While the legal industry continues to grow steadily overall, many lawyers and firms are struggling to expand their business. That’s because, with newly-minted lawyers entering the field every year and new firms being founded constantly, the increase in competition in law firm growth may outpace the overall growth of the sector. IBISWorld reports a total of 439,740 law firms in the US, with that number growing every year. That’s a crowded market. How can your firm effectively compete with the other 439,739?
The answer lies in embracing new approaches and technologies to effectively market your services in the digital landscape, and also use these new tools to serve your clients more effectively.
Let’s take a look at the 7 ways the fastest-growing law firms are accelerating growth and find lessons you can apply to your own. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to growing a business. But here are some ideas you and your colleagues should be thinking about.
You’ve probably given some thought to your firm’s ‘brand’ already— the specific area(s) of law you focus in, and the types of clients your firm serves. And you probably maintain a website and broader digital presence (such as Google Ads) which communicate your brand to prospective clients. That’s a good start. But if you’re not getting the results you hoped for, it’s time to go a little further. Often, law firm websites have a generic feel, with stock photos and copy that could apply to just about any other firm occupying the same niche or a similar one. But your website— and more specifically, your landing page— is in some ways the most valuable ‘real estate’ your firm owns. Don’t waste that space. Everything on your site should be aimed at communicating your brand identity and message, from the logo to the design to the copy.
Beyond website design, firms don’t always employ a focused marketing strategy that suits their niche. Are you employing the optimal SEO (Search Engine Optimization) terms? If you’re based in a specific city or region, do you have advantageous local search positioning vis a vis your competitors?
These aren’t issues that lawyers are trained to think about, or generally have the bandwidth to get up to speed on, especially because the digital marketing landscape is in constant flux, and a strategy that worked a year or two ago might not be as effective today. That’s why you should consider hiring a legal marketing agency to help clarify and expose your brand message. Here are some useful resources on finding an agency that’s right for you and why Law Firm Branding is essential:
Even the most sophisticated law firms don’t always prioritize the client experience they offer. This is a huge mistake because clients aren’t just paying for the specific legal services you’re providing them. They want the emotional assurance that they can trust you with whatever issue they’re seeking legal help with, from the moment they make first contact via email, phone, or your website. What this means varies depending on what legal areas your firm works in.
A client-centered approach begins with onboarding. For instance, if your firm focuses on family law issues or workers’ rights, and your client base tends to be people working 9-5 jobs, is there an effective way they can make first contact with you— and get a response— after hours? Likewise, if your firm is in the corporate sector, and your point of contact is a General Counsel, it’s important to make sure your onboarding process meshes with the internal processes at their company.
For further suggestions on how to make sure your firm is client-centric, view this article on Clio.
The ‘billable hours’ paradigm for law firm revenue structure is beginning to show its age. As clients become more value-conscious, they are averse to a billing system that, in their view, lends itself to padding and a lack of transparency, because few people really understand what lawyers actually do on an hour-by-hour basis and how long a given legal assignment should take. Professional services such as concierge doctors and fractional CPAs and CFOs are introducing subscription-based billing, and law firms are now doing the same.
Contrary to many lawyers’ assumptions, offering clients these kinds of services tends to complement and even increase your firm’s net billable hours rather than diminishing them. There are additional advantages as well in terms of streamlining workflow at your firm, spreading your brand message, and maintaining a consistent revenue stream. Here’s an explanation of why law firms should consider offering subscription legal services to clients, and how to get started.
For centuries, law firms have built their client base largely via word of mouth. A recommendation to a potential client from an existing or previous client is still the surest way for you to bring in new business. But even this most old-fashioned method of business development can be made more effective via technology. A gentle ‘nudge’ on your part asking clients to write a testimonial about their experience on Google, Yelp, or similar review websites can result in significantly more prospects entering your funnel of potential clients. Online networking opportunities like Clio’s Referral Network allow you to tap into a much wider network of potential clients than you can ‘IRL.’ Online management tools can also help you maintain constant contact with potential referral sources and existing clients so that you and your firm are top of mind in their awareness when they have an opportunity to recommend a lawyer to someone.
Circa 2022, many people looking for legal representation begin that process via a Google search for general information about their situation. “What should I look for in a divorce lawyer?” “How do I negotiate a commercial lease?” And so forth. Wouldn’t it be great if queries within your firm’s legal specializations and geographic area led prospective clients to your website first?
That’s why content creation can be an extremely effective method of growing your firm. Simply put, generating articles and blog posts about issues that your prospective clients will be Googling, strategically laden with SEO terms, can bring new business into your firm, because once people are on your website you have an opportunity to convert them. This has the added advantage of avoiding the kind of ‘hard sell’ that some people find distasteful when choosing a lawyer.
One important note: you’ll have stronger results if you add content to your website on a regular, consistent basis. The internet has made all of us accustomed— even addicted— to a constant flow of new content and new information. If, for instance, the blog on your firm’s website hasn’t been updated in months, prospective clients may notice and may even perceive that you are no longer in business. Outsourcing this content creation to an award-winning legal marketing agency like ONE400 is a great way to ensure a constant flow of new material without having to worry about assigning the task internally within your firm and keeping track of deadlines and posting schedules.
Whereas most of our previous suggestions are about how to grow your firm by taking advantage of new technologies, the fastest-growing firms are also using technology in innovative ways within their internal workflow. Depending on your firm, this could mean a seamless file transfer platform to facilitate client/lawyer communication, automated case management software, AI-assisted software for otherwise time-consuming tasks such as prior art searches in patent cases or depositions, and/or any number of other applications.
Here’s a guide to get you started.
More broadly, we’ve noticed that the fastest-growing law firms tend to be future-focused. They are constantly changing as the legal industry evolves, in response to changing technology and other societal trends. But it’s important to note that short-term growth by no means ensures long-term prosperity for law firms. The past decade in particular has seen the collapse of several once-mighty BigLaw firms. Often, a major contributing factor was an unexpected decline in a firm’s central practice area or overly-rapid expansion which increased operating costs without commensurate revenue gains.
Fortunately, there are many ways to expand your firm’s business without taking these kinds of risks, as outlined in this article. The keys are to stay nimble and change with the times.