Law Firm Marketing Explained

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln.


Lawyers sell counseling, not documents or outcomes. Success lies in the relationship, an experience that begins with the referral itself, is followed by vetting and only then by being represented. Significant portions of the client experience occur unbeknownst to lawyers and firms before retention and well after a file closes. Good marketing addresses every aspect of the relationship.

We believe, and our survey data continues to confirm, that the practice of law has always been and will always be a business of personal relationships.

We also believe, and our survey data continues to confirm, the development and maintenance of client and referral source relationships can be improved in most firms. It can be expanded and simultaneously made less expensive, often in terms of both out-of-pocket costs and time spent. How? By developing and consistently implementing an array of individual and institutional marketing tactics customized to a firm, tactics which are proven by the survey data.

Before Arizona Bar v. Bates ushered in modern law firm marketing 30+ years ago, the client development process in a law firm was as depicted in the following chart. (The process is depicted over time from left to right in the chart. First, a client becomes aware of your firm, the client then comprehends what your firm does, considers your firm when a need arises, and then decides to retain your firm. The higher on the scale the line is the more effective the tactic is at that point of the process.) This first chart shows the “Pre-Bates” way to build and maintain the relationships essential to the success of a professional services firm. It’s when business development was limited almost entirely to one-on-one efforts based on strong personal relationships and personally-developed name recognition.

The marketing mix available today for law firms is far more efficient. It includes adding advertising and public relations tactics, including online versions of both, to the “Pre-Bates” model. Executed properly and consistently over time, public relations and advertising tactics are the most effective and efficient way to achieve or maintain awareness and comprehension in a client, prospect or referral source. Personal selling remains critical and foundational. No amount of advertising or public relations can negotiate a fee agreement.

The next chart demonstrates the modern mix of tactics and how they relate to and support each other in the business development process for a professional services firm. It’s how firms market in the “Post-Bates” era.

Our job is to help firms identify and implement a culturally-appropriate, executable, economic mix of all four elements—sales promotion, personal selling, advertising and public relations. There is no cookie-cutter answer to what the best mix may be for your law firm. We have to take care and jointly discover— through internal and external research— an approach consistent with the firm’s reputation, one that enhances and expands key relationships and, most importantly, one that does not appear solicitous. Finally, whatever is done must be implemented at reasonable cost.

Here’s a detailed explanation of how we develop a law firm marketing plan.

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