Throughout the legal industry, concerns that traditional forms of client acquisition aren’t as effective as they used to be are no longer being ignored. Unfortunately, with the all-encompassing nature of the internet, standing out from the crowd isn’t as easy as it used to be. When you consider how much bigger ‘the crowd’ has become, it’s not difficult to understand why.
In our recent report, 96% of legal professionals said they feel that professional services firms need to embrace proactive digital marketing strategies in order to get ahead (Source: Propero Partners’ The State of Digital Marketing in Professional Services Report, 2017).
There, I’ve said it. The two words that might dissuade you from reading any further – digital marketing. Before you tune out, let me assure you that this isn’t a lecture on why you should have a Twitter account. No, I’m here to discuss something more fundamental.
A quick Google search will show you that barristers have, thus far, more or less escaped the need for an online presence. However, this cannot and will not last.
In fact, 10 years ago many legal firms scoffed at the idea that a website could generate enquiries, a social media channel could positively influence reputation, and blogging could prove an effective way to demonstrate expertise. But today, 96% of law firms have a website, 71% use unpaid social media and 57% blog (Source: Propero). And those that took the initiative to get ahead of the curve then are now reaping the benefits.
With technology advancing at the pace that it is, it would be foolish to think that the need to adapt will bypass barristers. Change is the only constant we can be sure of, and—to apply Darwin’s theory—when adapting is survival, the forecast sure looks set: expand your reach or risk becoming extinct.
However, while cultivating a comprehensive online presence will most certainly expand your reach, it’s not the only option on the table. There are a number of ways to achieve exposure, both online and offline, and I encourage you to leverage one, if not both. The key, regardless of the medium you choose, is to maximise your biggest asset for generating new business – your reputation.
While it’s easy to assume that it will continue to put you head and shoulders above the competition because that’s the way it’s always been, there’s no escaping or ignoring the rate of technological change. The fact is, your audience is now online and if you’re not there to meet them, a competitor certainly will be.
To avoid this, it’s important to focus less on being a part of the existing conversation, and more on leading it – which, when it’s done well, becomes a self-managing PR machine. What I’m referring to specifically here is the concept of “thought leadership” and the benefit you’re afforded by becoming a thought leader.
It’s really as simple as tapping into your knowledge and practice area, and sharing experiences with your peers and beyond. It means creating a platform for yourself where you’re able to demonstrate expertise, lead conversations in your industry, and ultimately profit from the exposure.
You may choose to leverage online tools and platforms to do this—and of course, I recommend that you take it into consideration—but there are a number of other methods that barristers can and should take advantage of that require little, if any, online commitment.
One of the best ways to become established in front of a new, wider audience is to speak at events. While first impressions aren’t everything, speaking from a position of authority helps demonstrate to clients that you live in their world and have a keen understanding of the complexities they face.
But don’t just wait for keynote invites to land on your doorstep. Be proactive in getting your opinions heard. You can nominate yourself to speak at events for example – organisers are always on the lookout for interesting speakers to lead engaging presentations that add real value.
Host your own event
If this is your first time entertaining the idea of hosting your own event, it may seem like an unwieldy task at first glance – but it doesn’t have to be. Informal gatherings with short keynotes glean great results in the legal industry (in fact, I’ve held and overfilled a number of breakfast and drinks events for legal clients around London).
Hosting one small gathering with carefully-selected delegates quarterly takes the pressure off you to fill and deliver successful, one-off summit-type events. It also means you’re able to maintain contact with those who attend, and stay top-of-mind until they require your services.
Marketing tip: keep overt self-promotion to a minimum as it could be construed as bias. Invite a guest speaker who either complements or challenges your ideas as this will open up conversations among attendees and negate the idea that you’re simply there to plug your own services. For their time, delegates expect to walk away with new knowledge – not feel as though they’ve just been sold to.
Writing for respected publications
Gaining recognition from other established thought leaders is the best way to become verified as a credible source in the thought leader community.
The best thought leadership programs repurpose content and leverage several channels to reach their target audience. This means actively seeking out opportunities to co-create content with other thought leaders, or contribute to respected industry publications and platforms in the form of digital magazines, blogs, webinars and podcasts (online), and print newspapers, magazines and books (offline).
It’s important to be mindful of the fact that certain legal industry cultures are still resistant to online publishing. However, if you’re able to pursue digital exploration without restriction, you might consider starting your own blog.
A blog is easy to manage, and strategically-written posts can help deliver a consistent number of visitors to your content. Blogging is also a highly effective way to attract and build organic, engaged audiences – another factor to consider when ranking yourself for popularity against competitors.
If you’re already building a network of prospective clients, you should consider releasing a monthly email to maintain regular contact with them, as it helps you to stay top of mind (much like blogging).
Market intelligence is just one component of a powerful thought leadership strategy that will add value to your email communications. Analysing and sharing relevant market insights shows your audience that you are aware of the issues that matter most to them. Similarly, offering commentary or predictions on new and breaking issues does well to demonstrate that you not only keep up with what’s happening in your industry, but that you have the skill to communicate your knowledge and insight.
Get maximum mileage for your content by recycling and repurposing topics and subjects. For example, turn notes from an event you’ve hosted into email content. This helps you reach beyond the four walls your event took place in, with little extra effort from you.
There’s little question that thought leadership is one of the best ways to increase the reach and influence of your reputation. For instance, if done well, it has the power to help you develop existing and prospective relationships with clients.
Like most barristers, you likely rely on your reputation to attract new clients and secure more instructions. But, considering the part technology now plays in each of our lives, being where your prospects are when they’re next in the market for your services (whether that’s online or offline) is now non-negotiable.
While expanding your reach is a step that you may still be hesitant to take, it’s time to give serious thought to what the client of tomorrow actually looks like, and where you need to be to get in front of them.
James Noble, Senior Partner at Propero Partners
number: 020 3369 6844