Posted by Jon Hepburn, a member of Legal Futures Associate CoreLegal 
There are too many law firms chasing too little work up against aggressive new competition with huge marketing budgets… You’ve read that many times before, but what can be done to help the smaller law firms compete?
Well, to paraphrase a well-known phrase, it’s ‘reputation, reputation, reputation’. You don’t need a huge budget for this but you may need to change a few attitudes and devote some time to it.
Paying lip service to the gathering of feedback and management of your reputation is either asking for trouble or missing a great opportunity. In general, law firms are not active enough in requesting feedback or following up on those requests for feedback. Active reputation management of the whole law firm’s brand and the individual reputation of its fee-earners is vital. High street law firms need to think like retailers and manage their reputation like a hotel or restaurant.
I recently spoke with a manager of a small hotel who said that many of their staff spend on average one hour a day on ‘reputation-based’ tasks, such as requesting guest feedback, checking a new guest’s room is to their liking, making sure that meals served in the restaurant are OK, and providing printed satisfaction forms.
They’re not finished yet. At check-out time, staff ask about their stay and send online surveys to guests who stayed recently. For the hotel manager there is also the big task of checking the hotel review sites for new reviews and responding where necessary.
The cumulative effect of all the activity or inactivity can make or break a hotel and is, without question, a daily task.
Are law firms prepared to make that kind of effort? I appreciate there is a difference between purchasing legal advice and a night in a hotel, but reckon the comparison is valid. Some law firms don’t even send a client feedback questionnaire, let alone act on the results.
You may dismiss this process as collecting ‘happy sheets’ but at the very least contact with existing clients and follow-up can be a great opportunity to stay in touch.
A few observations that may be of interest:
- The public doesn’t distinguish between specialist and non-specialists lawyers. Live online chat facilities on websites, a friendly presence on social media and impactful pay-per-click advertising all blur the lines to present an attractive servicing regardless of whether or not that organisation is a specialist.
- Slater & Gordon makes full use of Trustpilot (one of the leading consumer review sites) and has “rated 9.1 out of 10” showing prominently on its website home page and on the search result descriptions.
- Reputation is not just about the quantified numbers of reviews, ranking given etc. Reviews are liked by consumers and provide a short-cut to making a decision. Despite some misgivings about how genuine online reviews are, they dominate all kinds of industry sectors. A survey last year in the US found that 79% of people trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation (up from 72% in 2012).
- ‘About Us’ pages on law firm website are often the most popular. Professional, consistent photography for all your fee-earners makes all the difference and you could use the images on LinkedIn profiles too. Is yours the best it can be? Video content here is increasingly being used by law firms to engage with potential clients more quickly.
- The influence of the internet is having a huge impact on the development (and dismantling) of reputations. Solicitor review sites have empowered consumers with the experience of others and recommendations are hugely influential.
For a law firm I believe the real value in committing to reputation-based marketing comes from measuring client feedback, benchmarking the firm against industry standards and seeking quantitative improvements that can be used in marketing messages and for compliance with outcomes-focused regulation.
Active management of the whole law firm’s brand and the individual reputation of its fee-earners is vital. Those law firms that keep abreast of reviews, their online presence and actively manage their reputation increase their chances of survival. You may just need to change a few attitudes, spend a bit of time on it – or perhaps outsource the whole process.
Every law firm should be active about their reputation-based marketing. You could have a great reputation amongst your peers, a filing cabinet full of customer testimonials and belong to various lawyer accreditation panels and associations, but if you don’t use all the tools at your disposal, competition you weren’t even aware of could pass you by.