Alyn-Weiss Survey Results: Legal marketing spending rebounds to pre-recession levels and online tactics create clients absent personal referrals for business law firms

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Alyn-Weiss' just-completed bi-annual national marketing effectiveness survey of corporate, transactional and defense firms reveals which marketing tactics work best and that firms are now spending nearly 3.5 percent of annual fee volume on business development. Also key is that online activity-- blogs, social media-- is of equal importance to traditional word-of-mouth based marketing activities

Bob Weiss

Legal marketing spending has rebounded to pre-recession levels according to a new national survey of local and regional business law firms which also reveals the most effective marketing tactics law firms are using.

Another key finding in the survey that sought to determine what marketing tactics work best and which are in decline in addition to spending patterns: law practices must effectively embrace digital promotion or they will miss being considered for desirable cases they are qualified to handle.

“On average firms reported having spent 3.4 percent of their annual collected fees on marketing and business development activities in 2013,” said Bob Weiss, president and founder of Alyn-Weiss & Associates, Inc., a Denver-based legal marketing consultancy. The 2014 Alyn-Weiss National Marketing Effectiveness Survey included responses from 117 local and regional law firms and was completed this fall. All responding firms practiced corporate, transactional and defense litigation and the average size firm had 37 lawyers.

“Coming out of the recession in 2012, firms had reported in our last survey spending just 2.3 percent of annual fee volume on marketing,” Weiss said, adding “That was down from 3.43 percent in our 2010 survey, that year being the highest percentage spent on marketing we’d ever recorded.”

The drop in 2012 was the first spending decline recorded by Alyn-Weiss since the consultancy started conducting its bi-annual survey of local and regional corporate, transactional and defense firms in 1990. In its initial 1990 survey firms reported spending just 1.45 percent of annual fees on marketing, Weiss said. Firms had gradually increased spending, even during the dot-com crash, until the Great Recession.

Analyzing the new 2014 survey results, Weiss said the data makes clear that law firms which do not employ blogging, LinkedIn, effective websites, e-alerts, online rankings and ratings directories are simply missing out on desirable work.

“The data also makes clear that you can still be successful running a firm based solely on the traditional relationship tactics used for decades-- the word-of-mouth model that includes seminars, client entertainment, trade and community group presence,” Weiss said. “However, the data makes it equally clear that some work firms are receiving comes completely as a result of online rankings, client reviews, LinkedIn, blogging and a firm’s website.”

In other words, the word-of-mouth model has competition, the online model, said Alyn-Weiss partner Amber Vincent.    

Employing a combination of the two is the most effective way to market, the survey reveals.

“For years we have said the practice of law has always been a relationship business and will always be a relationship business,” Vincent said. “The data now reveals cases come to firms whose new clients identify and vet them online completely absent a personal recommendation from a friend, colleague or other lawyer.”

That firms can develop clients fully absent a referral or prior personal or professional relationship is a shift unsurprising to younger lawyers.

“Millennials I coach understand this communication model works for a portion of the market, but it can be a leap of faith for mid-career and senior practitioners,” Vincent said. “That’s true even though the lawyers I work with tell me they or their partner recently got a case from a new client who said they found their colleague online and checked their ratings and rankings before emailing them about their matter and negotiating a fee agreement.”

In that process, Vincent said, websites are a critical. And the single most effective tactic firms employ according to the survey are firm websites, Vincent said.

Asked what tactics have brought worked to their firm directly and by referral over the past 18-24 months, 70 percent of the 117 firms in the survey said their website generated new matters.

The next most effective tactic was seminars/presentations which 51 percent of firms reported brought in cases, followed by law firm networks for 46 percent, trade and community groups 42 percent and entertainment for 31 percent of firms. Right behind those tactics came search engine optimization, emailed alerts and newsletters, LinkedIn and blogging as being most effective.

The overall firm spending percentages do not include the cost of outside marketing consultants or in-house marketers, Weiss said. “We ask firms specifically exclude marketing personnel and consulting fees because they vary so much from city to city compared to the cost of the other tactics.”

Alyn-Weiss surveyed firms of less than 100 lawyers, Weiss said, because Alyn-Weiss needs to know what works and doesn’t when it writes marketing plans, develops training and coaches lawyers at the firm they represent, those being firms competing directly with the AMLaw 250. Other questions asked in the survey include how firms govern their marketing programs, how effective firms find their marketing overall, what tactics firms expect to spend more or less time and money on in the coming year and if firms ask lawyers to record time spent on personal business development.

Weiss and Vincent present the survey results and their analysis at bar association and law firm network meetings and as a webinar to law firm marketing committees and management retreats.

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