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Clare Rodway

Managing Director, Kysen PR

Kerry Jack

CEO, Black Letter Communications

Matt Baldwin

Managing Director, Coast Communications

Susie Taylor

Head of Brand, PR and Communications, Freeths

Tim Maltin

Managing Partner , Maltin PR

The power of public relations in law firms: building trust and driving success

The power of public relations in law firms: building trust and driving success

By , , , and

In the hustle and bustle of the legal world, effective public relations is pivotal for law firms, fostering trust and success

In the fast-paced and competitive world of the legal profession, the effective use of public relations (PR) has become a crucial element for law firms, not only to distinguish themselves but also to foster trust, enhance credibility and drive success for both the firm and their clients.

This article delves into the significance of PR in the legal realm, exploring the myriad benefits it offers and outlining strategic steps to ensure its success.

Tim Maltin, Managing Partner at Maltin PR, believes that “A strong PR and communications strategy is vital for curating the perception that those searching for you or your firm will receive, whether they are potential clients, referrers, or lateral hires. Positive media coverage, thought-leadership and third-party endorsement shows, at a glance, that your firm holds a strong market position and enhances credibility. It also highlights to potential clients that you understand the importance of reputation and the media, which is increasingly important for many that are looking to find legal representation.”

Understanding the importance of public relations in law firms

According to Susie Taylor, Head of Brand, PR and Communications at national law firm Freeths, “PR is a fundamental tool in the sector, creating a voice for law firms, placing them as leaders in the industry and sets an example for other firms to follow suit. A PR strategy should be embedded into the core processes and business strategy of a firm to ignite welcome conversation and fuel the business’s ESG and diversity and inclusion initiatives, encouraging others to collaborate and setting an example for the wider sector.”

“A successful PR strategy places its lawyers as leading experts within the industry and can help raise awareness of huge miscarriages of justice, such as the longstanding Alan Bates Vs The Post Office. Our successful campaign encouraged hundreds of wronged postmasters to come forward, leading to a national movement.”

1. Building trust and credibility

Where trust is paramount, law firms can leverage PR to establish and reinforce their credibility. Through well-crafted messaging, law firms can communicate their expertise, showcase successful cases and highlight the qualifications of their legal professionals. Trust is the cornerstone of client relationships, and a positive public image goes a long way in building and maintaining it.

Clare Rodway, Managing Director and founder of legal PR agency Kysen, who has been promoting law firms since the Law Society first allowed it to over 30 years ago, says, “A common misunderstanding of PR is that it’s about exaggeration at best and obfuscation at worst, manipulating or hiding the truth to create false impressions. But good PR is always based on truth. Ethical issues aside, (which I don’t believe there ever should be), lying will undermine confidence: how can lawyers and staff talk proudly and convincingly about their firm, if they feel brand and PR messages don’t resonate with their own experience? (There’s a point here about the importance of aligning internal and external PR.) Conversely, a communications programme based on articulating the honest best of a firm – its strengths, capabilities, creativity in finding legal solutions, attitude to client relationships and internal culture – backed up with evidence, is powerful.”

“In addition to trust and credibility, it aids the understanding of what lawyers can do and can humanise them,” adds Kerry Jack, Co-founder and CEO, Black Letter Communications.

2. Enhancing visibility and reputation

PR helps law firms enhance their visibility in the legal marketplace. By strategically placing news stories, press releases and thought leadership, firms can position themselves as leaders in specific practice areas. Positive media coverage contributes to a positive reputation, attracting potential clients and setting the firm apart from its competitors.

Clare Rodway adds, “We talk to our clients about the importance of ensuring ‘credibility’ at the same time as ‘visibility’. The one doesn’t work without the other: if a firm scores high on credibility but lacks visibility, it is hiding its light under a bushel. Equally, it’s counterproductive to spend time and money achieving visibility, if at the point everyone is taking notice the firm is not credible. This is just making noise.”

“It is very different for law firms to differentiate themselves from their competitors,” explains Matt Baldwin, the co-founder of Coast Communications, a public relations consultancy that works with law and accountancy firms. “And good PR is one way they can do that.”

“By offering insight and guidance on the issues that clients are facing now firms can set themselves apart from their peers.”

3. Attracting and retaining clients

An effective PR strategy helps law firms attract new clients and retain existing ones. Through targeted communications, firms can showcase their successes, industry knowledge and commitment to client satisfaction. Positive public perception often translates into increased client loyalty and a steady influx of new business.

Clare Rodway says, “The key here is to be systematic, making sure that all the channels in a firm’s marketing mix – website, media, social media, advertising, events, email updates, etc – are chiming together in synchrony. In particular, the final mix of marketing/PR activity should comprise a selection across both the ‘networking’ and ‘profile raising’ domains, as it is the interplay between the two that will generate the best results. Dovetailing the right PR with lawyers’ networking opportunities can create the perfect backdrop to sales conversations with clients and prospects, helping lawyers to reel in new business. Imagine the following scenario, to bring this principle to life:

The firm’s lawyers have selected an event to attend, with the aim of making face-to-face connections with a number of key prospects, hoping to win some new business. In preparation, the PR team places a couple of neatly timed articles in the media read by those attending (a couple of top trade magazines, plus a national broadsheet). Also, the lawyers planning to attend are given some simple, basic sales training, so they all know at least how to spot an obvious sales opportunity and as a minimum alert one of the firm’s rainmakers, who is best capable of turning a prospect into new business.

On the night, the lawyers circulate and talk to people in the room. Instead of being met with unhelpful comments such as '[firm] who?’ they are met with ‘I’ve noticed your firm has been saying some interesting things about the challenges facing this market...’ This kind of positive, informed response from prospects allows the firm’s lawyers to take sales opportunities past first base in conversations and thus ‘nearly wins’ on the night become ‘opportunities in the bag’.

Kerry Jack has had countless law firms win work off the back of press coverage, and firmly believes it can help with bringing in new clients.

“Clients will turn to lawyers for many different reasons and the buying process has many drivers,” says Matt Baldwin. “But in many instances and where a business or individual has no relationship with a law firm or lawyer, PR can often be the trigger that starts the buying process.”

“And don’t forget, the press that a firm generates is a valuable resource for your marketing teams, providing content for websites, social media channels and direct to client communications.”

4. Crisis management

In the legal realm, crises are inevitable. Whether it’s a high-profile case, an internal issue, or a challenge to the firm’s reputation, having a robust PR strategy is essential. Prompt and transparent communication during crises helps law firms control the narrative, manage public perception and mitigate potential damage to their reputation.

It’s important to recognise the role that PR can play in preventing a crisis. Well thought through plans with transparency at their heart could be the difference between an issue becoming a crisis.

“It takes years to build your reputation yet minutes to destroy it,” says Matt Baldwin. “Your reputation needs to be nurtured and protected. It is possible to plan for potential crisis so when you do face difficult times you are prepared and can act swiftly.”

5. Recruitment and employee morale

Law firms, like any other businesses, need to attract top talent. An effective PR strategy not only enhances the firm's external image but also plays a crucial role in recruitment. Positive media coverage, awards, and recognition contribute to a positive workplace reputation, fostering higher morale among existing employees and making the firm an attractive workplace for prospective talent.

Again, Clare Rodway emphasises the importance of making sure PR messages are realistic as well as positive. “Promoting the ‘employer brand’ of a firm is important in helping a firm get the pick of candidates when hiring, improve staff retention, and engage and inspire the people in the business to work together towards the firm’s strategic goals. But again, PR messages need to be rooted in truth: PR puffery about a firm’s wonderful working culture that is at odds with people’s lived experience will have a very negative impact indeed. It can build cynicism and even resentment – resulting in active disengagement – the opposite of what you’re aiming for!”

Benefits of public relations for law firms and their clients

1. Increased visibility

An effective PR strategy ensures that a law firm is consistently visible to its target audience. This visibility not only attracts potential clients but also positions the firm as an authoritative voice in its field. Clients benefit from working with a firm that is well-recognised and respected in the industry.

2. Client trust and confidence

Public relations efforts that highlight a law firm’s achievements, expertise and ethical practices contribute to building trust and confidence among clients. Clients want assurance that they are working with a reputable and knowledgeable legal team, and positive PR helps convey that message.

3. Educating the public

Law firms often deal with complex legal matters that may be difficult for the general public to understand. PR provides an opportunity to educate the public about legal issues, changes in legislation and the role of law firms. Informed clients are empowered clients, and PR serves as a tool for disseminating crucial legal information.

4. Differentiation in a crowded market

The legal industry is saturated, with numerous firms vying for attention. PR allows law firms to differentiate themselves by highlighting their unique selling points, whether it’s a specialised practice area, innovative approaches to legal challenges or a commitment to social responsibility. Clients benefit from the ability to choose a firm that aligns with their values and needs.

5. Effective crisis management

When a crisis occurs, swift and effective communication is paramount. PR strategies that include crisis management plans help law firms navigate challenges with transparency and control. Clients benefit from a firm that can handle crises responsibly, preserving trust even in the face of adversity.

Strategic steps for successful public relations in law firms

Before embarking on a PR campaign, law firms should define clear objectives. Whether it’s increasing visibility, managing a crisis, or showcasing expertise in a specific area, having well-defined goals will guide the PR strategy.

You also need partner or board buy in, because if those that are supposed to be the subject of the PR don’t play ball, then your campaign won’t get very far.

When working with a law firm for the first time, we usually pick a few willing fee earners to demonstrate what can be achieved through the PR process, this often creates a ripple effect throughout the firm.

It’s also important to ensure that the fee earners you work with understand what PR is and importantly, what it isn’t. For many there can be a nervousness about working with the media and a good PR consultant needs to get their client to a place where they are comfortable and understand the process.

Understanding the target audience is crucial for effective PR. Law firms should identify the key demographics and stakeholders they want to reach. Tailoring messages to resonate with these audiences enhances the impact of PR efforts.

“A good PR firm can help and guide a firm through this strategic planning process,” explains Matt Baldwin. “And importantly explain what PR can and cannot achieve. Importantly, they should bring ideas to the table for stories and campaigns that will reinforce your brand and meet those objectives.”

Stories have the power to engage and resonate with audiences. Law firms should identify compelling narratives within their successes, community involvement, or unique approaches to legal challenges. These stories become the backbone of press releases, articles and other PR materials.

Crucially, Kerry Jack considers that law firms need to accept that it’s often their clients that the media will be more interested in than them, but there is a way to profile both for mutual benefit. “We do a great deal of that, by putting the client at the heart of the story, it provides a halo effect for the law firm. ‘Law firm wins case’ is nowhere near as compelling asParents speak out after High Court win’.”

Building and maintaining relationships with journalists and media outlets is a key aspect of successful PR. Law firms should actively engage with relevant media, providing them with valuable insights, expert opinions and timely information.

In the digital age, online presence is paramount. Law firms should leverage digital platforms such as websites, social media and blogs to amplify their PR efforts. Consistent and strategic content across digital channels enhances visibility and accessibility.

Regular monitoring and measurement of PR efforts are essential to gauge success. Law firms should use analytics tools to track media coverage, website traffic and audience engagement. This data provides insights into what is working and allows for adjustments to the strategy.

Monitoring needs to go beyond media coverage. Ultimately, did the PR bring in any clients? Depending on the law firm, some will track where the new lead came from, but one of the best ways Kerry Jack finds, is the anecdotal feedback from lawyers after a story has landed, when they report back how many new enquiries or instructions they received as a result.

“Again, here your PR advisers should provide this kind of reporting,” explains Matt Baldwin. “It is how they can demonstrate they are delivering against what they promised. And these are metrics the marketing and BD teams will need when reporting back to their partners or management board.”

Training key personnel, including lawyers and spokespersons, in effective communication is crucial. Media training ensures that individuals representing the firm are adept at conveying key messages, managing interviews and responding to inquiries.

Consistency in messaging and brand representation is key to building a strong public image. Law firms should ensure that their PR efforts align with the firm’s values and objectives consistently across all communication channels.

PR shouldn’t be a nice to have for successful law firms, it should be a core element of their business development strategy. The editorial team at the Solicitors Journal can determine whether a firm is successful or not by the calibre of articles presented to them on an hourly basis. Given the daily volume of pitches received from firms, those that submit a fully explained article with pictures go straight to the top and very often get published, conversely, incomplete, vague articles go straight to ‘delete’!

The effective use of public relations is an indispensable tool for law firms seeking to elevate their standing, build trust and drive success. The benefits of PR extend beyond the firm itself, positively impacting clients who seek reputable, trustworthy and knowledgeable legal partners. By strategically defining objectives, identifying target audiences, crafting compelling stories, leveraging media relationships, utilising digital platforms, monitoring and measuring results, investing in training and maintaining consistency, law firms can harness the power of PR to thrive in a dynamic and competitive legal world. Ultimately, a well-executed PR strategy serves as a bridge between law firms and their clients, fostering a relationship built on trust, credibility and shared success.