Law firms hit hard by the economic recession may not have the deep pockets they once did, but savvy marketers who know their audiences—and how best to reach them—can still find significant opportunities when marketing to lawyers.
Generally, law firms can weather a recession better than other types of companies because they have practice areas that balance each other out in different kinds of economies, said Stephen Lincoln, national group publisher at Incisive Media, whose legal media brands include TheAmericanLawyer.com, Law.com, Legal Tech and Legal Week. For example, in a good market, law firms might perform corporate law and mergers and acquisitions, while in a bad market, they would still get restructuring and litigation business. In this particular recession, however, that hasn't been true, Lincoln said. “There's been less litigation than we normally [see],” he said, “so they're feeling the pain.”
As a result, many firms have been forced to lay off attorneys and support staff, and make other budget cuts, Lincoln added.
Midsize firms fared better financially in fiscal year 2008 than the largest firms, according to the AmLaw 100 and 200 lists, published annually by The American Lawyer. Average revenue per lawyer at the second-hundred firms was essentially flat, according to the report, compared with a decrease of 1.2% at the 100 largest firms. Average profits per partner declined by 2.6% for the second-hundred firms, compared with a drop of 4.3% for the top 100.
Vendors marketing to lawyers must understand their audience extremely well, said Sarina Butler, associate executive director of the communications group at the American Bar Association. “The 1.2 million lawyers in the U.S. are not a single audience; there are many "subaudiences,' ” she said.
Marketers must learn as much as they can about the specific lawyers they are targeting, she said, determining what they need, how they behave, the specific functions they perform throughout the day and, most important, how they evaluate products or services they are considering for purchase.
At a large firm, the buying process can involve multiple individuals, including some who may not be using the product or service, Butler said. “Really try to understand the traits of the person making the purchase decisions, and try to understand the dynamics of how purchase determinations are made,” she said. “If the person making the purchase decision is reading [certain publications] or attending expositions of one type but the lawyers are reading [other publications] and attending something else, you have to figure out a way of bridging all of that.”
Demonstrating thought leadership about industry issues or trends is very important in connecting with lawyers, said John Buchanan, CMO of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, a San Francisco law firm. (Buchanan markets some of Howard Rice's services to lawyers and in-house counsel; for instance, the firm has an attorney liability practice through which it defends attorneys in a variety of kinds of lawsuits.) The firm relies primarily on e-mail marketing, working with Concep Global, a marketing and technology services company, to send clients and prospects updates about trends or important cases. “It's a way for us to get in front of our client and demonstrate that we know what's going on, that we understand their business, and give them content instead of just saying, "Hire us; hire us.' ”
Howard Rice prefers digital marketing, Buchanan said, because it allows the firm to distribute information quickly and see how recipients respond. “If we see a particular client has opened a client alert four or five times, one of our lawyers can contact that person to follow up,” he said.
Marketers must keep in mind that lawyers tend to take a very thoughtful, intellectual approach to evaluating a product or service, Butler said. “Lawyers are extremely rational assessors of products or services,” she said. “They bring a lot of brain power. [They ask,] "Do I really need this? Is this really going to do what it promises to do? Am I really going to be able to work with this product? Is it going to save me time?' ”
At the same time, lawyers carry the experiences they have as consumers with them to the office. Marketers are realizing this and responding, Butler said, adding that she's seeing more humor and humanization in legal marketing. “When I first started looking at ads for lawyers, I saw a great deal of product or service description, sometimes very technical,” she said. “Now I'm seeing an effort to understand how the lawyers are going to use the product or service.” M