Planning for Marketing Success in 2018

December 13th, 2017

I’m not much of a self-reflection guy.  But I do make time each December to take stock of how my business performed over the past twelve months, and what my plan is for a successful new year.

For lawyers, it’s especially important to plan the upcoming year’s marketing strategies before the clock turns midnight on January 1st.  Law firms should be creating marketing budgets which reflect key changes based on the previous year’s performance.  And important decisions need to be made about what products to buy.  (For law firm marketing product reviews, click here.)

But before getting too far into marketing budget allocation for 2018, attorneys should answer some important questions about themselves and the capabilities of their firms.  Doing so will reduce the frustration associated with wasted time and dollars, while also providing peace of mind and ensuring strong returns on business development investments.

Below are those questions along with some elaboration

1.     How much of your budget will go toward direct lead generation strategies verses those designed to build brand awareness? You’re in for a tough road if you expect one type of marketing to do the job of another.

2.     What is your tolerance for worthless leads? This is one of the most ignored factors in the marketing decision-making process.  Yet, I’ve seen lawyers nearly go crazy because of the shear number of junk inquiries they receive from marketing campaigns.  Worse yet, I’ve seen some of them cancel campaigns that produce well overall because they couldn’t see past the volume of unviable leads.

3.     What is a realistic expectation of revenue generation? If you are expecting a 20 to 1 dollar return on your marketing, you better brace for disappointment.  The legal market is too competitive for that type of success in all but the best-case scenarios.

4.     How good is your intake process? If you haven’t reviewed – in detail – how prospective clients are handled from start to finish, there is no question you are losing money.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most successful law firms tend to have the worst intake.

5.     Is your online resume incredibly impressive? The best law firm clients are going to check multiple sources before making a hiring decision.  The first page of Google search results for your name needs to make you shine brighter than all other options available to that prospect.

There are no guarantees when it comes to marketing investments, but you can greatly increase your chances of success with the right plan.  And the end of the year is a great time to put your knowledge and experience to work on creating it.



Dealing with Negative Law Firm Reviews

November 21st, 2017

(This is an excerpt from my recently published book, The Lawyer Marketing Book.)



“Looking good is the best revenge.” 

Ivana Trump
Model & Business Woman


If you don’t have at least one negative online review, you will.  It’s the world we live in today and every firm needs a strategy for dealing with bad reviews.

In late 2013, I was contacted by Tom, the managing partner of a 10-attorney litigation boutique, about helping his firm improve their overall marketing direction.  I was a couple years out of my sales career and it showed, because I made a cardinal error early in our meeting.  I showed Tom a negative review someone had posted about his firm on Google.

I spent the rest of the meeting trying to regain Tom’s attention.  The negative review absolutely consumed him.  He couldn’t understand why someone would possibly write a bad comment about his firm, and he was even more distraught that the person was allowed to do so anonymously.  I could have helped Tom and his firm, but we never got that far.

Online reviews have become part of our social fabric.  That have the potential for great good, and also great abuse.  But the reality for business owners is that they must learn how to manage the issue.  Below are key takeaways and tips for doing just that:

  1. Expect to get some negative reviews. I’ve seen everything from very legitimate ones, to ones where the reviewer actually had the wrong law firm because of a similar name.  Certainly, competitors have posted negative reviews against other law firms in the past, and that won’t stop anytime soon.
  1. Don’t respond to negative reviews. Opinions vary quite a bit on this issue, with many marketers saying just the opposite.  My opinion is based on four truths:
    1. When you respond, you invite the reviewer to post even more damaging stuff about you, exasperating the problem further.
    2. When you respond, you have shown the reviewer you care, which gives them an incentive to post bad comments on many other review sites.
    3. Most bad reviews are poorly written and ooze with irrationality which will cause future readers to dismiss them.
    4. It’s much more powerful to have your positive reviews fight your reputation battle.
  1. Don’t lose sleep over it. Whether it’s a valid critique or outlandishly false, it won’t help you to dwell on a negative review.
  1. Ask the review site to remove it. It is generally not easy to have any type of review taken down by the publishing website.  However, some do have “community guidelines”, the violation of which will cause a review to be pulled down.  Usually the language must be threatening or vulgar, but it does not hurt to submit a removal request.  Keep in mind, however, that the publishing site will often contact the reviewer before removing it, which can trigger the additional problems in 2(a) and (b) above.
  1. Bury negative reviews in positive ones. If 37 out of 40 reviews about the TV you’re interested in are excellent, you will dismiss the 3 people who gave it low marks as being impossible to please.  This psychology is no different for your law firm.
  1. Don’t have staff members post fake reviews. As soon as you have to let a person go, they will have something unethical you’ve done hanging over your head.
  1. Don’t post your own positive reviews. There are some cases where review sites have sued lawyers for posting bogus reviews.  These cases are complicated, and often involve an initial lawsuit filed by the law firm, but you don’t want something like that coming out later, as unlikely as that would be.
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“I treat potential new clients bad.” Yikes!

February 18th, 2017

I had the pleasure of working with one of the Southeast’s premier personal injury plaintiff firms.  These lawyers were the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to trial attorneys… capable of delivering massive results for clients.  Notwithstanding, they were looking to reduce the millions in referral fees they paid each year and, to their credit, were willing to spend just over $16,000 per month to originate cases.

Unfortunately, their sole intake person, Allison, was responsible for way too many things at the firm.  She answered phones, sent out settlement packets, reviewed medical records, scheduled appointments, and did just about every task the firm could find for her to do.  She was also my contact for marketing strategy.

One day, after going on for more than five minutes about how overworked and underpaid she was, Allison bluntly said “Matt, I’m so busy with all the work they pile on me that I treat potential new clients bad just to get off the phone.”  Wow!  This was one of the most shocking things I’ve heard in my 18 years working with law firms.  Her employer was spending nearly $200,000 a year to bring in huge cases… and she was single-handedly sabotaging the effort.

From the perspective of an hourly employee, it is much more important to take care of the interrogatories for existing client, Mr. Johnson, than it is to talk on the phone with a prospective client no one at the firm knows.

Yet, that prospective client call is critically important and needs to receive the absolute undivided attention of the intake person.  Educating those responsible for screening new business leads is critical, and in particular the necessity that they drop everything else when new business is on the phone or email.  It’s also a very good idea to structure their workload so they have plenty of time to do an excellent job converting prospects into clients.


Always Consider Imperfect Tracking Data

November 28th, 2016

The more marketing strategies a law firm implements, the more difficult it is to determine the success of individual campaigns.  For example, a firm that has strong organic search engine rankings, runs a paid ad program, and utilizes lawyer directory top spots will find it challenging to determine the true source of an “internet client.”

Skilled intake personnel can certainly add a layer of accuracy uncommon is most firms, but lead tracking is never an exact science. There are, however, some mistakes to avoid.  One is using incomplete data to assess ROI.

A short story will illustrate.

A long-time client of mine was recently reviewing dashboard statistics from one of the top 4 lawyer directories.  This included a list of phone calls via a call tracking number as well as emails that came directly from the directory website.  Unfortunately, only a portion of the phone calls included the caller’s name.  My client said, “looking through here, I haven’t gotten anything and want to cancel.”

His analysis missed the mark in two ways.  First, he did not consider that the calls without identification info could have produced a client.  More importantly however, he failed to consider the hundreds of visitors that the vendor’s directory was sending to his website, a number we could verify independently through Google Analytics.  i.e. a potential client who started on the vendor’s website but ended up calling from the firm’s website would not be included in the vendor’s caller data.  (The number of visitors in this case was 1,200+ for the year… very significant.)

Rather than assume a program is under-performing based on some data, it’s important to recognize where tracking tools fall short.  In this instance, the client was receiving a high enough volume of visitors from the third party web property to conclude that some would result in new clients for the firm.


Educate Your Staff About the Need for New Business

October 30th, 2016

Law firm support staff often believe their attorneys walk on water.  And it’s not difficult to understand why.  The receptionist at a law firm has a front row seat to her boss’ expensive car, first class vacations to exotic places, second home on the lake, and cost of tuition at his kid’s private school.  She sees him take two hour lunches with important people similarly dressed in expensive clothes, and he sounds incredibly smart when he’s on the phone.

The last thing your staff thinks is that you need more business.  In fact, they probably believe they are doing you a favor by reducing your workload!

A true story will illustrate this point.

In my previous job, I once made a cold call on a law firm in Roswell, Georgia that focused on high end DUI defense.  When I explained to the receptionist that I wanted to speak with the attorney about “growing the practice” she simply said, “Oh lord, Pete has more business than he knows what to do with and actually just hired a new lawyer to handle some of it.”  I thanked her and left my card.

I hadn’t made it to the intersection outside Pete’s office when my phone rang.  On the other end is Pete, asking if I had a few minutes to chat.  It turned out that the receptionist was correct.  Pete was forced to hire another attorney because there was too much business for him handle.  However… there wasn’t quite enough business to keep the new attorney busy full-time, and part of the agreement between Pete and his new hire was that he would increase the clientele over the next year.

Of course, this situation happens all the time in law firms.  But it illustrates how an intake person and business owner can view the same situation very differently.  If that intake person believes the firm doesn’t need business, they aren’t going to do a very good job with prospective clients who contact the office looking for representation.

My next post will discuss how to educate law firm staff about the importance of new business.


Writing the Best Lawyer Bio

October 4th, 2016

A well-written website bio is a critical piece of a powerful online resume.  Even the most highly referred prospective client is going to check you out online, and one of the best places to find information is on your law firm’s website.  It’s also understood that the attorney controls this information, so it better be good.  Below is a piece I put together for a presentation that provides tips and examples for writing the best narrative.

Remember:  A prospective client is initially interested in only one thing…

Are you the best lawyer to represent him or her today?


Impactful bios start with who you are and what you do.  (But those openings really are telling the prospect what you can do for them.)  Examples…

Dale is a trial attorney with over 30 years of courtroom experience.

Karen represents small, medium and large businesses in complex real estate transactions.

Tom has earned a national reputation for producing strong results for clients in serious personal injury and wrongful death cases.

For more than two decades, Jennifer has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with clients facing incredibly challenging circumstances.

Bill represents insurance companies and corporations in complex cases involving coverage limitations, errors and omissions, and third party liability.

Examples of ineffective opening bio statements…

Dan graduated from the Cumberland School of Law in 2000 and joined the firm shortly after.

Sue grew up in Philadelphia and earned her undergraduate degree in journalism from Penn State, before studying law at Rutgers.

Prior to joining the firm, Sam worked at a large Dallas law firm known for handling complex real estate deals.

Important items to cover in your bio…

  • „  Experience (two decades, more than 15 years)
  • „  Awards (AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell, named to Georgia’s list of Legal Elites)
  • „  Dollar Figures (completed acquisitions totaling more than $16 million, recovered over $50M in compensation for clients)
  • „  Speaking Engagements (frequent speaker at national and local conferences)
  • „ Unique Knowledge (Prior to starting her career as a lawyer, Joan was a Registered Nurse for 8 years at the Emory University Health Care System.)
  • „  Approach (handles each case with incredible attention to detail)
  • „  Education (NEVER first… unless Harvard, Yale, Stanford.  A graduate of Harvard Law School, Reba works with…)
  • „  Clerking Experience
  • „  Significant Cases or Matters
  • „  Quote (what does helping clients mean to you)

Key Point:  Revisit your bio at least every 6 months.  It can always be improved and the chances are you have something significant to add.

Key Point II:  Keep in mind that sometimes a prospect must sell you to another person in their organization or family.  Make that task very easy for them.

Strong Bio Example:



Evaluating Law Firm Marketing Vendors

August 25th, 2016

A vendor for one of my clients recently told my client that I really didn’t know anything about their product.  They provide Google Adwords management services for consumer bankruptcy law firms.

While it’s true that sometimes I’m clueless about a vendor’s offering, I actually know more than the average marketing person about paid search engine campaigns.  At the time of this vendor’s comment, I managed PPC programs for six clients and had managed a very large one for the bankruptcy firm at the center of the discussion.   My client decided to give this company an opportunity because they had done good work for firms in smaller markets, and made some enormous ROI promises at the beginning of the sales process.

During the pre-sale conference calls, I said very little while the vendor promoted their “patented program” and proven ability to drive significant business to their customers.  We heard a lot about competition, quality scores, landing pages, and lots of other buzz words commonly associated with PPC marketing.  But there was never anything that sounded more innovative than what every other company was doing for their clients.

In the end, the program underperformed, but we had a number of conference calls during the implementation.  On these calls, it became apparent that the vendor’s knowledge was really skin deep.  I said very little.  Why?  I know what I know.  Proving to this vendor how much I know makes it more difficult for me to evaluate their capabilities.  Of course, I can understand why they interpreted my actions as ignorance and I’m okay with that.

Slow playing a vendor doesn’t have to be malicious.  It serves a purpose, which is to assess what they can really offer and deliver.  It’s fair to withhold knowledge, and can be a very effective strategy in making marketing decisions.


Most Important Question for Client Conversion

August 4th, 2016

If you aren’t asking “What are you trying to achieve?” very early in your initial consultation with a prospective client, you’re hurting your chances of converting that opportunity into revenue.  A quick story.

Years ago, I did quite a bit of work for one of the top DUI attorneys in a major market.  The results she had achieved on behalf of clients was nothing short of extraordinary, and her reputation was excellent in the legal community.  She did, however, have an incredibly difficult time converting prospects into clients.  One reason for this was her inability to identify what was most important to a prospective client early in the initial consultation.  Because she did not have that valuable information, she was unable to effectively close the loop on how she could help before she was forced to discuss fees.

(Like many experienced attorneys, she felt that after 35 years of practice she knew what clients wanted when they came to her office.  After all, what does anyone want after being arrested for DUI?  To “get out of it” of course!  Well… maybe.)

Every person who gets arrested for DUI has different things that worry them the most.  One person may be very concerned about the financial implications.  Another may need to avoid a conviction to keep their current job.  A spouse or parent may be afraid that their loved ones will find out.  Someone who believes they have been falsely accused may want to clear their name.  Another person may be claustrophobic and fears more time in jail than anything else.  If you doubt the spectrum of concerns a client may have, consider that in 2015, a well-known entertainer chose 90 days in jail over 3 years of probation.  Priorities vary!

While this example involves a criminal defense attorney, the same concepts apply in any sales process.  Knowing your prospective client’s goals gives you an incredibly powerful advantage in their decision-making process.  It’s one thing to say, “I will be happy to take your case.  My fee is $9,000.”  It’s another to say “Tom, I know how important it is for you to be able to drive your students to their mission projects during the summer months.  I’ve handled cases in the past for clients with similarly important goals, and to give you the best opportunity for success, the fee would be $9,000.




Google Adwords for Business Law Firms

September 30th, 2014

The most successful lawyers who do the most sophisticated work usually dismiss the web as a way to generate business. They believe that anything worthwhile must come from a referral, and that anything else is junk. Some of the best campaigns I’ve ever had are the result of my client’s competitors having this mindset.

Here is why referrals aren’t the only way for law firms doing complex work:

• A referral source only provides the name of the attorney they know, not necessarily the best. If I need brain surgery (likely), I can ask my primary care physician in Canton, GA who he would recommend. Maybe he knows the top brain surgeon in the country, which is who I want. But that’s unlikely. Smart potential clients recognize that they can find the very best lawyer online by running a Google search and reviewing credentials. They also understand that the great lawyer or accountant they use for one thing doesn’t necessarily know the best _________ they may need for something semi-related.

• Doing unique work is an advantage.  It’s extremely difficult to generate business for a DUI lawyer on the web. There are often hundreds of attorneys doing that type of work in the same geographic region, in addition to enormous price competition. But there are far fewer patent trade dress litigators… even nationwide. That makes the Internet a great place to gain visibility and new clients.

• Other top firms believe that the web cannot generate quality business. Their close-mindedness is something that should be exploited, not copied.

Google Adwords campaigns (aka Pay Per Click marketing) are great for firms involved in very sophisticated matters.  They provide unlimited flexibility in budget, targeting, and duration. And when done correctly, they naturally weed-out unwanted leads because ads simply don’t show for simple search phrases.  Best of all, pay per click marketers only pay when someone clicks on their ad.