You’re Fighting the Robots
Lawyer marketing? Do I have to?
The landscape is changing for lawyers. Getting a law degree is no longer the “Golden Pass” it once was. There are fewer jobs, and the average student debt coming out of law school is $112,000.
In a New York Times story titled, “Law Firms, Struggling Financially, Cull Partner Ranks.” Even large, powerhouse firms are demoting partners in a process called “de-equitizing” (yes, it would take a bunch of lawyers to come up with that term)or even letting them go.
An entire firm of several hundred lawyers, founded in 1848, Thacher, Proffitt & Wood, had to shut its doors because of its focus on mortgage-backed securities work (remember what happened in 2008?). In this new world, specialization can be a trap – unless you work in criminal defense.
No matter your seniority, you could be in trouble.
It’s also not the revered career path it once was.
It seems the reputation of the legal profession has been trending downward for over a decade. Things have gotten so bad that the American Bar Association even tried to highlight a 15-year old holiday, celebrating the troubled profession. Don’t believe me? It’s here.
WHEREAS, Lawyers have consistently been the target of verbal bashing, derogatory portrayals and literature are rife with lawyer bashing dated back hundreds of years. . .
SECTION 1. The first Friday of November be recognized and celebrated as “Love Your Lawyer Day”, a day for the public to celebrate lawyers and express their gratitude to them for their affirmative contributions to the public good and the administration of justice.
My guess is that even lawyers’ family members won’t be celebrating this one. But it hides a bigger problem.
As if the bad reputation wasn’t enough, some new challengers do better work at a lower cost. They don’t even need lunch or bathroom breaks. That’s because. . .
Are you better than ROSS?
ROSS is “the world’s first artificially intelligent lawyer.”
ROSS has joined the ranks of law firm Baker Hostetler, which employs about 50 human lawyers just in its bankruptcy practice. The AI machine, powered by IBM’s Watson technology, will serve as a legal researcher for the firm. It will be responsible for sifting through thousands of legal documents to bolster the firm’s cases.
Fresh-out-of-school lawyers early on in their careers, typically fill these legal research jobs.. I was one of those lawyers oh so many years ago.
Last year, an 18-year old British coder developed a parking ticket bot called DoNotPay that quickly handles ticket appeals through a Q&A chat. The bot, which is available for free online, has successfully appealed some $3 million worth of tickets, saving drivers the cost of hiring a lawyer for the appeal, which can run between $400 and $900.
Yes, I Did That Too
I’m not gloating, and I’m not your typical lawyer bashing snob. In fact, growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a lawyer. After watching my parents fight the good fight in the civil rights movement and as pioneers in the drug treatment movement, I was determined to fight for the downtrodden.
I ended up graduating from Columbia University Law School and detoured into the world of mortgage-backed securities law. I eventually righted the ship and worked as a prosecutor, chief counsel to a U.S. Senate subcommittee, and as a defense attorney. I had pretty much covered the field.
I had hit a dead end, and the world wasn’t much better off for my efforts.
I started thinking about creating a school for students from my East Harlem community who weren’t being well-served by the existing educational system. I quit my well-paying job (this wasn’t the last time) to tilt at this windmill.
Now, my law degree was going to help me pay the bills while I created this school. I worked as the field director for an afterschool program on the Lower East Side of New York (before it became gentrified) and worked as a court-appointed defense attorney.
But I still needed to market. This was before you could do business on the Internet. Because I was working night court (midnight to 8 AM), I had zero energy for figuring out the marketing. I hired two teens I had worked with in that after school program I mentioned, and gave them flyers to pass out – hundreds of them. Those flyers got me…
N.B. (I always wanted to write this!) – The school got created, and it’s now in its 23rd year and being run by my brother.
A dirty secret is that the smartest lawyers are often not the most financially successful.
What they never taught me in law school (and they’re still not teaching it, for the most part), was how to market my services. Everyone from first-year law students to partners at large firms is trying to figure out how to keep up with the business changes – changes that require marketing. still be able to network, serve your clients, and keep from getting divorced.
Attorneys also need to network, serve your clients, and keep from getting divorced.
I had to do my marketing the old-fashioned way because it was the only way available. Nowadays, there is a world of digital marketing tools that can provide a more level playing field. Don’t let te technology scare you. Virtual assistants, legal outsourcing from businesses like Pangea3, cloud-based software, etc. can become your best friends.
Lawyer Marketing – Fight Back
You may have to – GASP – stop charging by the hour and take a value-based approach to your pricing. Or you can explore something called *productized pricing* which is taking more of a hold in the freelancing world that I now inhabit.
If you’re a solo practitioner, you’re also an independent consultant. Your goal is to become a recognized authority and a trusted advisor to your clients.
Here’s a list of more specific things you can do:
• Update your LinkedIn profile.
• Update your website. Please. It can serve as your 24-hour marketing and sales team.
• Start producing content for your blog. What? You don’t have one?!
• Make sure the local directories list you correctly.
• Have an email signup form “above the fold” on your website.
• Learn some basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
• Create an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your website that addresses objections of potential clients.
• Get out and do some local public speaking.
• Write guest posts for trade publications and influential blogs.
• Develop a referral plan.
• Spy on your competition’s ads.
• Sponsor the local Little League team (and then do the follow-up PR for your generosity).
• Follow your state’s ethics rules when it comes to testimonials.
• Join your local chamber of commerce and be active.
There are also marketing firms that you can hire, but it’s hard to know what you’re getting. Having a whole lot of Facebook or Pinterest fans will not do much for your practice.