Now that the initial shock over the global COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to wear off, it’s time to accept some cold, hard facts:
- It’s going to be with us for a longer time than we’d like
- The way different nations respond to it complicates the recovery timeline
- The biggest impact COVID-19 has is on the economy
- The economic effects will still register long after the pandemic is over
- “Normal” might never be a thing we return to
This is a time in history where the old saying is especially true: “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” We can make the same observation that “tough businesses” last as well. We’re at a point now where business is in “survival of the fittest” mode. Being fit right now doesn’t necessarily entail being the biggest or richest, but being the most creative and nimblest in adapting business strategies to this new environment.
One thing to note: Seeing as how the practice of law is inextricably tied to government at every level from the federal to the municipal, lawyers across the US are reporting disruption of normal legal business.
So, courthouses and jury trials are in a kind of limbo right now until governments sort out how to go forward. We’re pretty sure that the remote courthouse trial will be a promising strategy as soon as they have the bugs worked out of the system. Courthouses, historically resistant to “trial by Zoom,” have adapted to video conferencing and even administering oaths remotely.
If your legal business is being disrupted to this degree, take this opportunity to appreciate that the same factor is impacting your clients. You are likely getting legal queries that you’ve never had to answer before because your clients have had situations that never came up before. Harvard Law Today uses the title “Uncharted territory” on its list of updated COVID-19 stories. Meanwhile, Bloomberg turns to classical mythology metaphor in naming the issues raised by COVID-19 a “Pandora’s Box.”
The legal industry as a whole is fortunately in a good position during a crisis like this one. As the chairman interviewed by Bloomberg mentions, lawyers are usually regarded as a “commodity” appended to business. Now during a time when the most fundamental rules of business are being redrawn (sometimes in crayon), lawyers are front and center. A legal expert is just the kind of person you need to supply structure and order when chaos is all around.
The Most Important Trait for Law Firms to Market Right Now Is “Empathy”
No doubt, you’ve probably had to hold consultations already that drifted a little outside legal parameters into being a pseudo-therapy session for a panicky client. We’re seeing the bedlam firsthand across all aspects of the business world.
The most important message to convey to clients is “we’re listening.” Many law firms have put their standard operating methods on hold and switched to crisis intervention mode. Clients have expressed a need for succinct advice in a time-sensitive manner. Your firm’s content strategy could stand to adopt templates like a “living” FAQ for Coronavirus concerns. This is an updated, maintained list of information resources in response to the new kinds of problems coming up.
Similar strategies can be used for creating branded communications on other channels. Podcasts, consolidated daily newsletters, or webinars are all efficient media channels to provide the answers that the public is so desperately seeking.
Keep in mind also that your clients are in a state of information overload. They don’t need another doomsday klaxon blaring alarming headlines; they need tight, simplified, concise advice on how to navigate this environment. You might also seek to tailor a more personal response to specific industries you work with, in order to cut out unneeded noise. This might be a time to call up your client base one at a time and ask “what do you need from us to weather this situation?”
When it comes to individual clients’ business concerns, there’s bound to be three categories of industries:
- the lucky industries that aren’t impacted and are doing better than ever
- the industries which will have to change some aspects but are otherwise in good shape
- the industries that don’t have a way forward and seek to dissolve or transition gracefully
However, no business exists in a vacuum, so even the businesses that aren’t impacted directly may experience complications due to relying on some other industry or client base. The bottom line is that your law firm is in a position to provide knowledgeable support and legal counsel to businesses of every kind, regardless of whether they’re struggling or they’re doing so well that their worst problem is expanding fast enough to meet the new volume.
This is a time when heroes are made and the market will remember your firm as a voice of calm leadership when the chips were down.
Diving into Digital
The other important step that legal firms need to take is converting to a more digitally-focused world. Within law offices, the firms which are thriving are the ones who already had a top-rate IT infrastructure set in place for teleconferencing and a digitized office. Your marketing and your outreach to clients will likewise see digital media become more important than ever.
Now, we’re aware that the legal industry has to deal with slow technological progress. As we said, you’re dealing with the government. Some court systems and municipal offices might still be on the filing cabinet standard, or at best kicking along ancient mainframes from the 1950s programmed in COBOL. There’s plenty of law firms out there whose whole marketing budget encompasses a Yellow Pages listing and a few billboards by the freeway. Maybe a radio ad once a year.
But Coronavirus changes everything. Fewer people going out and more telecommuting mean less traffic driving by that billboard and fewer drivers tuning into the radio during their commute. Could these older marketing methods return fewer impressions per dollar spent? It’s something to think about. One thing is certain and has been resoundingly proven in the past few months: digital media is here to stay. If anything, COVID-19 has pushed business activity onto the Internet even when it was reluctant to go there.
Content consumption on the Internet is way up. Even the smaller websites are seeing a traffic increase. Users are browsing more and reading longer. Users are more engaged, lingering around to click on different posts within the same blog, check out their YouTube channel, and following their Twitter. The marketing mantra we need to stress for the legal industry more than ever before is “content is king.” We know that was an old cliché before, but seriously, how did you find this blog post?
Law.com concurs: focus on digital marketing, and you can come out ahead.
86% of Consumers Say They Find A Lawyer by Searching Google
You want to make sure that you have a strong digital presence so that people can find you. One of the easiest ways to establish that presence is through content marketing. The first place that people go when they have questions is a search engine. Search engine algorithms seek to find the best answers for people’s questions. They value high-quality, in-depth content and will move webpages with robust content to the top of the search engine results page (SERP). If you don’t have a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, now is the time to get one.
You can either build an in-house team with a dedicated content strategist, writer, SEO expert, and social media specialist—or retain a digital marketing agency. Both options have their pros and cons, and it’s a difficult decision to make
Spread Your Reach with Social
In addition to content and your website, a social media marketing presence is also more important now than ever. For a large chunk of the population, the world has shrunk to their little phone screen where they browse Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or YouTube day after day. The horizon of their entire world stops at the border of the glowing rectangle in their palm. You want your law firm to be there, rather than being left out. That presence may be made via social media advertising or a creative person managing your digital presence through organic social media, and likely both.
Remember, your communications must be sensitive to the times. Be empathetic to your clients always.
Refine Your Brand Identity
Once you have content anchoring your website, the next area of focus should be brand identity. What is it about your firm that makes your services unique? What are your niches and areas of specialty? To which facets of legal practice do you excel? Rather than make more fluffy statements about branding, here’s the proverbial pictures that are worth a thousand words from law firm websites we found on (guess where?)
These messages, philosophies, and calls to action are so much more effective than just the name of your firm over a stock photo of scales and a gavel. Specific pitches about your firm’s approach do much more than just empty marketing jabber “we’re passionate about our commitment to blah blah because we believe the client should come first blah blah.” Great legal branding is an art form uniting communication, understanding of clients’ needs, and the distinct capabilities that the firm offers.
Don’t think you have to copy other legal businesses. The point here is to show that there are as many kinds of law firms as you can imagine, and a specialty or niche for everyone to carve out. Even the “animal law practice” up there might not seem like the best branding until you notice he covers livestock; his “simple country lawyer” approach is probably a big hit with the agricultural sector.
Provide Answers Instead of Raising More Questions
One of the downsides to digital media is that when a bad news story goes around, it tends to multiply. It’s part of the “media circus” effect. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the bell-tolling doomsday prophets in every sector. If panic shopping causes people to horde toilet paper, more news stations scream about toilet paper shortages. When the toilet paper shortage is over, then it’s meat or bicycles. Then the crazy conspiracy theories start (link warning: not safe for sanity).
The last thing legal clients want to hear from you is another alarm going off. They have panic stories flooding in from every screen surrounding them already. Instead, they want answers, solutions, intervention, to know that the cavalry is coming. Some of us feel our grip on our faith in civilization slipping just a bit. You, as the lawyer, bring the world back to order and jurisprudence.
You can still address problems, but be sure that you never break a bad news story without concluding with a solution. For that matter, even if the news isn’t always bad, changes are occurring so rapidly in legislation and regulation that even the volume of breaking news is itself fatigue-inducing. So perhaps, your content marketing plan should be “two new solutions for every reported change.”
Along with this proactive-positive approach, share success stories as much as possible, even if they don’t happen to involve you. This is something you should be sharing through your social media channels. Anybody who finds a good idea to deal with the pandemic right now, and succeeds where thousands of others are failing, is worth attention. Beyond merely becoming a voice of optimism, sharing one clients’ victory may give a couple of other clients an idea they never thought of before.
It’s easy to see how the most obvious ideas can escape people right now. Panic does that.
How Do We Know We’re Doing the Right Thing?
Uncertainty is the enemy of business. Uncertainty makes people hesitant to spend money, which is why even in the middle of rising prices on some fronts, the global economy is still on the edge of deflation.
But let’s look at the legal industry’s marketing strategy objectively: Even before COVID-19, the world was already leaning harder on digital commerce and marketing. There isn’t really that much that has changed as far as digital marketing is concerned. Only the strategies that before would be “a good idea for some time” have become “crucial for survival” now.
As we point out above, even governments are slowly converting how cases are tried. The crisis has been a shot in the arm for an industry suffering from technology inertia. As AboveTheLaw mentions, we’ve already seen hurdles like the 2008 global recession, which served as a “dry run” for the pandemic economy. The legal industry can treat this pandemic as a “do-over” opportunity, shaping up to not just weather this storm, but be more resilient towards future storms as well. We could even see a boom in the legal sector, as the currently stalled docket gets pushed through the system followed by the new volume of legal work needing to be done as businesses recover and pandemic-proof themselves.
What if we dig in for an all-out global economic crisis and then it clears right up? What if they come out with a vaccine tomorrow and we all go back to normal next week? Will beefing up your digital marketing efforts hurt? No, in fact, it’s the kind of attention to competitive business that we should have been doing anyway. There’s no loss scenario here. Even if COVID-19 disappears tomorrow (hallelujah!), we just had Swine Flu ten years ago and Spanish Flu a century ago. There’s no telling what the next pandemic brings.
We can worry all day about trying to predict the future, but being 100% certain of the coming months and / or years is impossible. We can wring our hands and worry about the coming changes, or we can face them and accept that the imperfect response is better than no response at all. Instead of waiting until every last statistic is gathered, the business world is going to have to collectively resolve to take its best guesses. No matter what the decision’s outcome, making no decision at all is the path to closing down. When it’s all said and done, people in a time of crisis look up to decisive and firm leadership.