Many personal injury law firms fail to understand what potential clients are looking for and are wasting their marketing budgets as a result, according to research published today by First4Lawyers.
While more than two-thirds of solicitors polled by First4Lawyers believed that clients shopped around before choosing a lawyer, the reality – as shown by a survey published recently by the Legal Services Consumer Panel – was that only around a quarter do, highlighting the importance of a good first impression.
Recommendation from family and friends, as well as having a local office and a quality mark, did not rank as highly with clients as lawyers thought – “surprisingly” most solicitors did not think that online searches are that important, although PI lawyers (15%) were nearly twice as likely to think they are the main route to finding a firm than other lawyers (8%).
Qamar Anwar, First4Lawyers’ managing director, warned that firms were making “a big mistake” in underestimating the importance of online searches.
“It’s the best-quality enquiry out there,” he said. “Our own statistics show that a contact that’s come from search engine marketing activity is more likely to convert into a live lead than from any other form of marketing.”
The research also showed that too many firms are making decisions based on gut instinct or anecdote, rather than data and hard evidence: only half of PI focused firms surveyed analysed the performance of their marketing in the previous quarter or year when making spending decisions – which has not changed since the last survey in 2017 – with only 25% of PI firms driven by competitor analysis.
Some 40% of firms have already cut their marketing budgets because of the pandemic, while 19% of PI firms have made marketing staff redundant (compared to 11% of general consumer firms), with another 12% planning to.
A bullish 17% of PI firms – double the number of general consumer firms – increased their marketing spend instead.
PI firms were significantly more likely than consumer firms to have changed their marketing tactics in recent months (41% versus 29%), with an overall focus on more coronavirus-related marketing, as well as increased specialist digital content and marketing new ways to deliver services, such as virtual consultations.
The report – Choosing a lawyer: What drives consumers?  – warned that buying habits may well have changed for good as use of the internet to buy goods and services accelerated during lockdown.
This is against a broader policy background of regulators wanting to make it easier for legal services consumers to compare providers and shop around online.
The report identified four key principles it says law firms should adopt in marketing themselves: Be transparent, show brand personality, build trust and reputation, and be accessible.
Mr Anwar said: “It is clear that the PI market is only going to get more competitive – if next year’s whiplash reforms push firms out of low-value RTA, then there are going to be even more eyes turning to other areas of PI.
“Add in the regulatory pressure to encourage consumers to shop around and getting them just to look at you in the first place is only going to get harder.
“There are 10,500 law firms in England and Wales and plenty of them do PI. To consumers, law firms largely look the same. So, if you are going to attract new clients, you need to be smart, strategic and stand out from the crowd.”
He argued that firms were wrong to reduce their marketing spend because of the impact of Covid-19 – First4Lawyers upped its investment during lockdown.
“This is the time to invest,” he said. “It’s when times are good that you take it easy – Amazon stopped advertising during lockdown because the market played into its hands, and restarted when shops began reopening.
“You don’t have to invest millions or hundreds of thousands, but you do have to monitor the data closely.
“Your marketing budget can disappear very quickly without achieving the desired results if you’re not careful. And even if it appears to be delivering, are you sure that you are making every pound work for you?”
To watch a recording of a Legal Futures webinar held today outlining the main findings of the research and a panel discussion of the implications, email: email@example.com