Accounting for Law
Communications, Legal Suppliers

The seven things prospects really want to know before they hire a lawyer

By Jana Schilder

“I don’t know you.
I don’t know your law firm.
I don’t know your law firm’s services.
I don’t know what your law firm stands for.
I don’t know your law firm’s clients.
I don’t know your law firm’s record.
I don’t know your law firm’s reputation.
Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”*

People with a legal problem are in the market to hire a lawyer. They have an urgent need. With the help of Google search, social media, practice specialty “best lists,” professional reviews, and referrals from friends and family, prospects quickly form a short list.

Before spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on legal fees, the lawyer or law firm they hire will have a great story for each of these seven points. The lawyer or law firm will have made the “sale.”

Some of the questions about your law firm and your law firm’s services can be answered by providing useful, insightful, and accurate information in plain English—not legalese—for your web visitors.

What is the offer to your prospects, whether they are businesses or individual Canadians with a legal problem? How can you help them? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?

The answer to the question about what your law firm stands for, that’s a branding question. Branding is a way for prospects to easily remember your law firm as opposed to all others. Quality work and great service are NOT branding attributes; these days, they are a given. Branding is a process of reduction, not addition: what is the ONE thing that you want our clients to remember about your law firm? It is incredibly difficult to land on the ONE thing, as opposed to all other attributes. The essence of a brand is: what is THE one thing, above all other qualities and attributes, you stand for? The principle behind branding simple: it is way to stand out from your competition. Here is an earlier article on branding and how you can leverage it.

The question about your law firm’s clients and your law firm’s record can also be deal with on your website. Many B2B and B2C law firms have testimonials on their websites that attest to how effectively a law firm deals with its clients’ problems. A favourable decision obtained for a client can also be turned into a blog or a news release, frequently without names.

To a large degree, testimonials are not representative of all of a law firm’s clients—and you can always find a handful to say nice things about you—but a few testimonials are better than nothing.

Google reviews are better, meaning that law firm clients must write the reviews and post them, as themselves; Google doesn’t allow anonymous Google Reviews. Resist the temptation to hire a firm to put up fake Google Reviews.

In the real world, extremes are the red flags: too many negative reviews and your prospect says “Not this lawyer!” At the other end, too many gushing reviews of the kind “Walks on water and doesn’t leave footprints” are equally suspicious. Other hallmarks of fake reviews: bad grammar, strange syntax (probably from auto translation programs), and using the word “attorney” rather than “lawyer” for Canadian law firms. Putting a law firm’s reputation at risk by hiring a firm to produce fake Google Reviews is foolhardy. Plus, the Law Society of Upper Canada is cracking down on fake client reviews.

As officers of the court, lawyers should be particularly careful about trying to game the Google system to gain benefit of “Google juice” provided by Google Reviews for higher page rankings in Google search. Here is my earlier article about How Google ranks websites.

On the other hand, if you get negative Google Reviews and you are stumped, read my earlier article negative reviews.

The law firm’s reputation rests in the professional discipline called public relations. Public Relations has four goals: 1) to establish, 2) to promote, 3) to protect, and sometimes 4) to salvage the reputation of a law firm. Public relations is not a sales tool; many lawyers mistakenly believe that public relations is a sales tool. In other words, get interviewed and quoted and the phone will ring off the hook with clients. While that does happen, the reality is: its more complicated than that.

It is certainly true that public relations is more affordable than advertising; it makes your dollars go farther. Lawyers who want to build a reputation are better off hiring a public relations professional rather than running Google Ads.

Importantly, because public relations is a reputational tool, a reputation cannot be bought. At any price. How do you build a reputation? By doing and saying important things. Standing up for what is right. Explaining things to prospects in English. Being helpful. A reputation must be earned the old-fashioned way: slow and steady. Here’s my earlier article on the value of public relations.

Public relations is more Art than Science. Public relations professionals know a lot of producers, editors, and reporters. Most public relations professionals are pretty good writers. And they are good visually: they understand what makes a great photograph, video, and what type of prop you should bring to a TV interview to make your point.

Most important of all, public relations professionals know how journalists think, and what is and isn’t a story. Good public relations people help lawyers and law firms figure out what their stories are and then they pitch them to the appropriate media.

Your reputation is what others say about you. Your reputation gets you referrals from others. Reputation is what makes reporters, editors, and producers hunt you down for interviews. Reputation is what gets you invited to speak at conferences.


*These questions, with the original word “company” rather than “law firm” were the copy written for an ad created in 1958 by advertising executive Gilbert Morris of the Fuller, Smith & Ross advertising agency. The ad was for McGraw-Hill Publishing and made a compelling case that advertising is a precursor to sales. Some 41 years later, in 1999, was named the “Best Business-to-Business Ad of the 20th Century” by Advertising Age’s Business Marketing magazine. Here is the original ad.

Jana Schilder is a marketing and public relations expert and co-founder of The Legal A Team

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