By Kenneth R. Besser

Marketing consultants often claim legal marketing in today’s digital world is vastly different from legal marketing half a century ago. Therefore, almost any lawyer needs to have a professional marketing consultant to manage all their marketing for them. Probing this theory, however, may help refute it.

Whoever thinks legal marketing has changed significantly over the past fifty years is probably wrong. Why? Because, change is almost always a matter of definition and perspective.

We’ve Always Had to Get Known in Order to Get Hired

In an interview with the ABA’s GPSolo eReport, Terrie S. Wheeler states, “Gone are the days when clients will retain you before they learn how you think. Today, it’s just the opposite. You need to show clients how you think if you want them to hire you!” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hiring and using lawyers for 43 years now, and for as long as that, neither I nor anyone I’ve ever known has hired a lawyer without first finding out how that lawyer thought about the legal services they needed.

Just the Media Has Changed

What little change there has been over the past half-century revolves around the fact that, in those good old days and these new ones, lawyers had then and have now, different ways of getting found and then getting their thoughts probed. And, reciprocally, people had then and have now, different ways of finding lawyers and probing their thoughts.

Back in the good old days, legal marketing was very paper-based. Lawyers used business cards, tri-folded single-sheet brochures, Yellow Pages ads, some printed newsletters, mailed announcements, “tombstone” ads, and maybe some seminars at their social service clubs or chambers of commerce meetings. They also bought and gave away a ton of advertising novelties. Who doesn’t remember all the pads of paper, pencils, pens, key chains, calendars, and many other things lawyers would put in the hands of prospective clients directly or indirectly.

In the present digital age, successful lawyers still use those things. But now, they supplement their printed marketing materials and personal appearances with digital ones. Their new marketing tools include search-engine-optimized websites, blogs, social media pages, posts, tweets, and webinars to market their law practices themselves by building and leveraging a nicely coordinated ensemble of multimedia marketing components.

Marketing is Still All About Thought Leaders Building Relationships to Obtain and Maintain the Top of Mind Position in Prospects’ Minds

Regardless of the media they have used in both the past and the present, for any solo or small practice attorney’s area of practice, the essence of their marketing has always been, still is, and will always be, all about building strong, genuine relationships with referral sources and prospects who then send clients, or become clients, and then, in turn, become additional new referral sources.

Like all other types of marketing, legal marketing has always required lawyers to build their thought-leadership positions and show rain brokers and prospective clients the lawyers being marketed have the competence and confidence needed to fulfill people’s legal needs. This is called staking out the top of mind position in prospects minds.

Building thought leader relationships to obtain this top of mind position has almost always required having a strong and focused niche and a unique brand, and then marketing effectively and efficiently to build a particular lawyer’s or firm’s name recognition for that niche and brand. Lawyers obtained and maintained their top of mind position by getting themselves, or at least their names and images, in front of people over and over again until they were able to then build even more personal relationships, and then get hired as people’s lawyers.

The Only Difference Now is We Live, Work, and Market in a Digital World

Now, in this digital world, to be recognized and sought after as a thought leader requires marketing using both paper and digital media.

And that’s where professional marketing consultants see their own opportunity to create in lawyers’ minds the need to use professional legal marketing services and obtain and maintain the top of mind position in lawyers’ minds to hire them.

Most Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Thought They Could Not Afford Professional Marketing Help Decades Ago, and They Still Do Not Think So

Most successful lawyers have always wanted to be recognized as thought leaders. Fifty years ago, practicing marketing on a large scale was as much a profession as practicing law, but most lawyers practiced on a small scale, worked only in their own locales, could not afford to pay marketing “Mad Men” to help them, and managed to market themselves fairly easily using paper and other physical media on a small scale.

Most contemporary lawyers do not know enough about marketing and growing a successful practice in this digital world. This does not mean, however, they cannot learn, in a short amount of time with just an optimal financial investment, all they need to know to build and use these digital tools and a few other doodads, and start marketing themselves in this digital age to complement their more traditional marketing methods.

Why should solo and small firm lawyers build and manage their own digital marketing themselves? Because, as has been true over the past fifty years, most of solo and small firm lawyers have less money and more time to spend on marketing. Therefore, they need to market in this digital age without spending an exorbitant amount of money on “professional” marketers.

For example, while having a website with heavy search engine optimization is all the rage, DIY-marketing lawyers need not get sucked into long-term SEO and digital marketing contracts full of false promises regarding untraceable results. Rather, they should run for the hills if they are told, “Just sign here and we’ll post a great search-engine-optimized website for you that will rank on the first page of Google, and clients will be calling you in droves without your having to do anything else.” Why? Because while that may be appealing to some lawyers, it’s almost never true.

While most solo practitioners and small firms need some help effectively drawing new clients to their practices, most of them do not need, and more importantly, cannot afford, to pay thousands of dollars to “expert” website developers and Google search engine optimizers. For most solo and small firm attorneys, the client acquisition costs of using “expert” marketers is just too high to make such a marketing plan financially successful.

Nonetheless, because so many resources comprise the integrated traditional and digital legal marketplace, most lawyers need at least a little help figuring out what really works for their unique situation. Still, because most lawyers are very smart people, many of them can learn how to do much of this themselves, including marketing, and don’t need full-time or even full-service professional help. For those who think they need a little assistance, with the right DIY mentality and a little bit of additional education, training, and experience, most of them can take a little bit of help and go a long way all by their lonesome.


Kenneth R. Besser is the founder of LifeCycle Law.