s attention?

Handling potential clients sometimes feels like getting a wild animal to eat out of your hand. The slightest misstep, and he or she darts away, never to be seen again.

I once called up a lawyer’s main phone line on a Wednesday and was greeted by a voicemail explaining that she was out of the office in court, and would return all calls on the following Tuesday. She expected potential clients, who had agonized and stressed, and worried for days about making this call, to simply wait a week, and do it all over again.

Good luck with that.

It’s easy to say we’re empathetic. It’s harder, but still manageable, to express empathy in our marketing copy. It gets really hard when you’ve got to translate empathy into action in phone calls and client meetings.

Clients feel understood when they feel expected as they call in or walk through the door. Clients feel understood when the parking spaces out front are reserved for them instead of the lawyers. Clients feel understood when the lawyer sits in the gallery with them instead of up front with the other lawyers.

This is what you should do instead

First, put your feet in your prospective client’s shoes.

Feel their pain. Understand their perspective. Get into their head. Think their thoughts, feel their feelings, see how the world looks and feels to them.

You need to truly get them. You need to feel what they feel.

Test yourself. Tell a prospective client what it’s like to go through what they’re going through. Use the words used by prospective clients–not lawyer words. Watch for the glimmer of recognition. Wait for them to exclaim “that’s exactly how I feel.” Then you know you’ve got it.

Second, take that empathetic understanding you’ve acquired and bring it to your marketing.

Don’t add empathy to your marketing. Replace your marketing with empathy.

1. Show, don’t tell

Demonstrate empathy at every opportunity. It’s easier to convey your understanding of your prospective client on your website or in a civic group speech because you’ve got lots of space and time. It’s harder when you’re trying to do it in six words in a Google ad. But it can be done.

Sometimes you’ve got lots of room to use lots of words in your marketing. Other times space is restricted. You can still show that you’re empathetic. Don’t say “we understand” or “we care.” Say “that sinking, blue-light-flashing feeling” or “remembering that we can’t call mom” or “when trust breaks your heart.”

The right words energize your marketing. When you nail it, when you demonstrate that you understand and share the feelings of another, your marketing investment is exponentially more effective.

2. Build empathetic processes

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a client. We become distant from the client experience. We’ve been doing the work long enough to understand the issues well. Our competence grows. Our empathy shrinks. It’s easy to forget how the world looks and feels to our clients.

Look at everything that happens from the time the client becomes aware of their problem to the point at which you’ve led the client to the solution. Think through the client’s experience.

Examine each detail of the client’s interaction with your law firm. It’s all part of your marketing. Does the intake software leave the client feeling embraced or annoyed? Does the receptionist understand the significance of the first call? Does the person handling the consultation listen and understand? Does your representation involve an abundance of client contact and communication?

Shift your process to meet the needs of your clients. As your empathy grows, your understanding of how the client experiences the process grows as well. Sometimes tweaking the process involves shifting the amount or timing of communications. Sometimes it involves changing the form of communication from oral to written or vice versa. Sometimes it involves changing the way we gather information or how much energy we devote to preparing the client for events. Let your understanding of their feelings drive the way you build and modify your approach to the engagement.

Empathy works

It’s easy to get sucked into ego-driven marketing. The consultants and vendors offering marketing services are good at marketing. They understand us.

Sadly, and embarrassingly, they know we’re more likely to buy websites, videos, advertising, and other tactics which make us feel good about ourselves. They know their customer. They understand what drives our decision-making process.

But these vanity-driven ego projects are good only for the vendor. They aren’t good for us, our clients, or our bottom lines. We need to use the same approach they use, an intimate understanding of the feelings of our target clients, to bring our empathetic message to our market.

Bring empathy to your marketing and you’ll get more of the clients you seek. You can still have a big photo of yourself mounted above the fireplace (at home, of course). That’s okay. But your website, your speaking engagements, your advertising, your printed materials, and all the rest of your marketing needs to demonstrate your empathy. That’s the most important trait of a successful law firm marketer.

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