Posted by Qamar Anwar, managing director of Legal Futures Associate First4Lawyers
We recently published our eighth annual white paper and one of the benefits of this continuity is that we can track trends over a period of time.
What I can say without any doubt is that law firms have got better at engaging with both prospective and existing clients. Switched-on and savvy firms have understood how marketing is changing and are reaping the rewards.
However, our research, consisting of interviews with 100 firms, did yield some surprising results that show there remains a long way to go to instill a customer-focused culture in the law.
Reviewing your reputation
Consumers have changed significantly over the past few years, driven by technological advancement and the pandemic, and record numbers are now shopping around before choosing a lawyer.
It is astonishing, therefore, that just 37% of firms monitor online reviews – 10% ‘obsessively’, 21% ‘regularly’ and 6% ‘occasionally’ – while a similar proportion (38%) respond to them.
In both cases, this is far too small. Being proactive both limits any damage from negative reviews (and remember, responding well to a critical review can actually boost your firm’s reputation) and makes you look like a modern, consumer-focused organisation. It is not hard to set up automatic notifications for when reviews are published and it is amazing that not all of those surveyed do.
Just 27% of firms encourage clients to post reviews on a specific site, while almost as many (26%) do not use online review sites at all.
Only 17% agree that reviews boost staff morale but, as readers of last year’s white paper may recall, firms that celebrate reviews are quick to comment about the positive impact that has, even promoting friendly competition between colleagues.
Getting your marketing right
The results of the survey suggest that many firms are not sufficiently clued-up about marketing activity.
For example, I’m shocked that 63% of respondents either don’t have or don’t know if they have a mobile-first website. More than half (52%) didn’t think it was important despite, according to Google, people being five times more likely to leave a website if it is not mobile-friendly.
Just 21% are investing in their websites, which should be a continual process. If you simply create, launch and leave a site, then it is going to fail.
A recent study of the top 100 law firms’ websites by web designer Shape Works described them being “riddled with broken links”, with just 13% being completely free of them, and an average across the top 100 of 225 broken links per site. Just over half (54%) of the websites analysed were not well optimised for searches.
Marketing is often the first budget to go when there are worries about the wider economy but, as Covid showed, this can be a mistake – in the long term, it becomes more expensive and difficult to get back to where you were. While Coca-Cola slashed its advertising spend during Covid, for example, Pepsi did not and stole market share.
The focus should be on maximising what is working for you and doing more of it. Data should be at the heart of your decision making. Make sure you have the right tools in place to measure real results and not just working on a hunch or a whim.
You really need to understand not only what activities are driving in customer enquiries but also measuring which channels perform most effectively. A channel that drives the cheapest enquiries may actually be the most expensive acquisition channel if the conversion rate to client is particularly poor.
While it’s frustrating to see so many opportunities still being missed and mistakes made, there is, however, much to celebrate from our research.
Many positive changes have been made since we first asked these questions of law firms five years ago and I am very hopeful that, in another five years, we will be reporting on a market that consistently matches the long-standing quality of its advice with the quality of its marketing and customer service.