The plugs don’t work

June 4, 2015

Clients don’t notice ads. So what’s the best way to win new business?

Image: Shutterstock

 

A new poll by law firm network LawNet has put a bit of a spanner in the works by suggesting that when it comes to winning clients, neither competitive pricing nor glossy advertising has much of an effect.

In a survey of 25,000 clients – a large enough sample size to make the results worth pondering – it was found that a mere 3% were tempted by advertising, and 4% by pricing. A hefty 50%, on the other hand, were likely to be drawn to a firm by that most powerful and nebulous of things: word-of-mouth.

This is not to say that advertising doesn’t have a key role to play. Witness the excruciatingly narcissistic efforts of this Russian law firm: any client with an ounce of sense would run for the Urals.

Even so, the statistic that a mere one in 30 clients claims to give two hoots about advertising does rather beg the question: how does a firm build the kind of reputation that transforms word-of-mouth into client-in-office?

Security, security, security

If there’s one thing guaranteed to sink your client relationships (Never, ever do that again. – Ed.) and turn word-of-mouth into a PR catastrophe it’s a failure to keep clients safeguarded from the threat of cyber-crime.

Indeed, it’s such a top-line issue the SRA has fired yet another warning shot across the bows, drawing law firm’s attention to the crucial importance of maintaining an effective cyber security strategy.

The fact is that the more a firm embraces the modern methods of practice that build a sterling reputation among clients – eDiscovery, eDisclosure and the use of multiple devices – the greater the risk.

And beware a false sense of security engendered by having given the firm’s cyber strategy a once-over. Doubtless the financial director of Olswang thought she had a pretty sound notion of IT security issues, but it didn’t stop her taking a hoax email at face value and handing over forty-two large at the apparent request of the Chief Exec (in an email which also asked her not to call him as he was busy all day. Hmm).

*If you’re not immediately thinking of this, there’s something wrong with you.

Get with the now, Grandpa

Clients these days, eh? Always got their nose up against the iPhone screen, playing Crazy Sweeties or whatever that game is, you know the one. Emailing in the dead of night, thinking they can get hold of you by Twitter, demanding information by yesterday if not sooner.

The 21st century law firm cannot hope to gain the loyalty and trust of the 21st century client without matching services to expectations. In a world in which most of us start pressing the ‘refresh’ button on the browser if an email hasn’t been responded to within 5 minutes, it’s no stretch of the imagination to expect the potential client feels much the same.

The array of methods by which a client can get in touch is fairly bewildering, and no law firm should feel obliged to try them all – but personal email addresses for each lawyer prominent on the website, a well-monitored Twitter account and a readiness to check your smartphone outside office hours (but within reason) are a baseline. Fret not, though – apps such as Kohorts will enable you to monitor all calls and texts for billing purposes.

There is of course an upside: modern comms might place a burden on firms to provide a thousand means of immediate access, but it means that elusive ‘word of mouth’ can get around the world in the time it takes to upload an Instagram shot of your lunchtime sushi.

Note: there’s no need to open a LinkedIn account because this isn’t the actual Dark Ages.

Represent

A law firm with a reputation for being wall-to-wall Harrow types with double-barrelled surnames may do very well in certain sectors – but the law firm that truly represents its potential clientele is onto a real winner.

For criminal and family firms in particular, the ability to field a lawyer who isn’t going to immediately make a client feel alienated or intimidated is a key step in building a word-of-mouth reputation.

More and more firms are cottoning on to the value of building a staff profile that reflects the diversity of the world beyond the office doors. Over at Mayer Brown an apprentice scheme is looking to do just that.

The six-year initiative will run in partnership with the University of Law, and is specifically intended to draw candidates from ‘a range of backgrounds’, not just those traditionally associated with getting ahead in the legal profession. The role will be advertised via organisations such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity London.

Because, let’s face it, no-one really wants to enter their lawyer’s offices and be reminded of this sort of thing.

Reputation

“How may I live without my name?” cries the hero of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible* as he heads off to his doom – and what goes for a tragic 17th century figure goes for law firms, too. Once a reputation has been thoroughly trashed, enticing clients back over the threshold is one hell of a task.

Even if you don’t actually wind up in the slammer – like Andrew Taylor, currently serving a four year term for stealing £600k from elderly clients and spending the money on antiques and prostitutes – once word gets round a lawyer is rude, obstructive or unprofessional the clients will go up in smoke.

Rather more encouragingly, building a reputation as a reliable, professional and approachable firm is by no means impossible. In addition to attending to a day-to-day practice ethic which is professional and competent, firms demonstrating a commitment to ethical practice do maintain a good profile.

And it’s not just the preserve of the larger firms with money to spend – as the Gazette recently pointed out, it’s the smaller firms that are devoting themselves to pro bono work, which not only helps build the skills of the lawyers involved, but does much to spread word-of-mouth about a firm’s ethics and expertise.

For the braver lawyer, picking the kind of hobby that lands you on prime-time telly might be seen as the ultimate bit of personal PR. Father and son solicitors Laurie and James Neale of Birmingham recently reached ninth place in Britain’s Got Talent, purveying the kind of saccharine stylings likely to put you in a diabetic coma.

Let’s hope someone’s collecting that all-important data on the effect a brush with Simon Cowell has on a firm’s ability to attract new clients.

*Yeah I did it for GCSE, so what?

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