We are living through a time that none of us has experienced. We can no longer work with our colleagues and our clients in the ways we have our entire careers. For most of us, this has made it more difficult to get work completed (and paid for). For many of us, it also means less work coming in as prospective clients put off doing their planning.
When we all left our offices in March, we thought this would be a blip that would pass in a few weeks or at most a month or two. Now, the world of social distancing seems to be an at-least semi-permanent way of life. Fortunately, it’s happening in 2020 rather than ten or more years ago. Most of our practices are already in the cloud, meaning that we can work from anywhere. We just need to adjust and figure out new systems.
For many of us, our marketing practices and systems need to be adjusted as well. We can no longer have lunch or coffee with colleagues and referral sources, attend networking events, or hold in-person seminars for prospective clients. Our contacts with clients and referral sources are less personal, making it more difficult to bond. Again, if this were just for a month or two, we would just ride it out. But if it’s going to last for a year or two, which is likely, we need to adjust.
Fortunately, as with the actual practice of law, the Internet creates many new opportunities for marketing, including these:
Your firm website can be as simple as a brochure, telling prospective clients who you are and what you do, or it can be a resource providing valuable information that draws users to it. There are two good ways to do this. First, offer information that people are likely to seek. If you’re an elder law attorney, this could be all the relevant numbers for Medicaid in your state, such the spousal resource and income amounts, the income cap if you’re in an income cap state, the equity limit for a house, and the transfer penalty amount. If your state has an estate tax, you can provide the tax thresholds and rates.
Second, provide downloadable documents. These can be explanations of various areas of the law, checklists or forms. For instance, describe Medicaid community benefits in your state, offer a checklist for personal representatives of estates, and a form that clients with children with special needs can use to create a memorandum of intent. Do some brainstorming to come up with ideas that work for you and your firm. Set up your site so that in exchange for the documents, prospective clients need to provide their names and email addresses. That way, you will be able to continue to engage with them.
While modern telephone systems certainly make it easier for staff members to work as if they’re in the office when they’re actually working from home, it can still be more difficult to transfer calls. Phone tag can be a waste of everyone’s time, and while you’re trying to get back to a prospective client, they may well have made contact with another law firm. Permitting the prospect to schedule a call-back on your website, whether from an attorney or a staff member, can diminish the phone tag and turn more prospects into clients. It also allows you to collect their contact information for further engagement and it’s operational 24/7, not just when you’re able to answer the phone. Programs such as Calendly offer this service. They may or may not be able to integrate with your calendaring system.
While the best “touches” are personal -- in person, by telephone, or by videoconference -- even prior to the pandemic it was a daunting challenge for anyone to stay in touch and “top-of-mind” with all their contacts, whether clients, colleagues or referral sources. An excellent way to do so is through regular emails or e-letters. This is why there are a number of successful businesses providing platforms for this service, including ConstantContact, MailChimp and CampaignMonitor.
The problem with these services is that you have to create your own e-letter and write your own content each month (or whatever frequency of distribution you choose). Many attorneys and law firms create an e-letter with great energy and intentions when they have some time on their hands, only to have it fall by the wayside as they get busy. Unfortunately, the success of e-letters depends on their being sent out regularly, usually once a month. It also helps if they have substantive content as well as information about your law firm.
A marketing person on staff could certainly prepare regular e-letters, but few small law firms can afford anyone in that role. Outside marketing firms also offer this service, but they can also be expensive. A number of websites offer prewritten monthly e-letters in specific topic areas, ones that you can make them your own by editing or adding your own articles. These include:
ElderLawAnswers.com – Elder law e-letter for ElderLawAnswers members only.
SpecialNeedsAnswers.com – Special needs planning e-letter for members of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.
Sender.law – Estate planning e-letter, no membership required.
Everyone’s using Zoom these days for all sorts of meetings. It, along with GoToWebinar, Webex, or other services, can be used to host your own webinars about any topic on which you have expertise and clients, prospective clients and referral sources would have interest. These can be as short as 15 minutes and as long 45 minutes; I would not go longer than 45 because attention spans are short. And in a longer webinar, I’d limit the presentation to 30 minutes, allowing the additional time for questions and answers.
Webinars can be in many formats: simply you speaking using a PowerPoint presentation, or you interviewing someone or co-presenting. You can take questions during the presentation or at the end, or include audience surveys during your presentation to make it more dynamic. Try out different formats as well as different times of the day and days of the week, to see what works best for you.
Promote your webinars on your website or through your e-letter and email announcements. You can also send out press releases to local media outlets and senior centers. If you have guest presenters, they can spread the word to their networks as well.
Podcasts are all the rage. They’re relatively easy to create: simply record and post. But, of course, the more effort you put in, the higher-quality the result. Is it worth the effort if no one listens in? We’re never going to have the polish or reach of The New York Times podcast, The Daily.
Even with a low number of listeners, it may still be worth the effort. You can promote your podcasts on your website and in your e-letters, and they give clients and referral sources a new way to access information and hear your voice. Additionally, the best strategy is to have guests on your podcasts. Interviewing them is a way to stay in touch with good referral sources, honor them by deferring to their expertise, and, hopefully, have an enjoyable time discussing a topic of mutual interest. Make sure you coach your guests in spreading the word about their podcasts to their networks.
Chatbots are software applications some businesses use to conduct online conversations with site visitors without the need for a live human agent. Some people find chatbots cheesy and don’t want them on their websites. But for others they’re a good way to engage online users, especially during off hours when they can’t reach somebody by calling the office. One company, Gideon.legal, has introduced a chatbot designed for law firm websites. Its strategy is for firms to use it to engage prospective clients, collect their basic contact information, and have them schedule a call-back. It interfaces with Outlook and Google Calendar as well as the practice management software Clio.
You Can’t Do Everything
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to bring your marketing from in-person to virtual during the pandemic and beyond. You can’t do everything. As with all marketing activities, the secret is sustainability. Most marketing efforts do not get an immediate, measurable return on investment. Instead, they build your brand, reputation, and connections over time. So pick the activities that you enjoy and can see investing the necessary time, energy and capital to make them successful.