Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
For those long-ish in the tooth, it will not be the first time that they have heard news of the Law Society launching an advertising campaign to promote the solicitor ‘brand’. This year’s effort – which began last week and will run for two months – promises that the public will have “380 million opportunities to see” Chancery Lane’s adverts in newspapers, various modes of public transport, televised cricket matches and online.
In previous years the Law Society has brought us the likes of the somewhat-derided “My Solicitor, My hero” adverts and going back to 1977 (because this is not exactly a new idea) the “Mr Whatisname” campaign, which was aimed at encouraging the public to think of going to a solicitor when a problem arose.
It is, of course, easy to mock such efforts. Here’s a cutting I have from the London Evening Standard in 1996 when the Law Society was mulling over a £3 million advertising push: “Some products have ‘advertising dead loss’ plastered all over them,” it sniggered. “The Sinclair C5, the Ronco Record Selector, Neil Kinnock. And joining that illustrious list we now have solicitors.”
Advertising is an issue that has long divided the profession, but comes into sharper focus as we head towards a yet-more competitive future where brands with massive advertising budgets may well be pushing their legal services and the distinction between qualified lawyers and unqualified advisers blurs, at least in the public’s mind. So what the Law Society is doing, in principle, is very important.
Solicitors have never done advertising especially well, but the likes of marketing collective Injury Lawyers 4U, which spends millions on it, show it can be done. Speaking to solicitors who have tried television advertising indicates that it does work (although you need to have the money to put up front), and the success of the claims management industry backs that up. Radio is generally held to be the next successful, followed by print. But there is obviously a difference between advertising a “call now” claims management service or a specific firm’s services in a particular ITV region – the success of which can be monitored – and generically promoting the services of solicitors on the side of a bus.
From one point of view, what the Law Society is trying can’t do any harm (“Your solicitor, Qualified to answer” is not mockable, at least) and if the modest spend of £211,000 last year is an indication of how much Chancery Lane is laying out this time around, then relatively speaking it is not costing the profession very much. There are materials and advice on hand if firms want to embrace it, which may work more effectively on a local level, in fact.
But I wonder if the Law Society is missing a trick by taking a traditional approach such as advertising alone. There is a whole world of social media out there which it has yet to embrace – for a contrast, have a look at the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development here). I reckon that, if it were bold, the Law Society could really make some waves this way. The next generation of clients, and indeed of lawyers, communicates in a very different way to the current one.
I suspect that one significant inhibitor to such an approach would probably be the profession itself, which would quickly mock such activities too (out of ignorance as much as than anything), and previous campaigns in both England and Scotland have fallen foul of solicitors forgetting that they are not the intended target of the advertising. The problem is that the profession does not always stand idly by when it doesn’t like something. The 1977 campaign came to a shuddering halt when a disgruntled solicitor changed his name by deed poll to “Mr Whatisname”.