Digital Marketing for Lawyers and Law Firms

This paper examines the foundations of a comprehensive framework for the inclusion of

electronic social media marketing in the legal profession, particularly in small to medium-sized

independent firms which often lack extensive in-house resources or large marketing budgets

versus larger multinational law firms. Whilst attitudes and budgetary justifications vary widely

across the profession, the case is being presented for the convergence of five core differentiators which form a matrix wherein the foundation for wider quantitative and qualitative analyses of social media budgeting can be assessed. I will examine each of these and conclude with a summative process that may serve as a useful blueprint for mapping a branding and marketing strategy for the initiation and sustainable expansion of a small to medium-sized legal practice’s social media presence.


As a pretext for establishing the case for a defined social media strategy,

it is imperative that the origins and basis for the term in digital marketing is discussed.

Social media has firmly entrenched itself in our personal and professional lives; however,

a search for the coinage of this term reveals spurious evidence in its origins. Jeff Bercovici,

author of the Forbes article “Who Coined 'Social Media'? Web Pioneers Compete for Credit”,

posited that the term originated in the mid to late 1990’s with internet icon America Online

(AOL), although credit is also attributed to Darrell Berry who published a paper in 1995 titled

“Social Media Spaces”. In the latter reference, concepts of “hybrid” and “augmented” realities

formed the basis of “Social Media Spaces”, in which Berry defined a cohesive structure that

DEFINING A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL MEDIA IN LAW PRACTICES 3

resonates a quarter of a century later with modern iterations of social media: “virtual and real

spaces may be integrated to form hybrid social media spaces enabling a fine-grained interaction of real and virtually-present participants, architectures and objects”.

Having introduced this paper with a theoretical grounding of social media, the task at

hand is to examine and lay a basic framework upon which social media can be implemented and assessed in the furtherance of marketing legal services and retaining client loyalty. Whilst the notion of “law as a business” and the growing emphasis upon terms such as “commercial

awareness” have gained traction in recent years, the attribution of business ideology to the legal

profession is observed largely in fields of commercial law, or within bifurcated jurisdictions

(such as England & Wales) where solicitors conduct the majority of transactional law matters as

opposed to barristers or trial lawyers. Notwithstanding these invisible lines which exist within

the legal profession, the case can be firmly made to justify a coherent approach to social media

within the broader definition of modern electronic marketing. However, before delving into the

substantive elements which define a successful social media strategy applied to the legal

profession, it is imperative to restate the core elements of any marketing strategy.

The traditional notion of the “marketing mix” was formally defined by E. Jerome

McCarthy in the 1960’s to include four elements in relation to the marketing of a product or

service; namely: product, price, promotion and place. The cliched concept of the “4 P’s” has

since become ubiquitous in marketing textbooks across all continents, with the intersection of

these four elements rooted in a business’ defined target market. Lawyers and law firms, although traditionally grounded in paradigms of tradition and lethargy to change, have adapted to inclusion of modern technology in the support of professional and work-flow efficiencies, albeit at a slower pace than most traditional service entities. Present-day social media must be both

DEFINING A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL MEDIA IN LAW PRACTICES 4


relevant and properly coordinated to achieve the goals of building trust in potential and existing

clients, as well as updated to reflect the nuances of practice areas, changes to legislation, or

variances of practice directions which translate into tangible effects for the society at large. The

ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has perhaps demonstrated the largesse of the trust-building and

educational capacities of various social media platforms, albeit in a non-linear fashion amongst

the various popular platforms. While this analytical framework does not explore the relative

merits and applicability of certain social media platforms over others, it is fruitful at this juncture to highlight that whilst all the major platforms have extensive degrees of integration that was unheard of years ago, professional platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter greatly overshadow the more informal media such as Facebook and Instagram, although many firms now have at least a minimal presence on one or more of these platforms. In most cases, law firms also integrate these media channels into the dominant website presence, search engine optimization strategy (SEO) or electronic mailing lists.

The preponderance of social media creation, management and optimization service

providers in the past decade has blurred the boundaries between marketing and targeted content creation. A random Google search using the term “social media marketing for lawyers” reveals a slew of independent social media consultants, content producers and advertising firms which either provide services to lawyers and law firms as part of their wider clientele, or much less frequently, as specialist content creators which target the niche legal sector. Accordingly, a well- structured and coherent strategy is founded upon five core elements, detailed as follows.

DEFINING A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL MEDIA IN LAW PRACTICES 5


1: Experience level and firm (brand) recognition


Brand recognition in the legal sphere is no different from any other professional or

commercial undertaking. A core facet of the social media equation involves defining

the levels of engagement, education, and attention (what the social media gurus refer

to as a “call to action”) that is the anticipated outcome of a given campaign. Newer

law firms, or those new to the competitive world of digital marketing, may find it

instructive to engage the services of a professional content creator and social media

manager, while defining the requisite key performance indicators (KPI’s) along the

lines of brand awareness (Lawyerist, 2020). While there is no single KPI that defines

success of any business, less-established or startup law firms, regardless of specialty,

will be guided by a strategy that measures data on new clients and referrals acquired

through social media channels and using such KPI’s to moderate and refine the overall

digital marketing equation.


2: Specialization


Differences in jurisdictional practices and the regulatory conduct of the legal

profession is pivotal in crafting a comprehensive social media strategy. Many new

entrants to the murky landscape of social media often enter the fray with ad-hoc

campaigns that lack follow-up, measures of engagement or return on investment (ROI)

KPI’s. In certain jurisdictions where limits upon advertising are less restrictive

(notably many U.S. states), it is a common practice for firms specializing in

negligence or real estate law (for example), to integrate social media advertising into

the broader print, broadcast and in some cases even billboard advertising. One notable

DEFINING A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL MEDIA IN LAW PRACTICES 6

specialty which lends itself well to interactive and regular informative materials is the

international arbitration and mercantile (shipping) law arena, with particular reference

to the prominence of social posts bearing the “UNCITRAL” (United Nations

Commission on International Trade Law) hashtag. Social media “tagging” (#) has

proven invaluable in this regard, by allowing posts on platforms such as LinkedIn to

be cross-linked across hierarchies by choosing the optimal number of tags and

taglines.


3: Type of social media


As mentioned previously in this article, there is no uniform alchemy to the dynamic

mixtures of various types of interactions and posts across the major platforms.

LinkedIn and Twitter are widely acknowledged as the industry leaders for professional

and authoritative content, with the former’s position being reflected in the premium

rates and subscription tiers which it offers to various levels of subscribers. While all

four major platforms are cost-free to initiate and develop a sprawling social media

presence, targeted campaigns, statistical tracking and steps to initiate calls to action

vary widely, with the highest cost factor being arguably held by LinkedIn. A firm’s

size and practice specialty weighs heavily in this aspect, with commercial law firms

opting for the LinkedIn and Twitter channels, versus family, immigration and

negligence lawyers opting for the cheaper Facebook and Instagram routes which offer

more coverage at a lower rate per click. The question here thus reverts to the

discussion on KPI’s: how likely will the 1000+ followers on Instagram translate into

DEFINING A FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL MEDIA IN LAW PRACTICES 7

measurable and actionable potential clients, versus 100 qualified and segmented

followers on LinkedIn?


4: Geographical considerations


Intrinsic geographical factors limit the scope and applicability of any type of digital

marketing, largely because the complex social media and search engine algorithms are

based on internet protocol (IP) tracking and exclusionary criteria. All platforms also

differentiate users according to the type of device being used to access particular

platforms, hence adding further levels of complexity to the process of mapping a

viable social media strategy. In simple terms, all social media advertising, posts and

Google search results are location specific. Wide variations in jurisdictional character

also apply to larger, often federalized countries. A simple example is the U.S., where

there are 50 distinct jurisdictions in addition to an overarching federal Supreme Court.

A smaller law firm seeking to expand its reach using social media must take account

of the fact that certain sponsored posts and ads will be location targeted, whereas

others (notably Tweets and regular LinkedIn or Instagram posts) will reach a larger

target market of “followers”. Anomalies to this scenario exist with practice areas such

as federal immigration law, in which an attorney practicing in any of the 50

jurisdictions can effectively ply her trade nationwide, or even internationally. A

copacetic social media strategy for an immigration law firm would thus be markedly

different from a firm engaged in civil litigation or personal injury and negligence.

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5: Type of law firm: specialized vs. full service


Again, the jurisdictional nature and common practices derived through the ages plays a

critical role in defining the broader digital strategy. Famous “boutique” law firms are

specialized, focused on referrals and networks of specialists, have smaller numbers of

lawyers and by virtue of their modus operandi, charge more competitive fees. A

natural opportunity thus arises for boutique firms to carve a niche on the social media

scene and leverage the value of community networks of professionals widely available

on LinkedIn. Full-service law firms conversely tend to range from the mid to larger

end of the spectrum and have defined marketing budgets and specialized I.T and

marketing teams to craft digital marketing collateral.


Conclusion


This paper bridges the gap between conventional marketing philosophy and the

practical nature of social media in the 21st century. A 2012 survey conducted by Lexis Nexis and

published in an Insights Paper revealed that 91% of small law firms (defined as five or less

lawyers) were already using social media strategies, compared to 86% of respondents from larger

law firms (defined as having 100 or more lawyers). The basis is squarely rooted in marketing,

information dissemination and client loyalty, however no conclusion is final without mentioning

the risks that exist in this type of technology. According to Elizabeth Colvin (2015), the intent of

any legal advertising must be explicit while preserving the confidentiality of well-founded

attorney-client relationships. In this regard, a defined social media strategy must be at the

forefront of any legal firm, utilizing the matrix approach which acknowledges that a complex

mix of variables goes into defining a viable and professionally compliant solution.

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References


Berry, D. (1995). Social Media Spaces. Retrieved from

http:// http://www.ku24.com/~darrell/hybrid1.html

Border, N. (1964). The Concept of the Marketing Mix. Extract retrieved from

http://www.guillaumenicaise.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Borden-1984_The-

concept-of-marketing-mix.pdf

Colvin, E. (2015). The Dangers of Using Social Media in the Legal Profession: An Ethical

Examination in Professional Responsibility. University of Detroit Mercy Law Review.

Retrieved from http://www.udetmercylrev.com/wp-

content/uploads/2015/07/ColvinPS.pdf

Forbes Magazine. (2010, December 9). Who Coined 'Social Media'? Web Pioneers Compete for

Credit. Retrieved from

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2010/12/09/who-coined-social-media-web-

pioneers-compete-for-credit/#ce9c55151d52

Lawyerist. (2020, April 8). Law Firm Data & Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Retrieved

from https://lawyerist.com/strategy/data-kpi/

Lexis Nexis. (2012). Insights Paper: Survey Says Small Law Firms Embrace Social Media for

New Business, Outpacing Large Law. Retrieved from

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https://www.lexisnexis.com/eMarketing_WCS_graphics/136502/Social_Media_in_Legal

_Marketing.pdf

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