In our legal marketing section, we’ve talked a great deal about the mechanics and logistics of marketing for legal firms. We’ve gone over technology, talked about how Google indexes websites, brought up things like directory listings, and the importance of getting good reviews.
But we hardly ever get to talk about how to shape a marketing campaign in the first place. It’s well and good to know how to deliver a message once you have one. But the question of what message to deliver in the first place is not such a cut-and-dried proposition. Obviously, your goal is to present your firm as an attractive company to do business with and put that in front of customers.
There’s more to this than just baiting a mousetrap and waiting for a mouse, though. The law is a huge field, covering functions that unite to how nations deal with their citizens, how businesses deal with other businesses, and even how nations deal with each other, plus every other permutation of those relationships.
Most law firms are starting to get the idea that just advertising yourself as a general practitioner doesn’t help anymore. What counts is having a practice area defined so the public knows your specialty. Directories like Avvo, which we talk about in-depth here, start off with practice areas right upfront. Naturally, practice areas aren’t so rigid that you can’t have more than one, or even swap them in and out depending on the needs of the market.
Now the branding and packaging for a child custody law firm should be different from that of a trucking accident law firm. You have different skills there, different areas of the law to know. Estate planning as a legal specialty should be different from the practice area of criminal defense when it comes to packaging and branding, but not so different from being a social security lawyer. Social security and estate planning both have to deal with individual funds and their role in the future, so the two practice areas can be associated. Likewise, mesothelioma and asbestos is a practice area that can be considered a subset of personal injury work.
Constructing Your Package
Overall, your branding should communicate your firm’s promise. Your website content and your outreach help bring in potential clients. Once they get to your virtual office door on the web, your company’s brand helps convince them to do business with your firm. So to speak, it represents your business personality, helping to set you apart from the competition.
A strong brand helps build client trust, loyalty, and security. Consistent branding targets a certain demographic, the people or businesses you want to attract as clients. You might be targeting younger entrepreneurs and so you present yourself as hip and casual. You might be practicing in military law as a veteran’s rights advocate, so your branding includes a military motif. You might be practicing family law in the divorce, custody, or adoption field, so your branding communicates a caring touch, with nurturing empathy in your packaging.
In determining your law firm’s branding, ask these questions about your company’s image:
- What is your firm’s mission statement? What difference do you make in the world?
- Who is your firm’s ideal client or clients? Who do you want to see the most?
- What are your firm’s values? What is different about your practice that sets you apart?
- What is your unique value proposition? How do you communicate it?
- What is your brand’s voice? How should your clients perceive you?
For example, say you’re a personal injury attorney, something you see commonly advertised on TV and radio. You might answer the above questions:
- To help injured people get the compensation they’re entitled to
- An accident victim with clearly documented injuries that are not their fault
- We believe negligent drivers, businesses, and practitioners should be held accountable for the damage they cause
- We don’t pawn off your case to some referral, we see it through until the end, no-win / no-pay, etc.
- We’re the heavyweights who fight for you
Seriously, you’ve seen the above commercial on TV for a hundred different personal injury firms. Many of them get quite silly, with boxers and gorillas and other power motifs. Say what you will about them, but they have this branding thing down to a “T.” You don’t have to put on the same circus show, but at least put as much thought into your packaging message as they do.
Often, we’ll see an empathy ploy in small law firm branding. This is the motorcycle accident attorney who also rides a motorcycle and hangs his helmet and jacket in his office, visible in his photo. Or the elder’s rights social security representative who is himself a senior and does not hide their age. The previously mentioned veteran’s rights lawyer will be sure to let you know if they themselves served in the armed forces. The message is the same: “We understand your unique needs and struggles because we’re just like you.”
There’s nothing wrong with the empathy ploy, but be sure that it’s genuine and authentic. When it’s all said and done, your clients will usually care more about your legal expertise and track record in court. You do see more targeted empathy messaging in niche industries that are otherwise under-served. We’ve seen attorneys who specialize in agricultural law for farmers and veterinarians in the corn belt, with a website that looks like it came straight out of Green Acres. It may look silly to us, but it’s a huge hit with the locals.
One final option is location-based branding. This is easy to forget on the great World Wide Web, but it matters if an attorney is local to your area. So, adding your state outline to your logo, your state flag to your website, or other location-based branding isn’t out of the question. Usually, you see this in a law firm that specializes in a practice area tied to certain regions, like agriculture.
The Big Tent vs. the Narrow Specialty
Why not partner with and hire more attorneys, paralegals, and other professionals until you’re the Wal-Mart of law firms? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the big tent approach, where you get to be an all-in-one shop. The problem with the big tent is that it’s expensive to maintain a huge firm, and clients are aware of the overhead and its effect on their bill. It’s also harder to attract business from prospective clients looking for a specific niche if you don’t mention it on your site. Just as in the medical field, sometimes you want a specialist.
You could go with the boutique approach, and have a focused practice just on that specialty. You can specialize in tax accounting cases for flea circuses, more power to you. The downside on that approach is that you risk sending too much business away because it doesn’t fit your narrow specialty.
Wait, we can compromise here! What we’re getting at is that you can section off your marketing plan into discrete chunks, targeting each of your practice areas with a separate page within your website, a separate specialist profile on directories, a separate category on your content marketing blog, and so on.
Even within a focused area like “taxes,” there are cases applying to individuals, businesses, estates, 501 (c)’s, and so on. Does your business seek first to attract more individuals with tax resolution problems, or are you more interested in working for Fortune 500 corporations? Because those are two kinds of clients, and when they get to your website, they will be looking for two different kinds of professionals. You can address one or the other, or present all of that rolled together and say you take all comers. Realize that when you generalize and try to appeal to everyone, you typically weaken your messaging. Whatever approach you take, you should still have sub-sections that detail your practice areas.
Getting back into digital marketing mechanics for a minute, being more specific helps search engines find you for that specific niche. When you share exhaustive details and cover an area in-depth, it helps you boost your web page to the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Listen to Google Guru Matt Cutts explain how SEO works, as only he can.
The technical stuff is over, we promise. Let’s get back to that branding, specifically, image branding.
Can We Talk About Your Law Firm’s Graphics?
One of the reasons we marketers talk about packaging and branding is because at some point we’re going to have to bring in a graphics artist to compose the visual aspect. On that subject, there are two iconic motifs associated with the legal field which make graphics artists cringe, along with the rest of us.
This is Gavel & Scales, attorneys at law! Gavel hits things, Scales weighs things, together they fight crime! Or they help those wrongly convicted of a crime prove their innocence.
The gavel and scales motif is well-established to mean “legal practice” by now, but they’re heavily cliched. One or both of these might be part of your logo. 99Designs calls these “generic logos.” For some reason, many law firms we find have very plain, generic logos that look like they were tossed together from clip-art in Windows Paint around 1998. We might guess that many law firms hang up their virtual shingle, slap their name around a gavel or scale, and then they’re too busy working to update their website logo… for about twenty years.
The problem with generic logos is that they don’t say anything different or unique about your business. Now we get it, you still have to use a recognizable symbol to efficiently represent an idea, and the legal profession doesn’t have many symbols to choose from for such an abstract field. We understand that some symbols are the only choice, which is why computer apps still use a floppy disk for a save icon (such icon usage is called a “skeuomorph“).
But when it comes to branding a legal practice website, we might recommend either (a) cleverly integrating the gavel or scales with something else about your practice, or (b) just doing without the legal emojis altogether and use your firm’s name in a tasteful font, which is becoming the more common style now.
Legal websites tend not to rely heavily on graphics in the first place. The most successful legal firms we see focus more on a sharply professional tone. It’s all about the content and substance, with the best style being minimalist. However, we do see a few successful firms that also stand out with some flashier branding and more updated websites.
Website Theming for Legal Practices
Theming is the unifying ideas, motifs, and styles that visually establish a brand. We see theming everywhere in business branding: restaurants visually represent the national origin of their ethnic cuisine, daycare centers decorate their signs with stuffed animals and crayons, and real estate agencies have lots of peaked rooftops in their logo.
The individual components of your brand identity will include both physical and digital assets. You can extend this theming across both electronic and printed material. Your brand image can be reflected in your website’s color scheme, font choices, typography, website layout, and your logo—the capstone to your branding strategy.
Law firms, being a prestigious white collar profession, tend to be more conservative in their themes, which is fine. You don’t want to be too goofy when you’re dealing with legal issues that can gravely impact people’s lives. WordPress themes for lawyers exemplify some common template choices, although we see our old friend Gavel & Scales there along with another visual cliché, the columns from the courthouse exterior. By default, we find the most prestigious legal websites have plain colors, spare graphics, and a small, stylish logo with just the firm’s name.
But there are exceptions. Pot Brothers at Law advertises legal help in the emerging cannabis industry, and their website breaks every rule for a legal website we’ve ever heard of. It’s hard to take them seriously, in fact, we’re not sure if this is a parody or for real. But still, branding! Remember when we mentioned the “empathy ploy” above? These guys’ website has videos which show them attending cannabis festivals and hanging out with the crowd.
Advertising to an extreme niche market may call for wild and experimental themes, but that’s a far-out exception. You’ll notice they still incorporate that gavel into the design?
Common sense will tell you that some background images are a sound choice for certain areas of practice. Think about your target audience: green makes sense for agricultural legal practices, while you may want to use blue or purple for the healthcare industry. You have to walk a fine line where you want to fit into the industry, but also stand out. When you’re developing your brand identity, it’s important to look at what your competitors are doing. If you look like every firm out there, you’ll be virtually invisible.
Most importantly, just keep it tasteful and simple. For most case scenarios, a simple WordPress theme with minimal graphics does the trick.
Deploying Your Branding: A Checklist
This is where you want to give some thought to your logo and theming. If you plan well in the beginning, you’ll have an easier time applying your brand identity to your website, digital channels, templates, stationery, signage, etc. You need to carefully design it so that it looks good on all media and at all sizes. Here are the places where your logo and general motif appear include:
- Business cards
- Brochures, leaflets
- Social media channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
- Legal directories
- Online review sites
- Your website
- Physical signs and placards
- Email / newsletters
- Advertising media
The rules for logo design favor simple one-color or two-color designs that scale well. The logo should look consistent whether it’s blown up on a billboard or printed on a business card.
The legal industry isn’t exactly the flashiest sector when it comes to brand identity and packaging. This is because the public sector still views the legal trade as a stuffy, conservative lot. By all means, law firm digital marketing could use a breath of fresh air.
We’d like to encourage law firms to let a little more of their personality show. Modern client bases can identify with a firm that has put a little more thought into its individuality. There’s no need to go overboard, but at some point, you have to look at professionals in the same pay scale in other industries who can take greater design liberties and still be taken seriously.
The legal trade is at its most competitive in this economy, which makes effective branding and strong brand messaging more important. This helps you stand out above the competition, and keep a strong digital marketing signal going out to the public. Take some inspiration from other brands you see for any product in any industry because that’s where the creative lightning sometimes strikes.
Founder and CEO
Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).