A former commercial solicitor with Maclay Murray & Spens, our Operations Director Gavin Ward explains how and why effective B2B law firm online strategies can succeed in growing the client base of commercial law firms.
Every week when we’re speaking to our clients and prospective commercial law firm clients we hear statements similar to the above. It’s amazing the number of smart, modern lawyers who take the view that their business can only be generated by word of mouth and their existing reputations without an online strategy. Given the growing number of people using the Internet on their smartphones and tablets, some commercial lawyers still question how any business would or could ever come from Google or through amplifying their message and networking through the Internet as a whole. So just how accurate is this view? Can effective online business generation strategies work for a law firm that provides legal services to businesses? Where the person that would hire them is a business owner or c-suite executive (CEOs/CFOs/CIOs/Directors etc)? Do business owners really us the internet to find a lawyer?
Below I’ll demonstrate various experiences of relevant online enquiries from business owners looking for legal services, together with tips for strategies that work and interesting stats that you may not have considered before. This may be particularly useful for any in-house legal marketers within commercial law firms needing to get more buy-in from senior partners.
Online growth strategies for commercial legal practices - an interest sparked during my time in commercial legal practice
First, a tale of how I became so immersed in online business generation for law firms and businesses. Six years ago, I was coming to the end of my legal traineeship at one of Scotland’s finest commercial law firms. At that time, social media was still in its infancy. LinkedIn, in particular, looked more like a brochure/CV website than a fully functioning networking portal for professionals. And law firms generally across the UK were only scratching the surface when it came to effective online strategies.
When I started getting into legal blogging more seriously, I published a post on an international private law subject, namely issues of jurisdiction and sists (‘stays’ in English law) of proceedings. A couple of weeks later, after being picked up in Google, my post generated a call from a hotel owner in Glasgow, who was involved in a large litigation with similar issues to the ones I had covered in my writing. So, he made an online enquiry with me for commercial legal advice after reading one of my articles which had held me out to be knowledgeable in that area – a thought leader. This was one of the first main demonstrations I had of the power of the internet in generating serious business leads (you can read more about this on a blog I wrote a few years ago here).
Content marketing for business lawyers – it’s nothing new!
One of the main ways business lawyers can attract more profitable business online is through effective use of the ‘success driver’ known as content marketing. Ten or more years ago, this would have been more commonly known to lawyers and professionals as good old fashioned ‘article marketing’. As Wikipedia, one of the greatest successes of the Internet age, describes it:-
“Article marketing has been used by professionals for nearly as long as mass print has been available. A business provides content to a newspaper, possibly on a timely topic such as an article on tax audits during tax season, and the newspaper may use the article and include the business's name and contact information. Newspapers and other traditional media have limited budgets for gathering content and these articles may be used in the business section of the newspaper.”
Now, applied in an online setting, it’s more commonly called content marketing. While there is a raft of specialist techniques that can be used to have your content appearing in front of more relevant, target audiences(and thus generating profitable enquiries), it’s not that complicated a concept to understand. As we’ve said before here (at tip 3), “the father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy, noted that articles which provide useful free advice will capture 75% more readers than regular articles stuffed with sales messages. Online content marketing wasn't around in David Ogilvy's time, but the principle of providing great free content is still as relevant as ever. The way we view it is you should be ‘giving away information snacks to sell knowledge meals.’”
It’s also important to note that content marketing is just one of a number of what we call ‘success drivers’ that can help business law firms succeed online.
Do business owners/c-suite executives use the Internet?
As the founder of our company, Stephen Moore, would say at client meetings many years ago, we no longer have to prove that people buy things online. Whether that’s for online shopping, for online banking, for a professional service like a plumber or for legal services or anything else. It happens. Every day. Are business owners or c-suite executives people too? And do they have smartphones or tablets or computers hooked up to the internet? And do their assistants, who they may call upon to do research on finding a service for them, also have readily available Internet access?
While we still take the view that it’s not necessary to answer those rhetorical questions above, this piece wouldn’t be complete without looking at some of the stats proving that business clients are searching for a business solicitor through Google.
Over 300 people search Google for ‘commercial solicitor’ every month
As the following snippet from Google’s keyword planner shows, people (whether business owners or not) are searching for business lawyer terms hundreds of times per month. A search, for instance, for the iteration ‘commercial solicitor’ is made on average 320 times per month. Often, Google will show local search results even for such a broad phrase, which is unsurprising given that people tend to want local search results more than national ones for certain professional services searches, as I’ve blogged about before.
And, getting more into the ‘long tail’ of search, of which there are millions of legal services queries, here are examples of more general searches that business owners are searching for regularly:-
“The fact that they decided to meet us just from the website is astounding”
Admittedly, even while these search volumes are, collectively, in the millions for many relevant keywords and queries, consumer-based search volumes are much higher. The particularly competitive personal injury and employment law markets online will have more than 10 times the search volume as that in the commercial sector. This is to be expected, particularly given the distress-purchase nature of such searches. But even for a single good quality business client enquiry online, even in the ‘lead-in time’ is weeks or months, the value could be astronomical in comparison. One such enquiry came in for one of our clients last week. Here’s what our client had to say:-
“This will do our profile the world of good … We are over the moon about this and the fact that they decided to meet us just from the website is astounding”.
“But the bigger commercial legal work comes from tenders & in-house counsel”
Commercial solicitors would be right to point out that the bigger commercial legal work does increasingly come from tenders and from the instruction of in-house counsel. Does that mean the Internet won’t play a part? No. Having an effective online strategy allows you to be top of mind with tender panels. Having an informative and up-to-date online platform allows you to establish a position of thought leadership and opinion. Also, conversion rate optimisation best practices applied to your online channels won’t just help you convert more new visitors from search results; it will also help you convert any decision makers in businesses who have heard of you before, whether through recommendation, tender submission or otherwise. Any finalists in an invitation to tender will often be subject to scrutiny online and their websites and social media profiles will often be the first thing that gets checked, much in the same way as you wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t!) hire a new lawyer for your firm without doing background research on them online.
And do you and your lawyers connect and network with many in-house lawyers on LinkedIn? If you don’t, you won’t be amplifying your message through word of mouth as much as you otherwise could. In addition, you won’t be building as many valuable relationships through effective online networking at an early stage, even before that person’s business needs you.
Grow the online presence your firm deserves
If you take anything away from this, it should be that even if you are part of a sizeable commercial law firm, the legal services markets are no longer as secure as they used to be. As we were first writing this piece we heard the sad but unsurprising news about another well-known commercial law firm in Scotland going into administration (200 year old firm McClure Naismith). You cannot rely on business falling into your lap. And trusting word of mouth business alone without an online strategy could lead to you missing serious opportunities – opportunities that could be ending up going to your competitors, whether or not they would provide a better service.
At Moore Legal Technology, we help our clients maximise the potential of the web to help them generate the business they deserve. So we’d love to have a chat to see if we can help you too. Give us a call on 03333 442 722 and ask for Chris.
And, before I go, I’ll leave you with one further quote from Stephen Moore that sums up this discussion succinctly: “I’m a business owner. If I find a trusted business online for a service I require, I’ll be willing to hire them. Why wouldn’t you?”