Three-quarters of business law firms say that an online presence has been their single most effective tactic to generate new leads in the past year.
The poll of 209 business-to-business law firms around the world, excluding the US, found they are increasingly investing in developing their online activity.
According to the research by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, most firms – a third of which were based in Western Europe (21% from the UK) and nearly a fifth each in Latin America and Canada – viewed their website as “the central component of their marketing strategy” and half had an employee dedicated exclusively to it, the study said.
Firm categories surveyed ranged from 1-20 lawyers to 100+ lawyers. A majority of smaller firms spent more than about $15,500 (£9,666) on a website re-launch, compared to more than $46,500 in the case of over 40% of the largest firms.
Offline activities accounted for about 62% of the overall marketing budgets, with 38% spent online. Most firms expected to increase their online spending in future due to its “being lower cost” and offering “better reach and more flexibility” than conventional marketing.
Nearly two-thirds felt their website was successful “in generating inbound marketing leads” and a similar number said it helped to retain existing clients. But more than a third of firms (36%) “felt that their website failed to support them in winning new business”, it said – a view particularly prevalent among smaller practices.
After naming an online presence as the single most effective tactic to generate new leads in the past year, firms also cited online legal directories/third-party content sites and search engine optimisation.
The larger the firm, the more ambitious it was for its website’s functionality, including building interactivity such as creating secure client log-in areas and integrating social media. Smaller firms, which were less likely to employ marketing professionals, were content to focus on keeping their websites simple and up-to-date, the study reported.
Overall less than a quarter (23%) currently offered secure client areas, although the figure was higher among larger practices.
In an indication that larger firms are responding to the growth in the use of mobile devices, 38% said they planned to develop a mobile-friendly website, although only 17% of smaller shared the intention.
Nearly half of all firms claimed to have incorporated social media channels into their website. Most popular was Twitter (85%), followed by LinkedIn (82%) and Facebook (62%). Many firms said they considered spending on websites and directories as equally important, the study reported. It quoted a marketing manager at a mid-sized law firm as saying: “Our website is what we say about ourselves. However, legal directories provide those independent assessments which give potential clients confidence in you.”
Generating new business was one of several marketing objectives given by the firms surveyed. Others included increasing awareness, reputation building, demonstrating professionalism, and sharing knowledge. By far the most popular website content with visitors to the sites were lawyer biographies/profiles (85%), followed by practice area or market sector expertise (52%), and articles, newsletters, case studies and so on (50%).
Most firms revamped their websites on a two or three-year cycle, although nearly one in five admitted they had not done so for at least four years. Nearly half of firms updated website content at least one a week and more than half of lawyers in smaller firms were expected to contribute, although this was more often left up to the marketing department or website manager in the larger firms.
In conclusion, the study’s authors said: “The legal profession is undoubtedly a more competitive landscape, with new market entrants and technology already driving major changes in the acquisition of new business and approaches to client retention. Face-to-face contact and traditional offline methods will always be part of the marketing mix for law firms, but most recognise the growing importance and benefits of using online marketing to help achieve new business goals.
“Use of relevant content on law firm websites and other online destinations will not only help to produce leads more cost-effectively, insights gained from data will enable marketers to adapt specific campaigns and test new approaches more quickly to achieve the best possible return on investment.”