In 2017, we made a set of predictions on the future of marketing for law firms. In this follow-up piece, we're going to look at these and see how close to the mark we got. We'll also look at what impact the unprecedented situation caused by Covid-19 had on them. Did it push us closer to the mark, or further away?
"Prediction is difficult, especially if it's about the future"
The quote above has been attributed to Niels Bohr, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra, depending where you look. So matters of historical fact aren't always clear either!
We'll grade our predictions as Hit, Miss or 'Jury's out'.
Lawyers will stop marketing themselves as “Lawyers” and “Solicitors"
The jury's still out on this. Most new firms do stick to traditional naming conventions (partners' names, or 'law' as a suffix). The public, however, are moving away from searching for legal terms including the words "solicitor" and "lawyer".
There are some legal services that remain synonymous with 'a lawyer' — mainly adversarial ones: Divorce, Employment and Crime, for example.
But for non-contentious matters such as Conveyancing and Private Client work, search traffic is trending away searches including "lawyer" or "solicitor" and towards more generic terms.
It's probably a little too early to declare either way on this one so we'll say the Jury is out.
Greater focus on lead nurturing & relationship management
Hit - at least anecdotally.
As the unforeseen impact of lockdown took its toll, every lead became a prisoner for law firms. In the first week post-lockdown we rolled out our toolkit and it was enthusiastically embraced by clients and prospects alike. Before Covid-19, firms had been happy to deal with a surfeit of leads and allow prospects to essentially self-qualify. In the weeks and months that followed, and as enquiries dried up, it became vital to handle every lead with diligence.
Our toolkit contains a livechat plugin, appointment software, Zoom integration and our Client Intake Software. Every firm we rolled it out to prioritise the handling of leads by senior people - often managing partners. This contradicts the natural run of things where enquiry handling is usually the remit of non fee-earning staff.
Lockdown will leave a lasting mark on how we all do business and these technologies, it would seem, are here to stay.
Lawyers will flock to trusted advisors for marketing
Another anecdotal 'Hit'
I can only speak from our experience, but this seems to be the case. We have taken on new clients and had inquiries throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.
We're also in the extremely fortunate position of having kept almost all of our customers. Indeed, feedback from our customers has been warm and positive for the insight and help we have been able to provide.
Our combination of digital marketing skills, technological nous and "can do" attitude has helped position us as trusted advisors to our clients. And, as I say, this is reflected by the fact we're still speaking to new prospects during what is a turbulent time for businesses.
Social media marketing will die out as users shut out marketing
I'm claiming this one as a hit. That said, I would be very interested to hear from anyone whose experience has been different!
A quick analysis of some well-followed law firm Twitter accounts shows several things.
We ran a quick check of law firm Twitter accounts which have been noted in other sources as law firm accounts as worth following. These are all large firms with marketing departments and the resources required to do things "right".
A quick look at the engagement levels (replies, likes and retweets) shows that each post is lucky to get more than a handful. Most are interacted with 2 or 3 times. And these are accounts with the twitter-verified "blue tick" and tens of thousands of followers!
In a world were the latest celebrity banality gets tens of thousands of engagements, it seems scarcely worth the while.
A quick spot check of the most "successful" posts shows that much of the "engagement" comes from bots, accounts with fewer than 500 followers or their social media agency!
These are large firms with big budgets and marketing departments that are producing this content already. So they might as well share it on social media. For most high street and SME firms with whom we work, it's simply not worth the effort, from a business perspective. Social media requires time and effort to be done properly, and it means investing in building relationships. It also means producing engaging content. Even firms like these who are producing insightful content can't find an audience on Twitter. If you are already producing content then perhaps Social Media isn't the best forum to share it. If you're not then perhaps there are other, more profitable ways to focus your efforts.
'Voice Search' will become commonplace...
Miss - at least as far as legal services are concerned.
That said, 65% of people use voice search for directions, and 47% use it to search for a business so there is some benefit.
At least one source is optimistic about the growth of voice search claiming:
By 2020, 50% of all searches across the internet will be voice-based.
By 2020, 30% of all searches will be done using a device without a screen.
In the US, house penetration for smart speakers was 13% in 2018 - it's predicted to rise to 55% by 2022.
As of now, voice search traffic to our law firms' websites is negligible. But, addresses and phone numbers will be pulled from the Google My Business listing, not from the site itself. This gives something of a false negative - your entire online profile is important.
...but virtual reality won’t
As we've all found, Zoom serves our remote conferencing needs perfectly well in a 2D format.
Indeed, many of us have experienced "Zoom Fatigue" following use of the technology during lockdown. (How many of your Zoom calls could have been replaced by a phone call?)
That said, the platform was invaluable for us and our clients at a challenging and uncertain time.
Its main selling point was the frictionless adoption process and ease of use. Even those not of a technological bent could install and use the software with ease. And while there were justified privacy concerns, it still felt less intrusive than Facetime.
None of the positives above apply to virtual or augmented reality. Clunky headsets and awkwardness of use consign them to the dustbin.
The Internet of things will die out..
Or at least it's a hit as far as the name goes. Vodafone this week admitted that "consumers don't know what the internet of things is"
Indeed, as with most things online and tech-related, a hegemony has emerged. The EU Commission's competition watchdog recently announced an inquiry into the "internet of things" sector.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager warned of privacy concerns from big companies themselves, and not just hackers:
“Voice assistants and smart devices can collect a vast amount of data about our habits. And there’s a risk that big companies could misuse the data collected through such devices".
She also identified the more prosaic concerns of getting the technology to actually work together - a pain many of us will have felt!
“Right now, the appliances in our homes do not need to be connected to each other. We feel free to buy the best smart speaker we can find on the market, without worrying about whether it will work with our smart lighting system. And we want to keep it that way.”
While there are valid concerns around competition, these are grander concerns than most of us have, day-to-day. All we want is for our tech to work in as pain-free a manner as possible.
Removing the need to remember passwords, connect to WiFi and set devices up makes life easier all round!
So 5 hits, a miss and a "jury's out". Not a bad record, given Niels/Mark/Yogi's cautionary statement above.
Technology and its impact on us both personally and professionally is fast-moving and dynamic. I read a comment about Lockdown recently that applies just as well to technology "the days drag, but the weeks fly".
Things might feel stable as they are, but it's only a few years since MySpace, Nokia, AoL and Dial-Up internet dominated our tech lives. Who knows what the next few years will bring...