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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Beyond the brass plate

Beyond the brass plate


Marketing is not just something to catch the eye, it is a testimonial to what the client is about to experience from you, writes David Cliff

Something many solicitors approach me about is how to market their organisation. For many years solicitors were completely restricted in promoting their professional services, and marketing extended to a business card and the brass plate outside of the practice office.

Recent years have seen a relaxing of the strident rules applied by regulatory bodies. This was inevitable. In a world where individual experiences take precedence over notions of status and structure, solicitors have to position their expertise to accommodate the fact that clients are no longer passive bystanders. Internet research has made them ‘experts’ in their own right. Increasingly, they expect a specific legal outcome from an executive who will do their bidding.

Sub-specialisation within the legal profession has flourished, as both the law and society itself have made life significantly more complex than it was for previous generations.

Clients have become consumers who make buying choices around legal services rather than simply consulting their local lawyer. Increasingly, the solicitor has to adopt a customer orientation towards the service they provide to clients in order to win them over as they shop around.

Given these factors, it goes without saying that the brass plate and business card method fails to communicate adequately what solicitors offer. Solicitors must become capable of marketing; larger practices should employ business development managers or similar to promote them. Solicitors need to use multimedia tools to put their offering in front of potential clients, with everything ranging from PR to website presence and social media.

The problem in all of this is that the profession has been subject to probity rules for so many generations that being able to market with flair, interactivity, and endeavour is often a bridge too far for many organisations. While larger firms get so much of this by putting a significant effort into their marketing approach, for many smaller firms, marketing is viewed as something that does not fee earn, and is therefore deemed less valuable than traditional solicitor activities. Consequently, we often see half-hearted marketing efforts, weak web presence, poor client engagement, or expensive advertising campaigns that are doomed to failure because the client experiences something different once they get past the brass plate.

Take websites, for example. The majority of solicitors’ firms feel they have to focus on their credentials, and indicate that they are on your side. This renders them little more than electronic brochures in some cases, turning print into electronic form. Seems good, looks impressive, but simply does not tick the box in terms of customer engagement. Advertising, too, increasingly appeals to the relational aspect of working with the client. Again, the obvious comes into play, selling solicitors as emotionally intelligent, active listeners with huge hearts.

Truth is, I don’t care much if a solicitor has the interpersonal skills of the Spanish Inquisition, it’s the results that matter. Authentic relational spaces with clients are important, but feigned familiarity and human interest is not what the relationship is about. Give me a thinking man’s Dalek who knows the law and can fight in court rather than a Care Bear who lacks current awareness.

Personality is, however, important from a relational perspective, and few solicitors appear to be able to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

The consequence of this is that solicitors’ firms are viewed as bland and undifferentiated, offering little more in cyber space and printed media than the brass plate did originally.Solicitors’ advertising needs to be authentic, but not just in the legal, decent, honest, truthful sense of advertising standards. It needs to communicate in ways that prompt action by the client to find out more and begin to cement that working alliance from which great results are delivered.

Relational gimmicks are great, but you’re not selling nappies or skin cream, and a solicitor’s marketing strategy needs to be carefully thought out, not simply an adjunct that they spend some time subcontracting out to an agency while they go off to earn fees. Your shopfront is critical to how the world sees you, and if you are absent within it or it has been an afterthought, that will come across.

Solicitors’ firms that invest in thoughtful, imaginative, client-centred marketing often stand at the cutting edge of the profession primarily because they attract precisely the work they’re looking for, with client expectations met by congruent practices within the organisation. Marketing is not just something to catch the eye, it is a testimonial to what the client is about to experience from you. All good marketing strategies need to bear that in mind.

David Cliff is managing director at Gedanken