A lawyer’s reputation is the best advertising. This is how it should be—and, I venture to predict, how it always will be, in spite of the relatively new online lawyer marketing and social media paradigm we have before us. Whatever new thing comes our way, be it online or off, we will find ourselves as lawyers ultimately staking our practices and livelihoods on that one thing: reputation. Now, I leave it to you to consider your own reputation, and how it could be your best advertising.
But lawyer marketing isn’t going away.
As a lawyer and copywriter, I’ve found that there are three wildly different approaches to lawyer marketing. Choose one and choose wisely. Only the best has at its core a claim on reputation.
Lawyer Marketing Since Bates v. State Bar of Arizona
After two Arizona lawyers challenged the ban on advertising in the 1970s (and won), the proverbial floodgates opened. Like all of advertising, some is good. Most is bad. The writer inside me dies a little with every TV advertisement. Billboards aren’t much better. Online, at least, most lawyer marketing is “pull” marketing, meaning that consumers must search for a lawyer rather than having one stuffed down their throats on late-night TV.
The question, then, is this: What approach to lawyer marketing is best for your reputation?
Here are three:
The Vulnerable-Creature Approach
For lawyers who just want to survive, the writer Amy Leach, in her essay collection Things That Are, asks:
What do the invulnerable have to gain from invention or experiment?
The invulnerable, essentially, don’t have much to gain. Old lions are old because they’ve got staying power. Big law firms, generally speaking, fit this description. (Get too old, though, and the lion, too, will succumb.) But new lawyers and small law firms do not compete at the same level—their advertising and lawyer marketing can and should be an exercise in invention and experiment.
How else are they going to differentiate themselves?
In the lizard world, vulnerable creatures that they are, there’s the flying dragon, thorny devil, whiptail, Jaragua sphaero, chuckwalla, and so on … all of them possess quite novel approaches to survival, such as the side-flap that gives the flying dragon its namesake, or the thorny devil with a mouth so wide it can consume thousands of ants in a single sitting.
Take-away: You can get clients in the door by being different.
The Toilet Paper Approach
For those lawyers who just want to sell, consider Mr. Whipple. Mr. Whipple sold billions of rolls of toilet paper in the 1970s, when lawyer advertising as we know it today was in its infancy.
People hated Mr. Whipple.
Here’s Luke Sullivan, in his seminal guide to advertising (Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!), on how much he hated these TV advertisements:
What troubles me about Whipple is he isn’t good … He may have been an effective salesman. (Billions of rolls sold.) He may have been a strong brand image. (He knocked Scott tissues out of the number one spot.) But it all comes down to this: if I had created Mr. Whipple, I don’t think I could tell my son with a straight face what I did at the office. ‘Well, son, you see, Whipple tells the lady shoppers not to squeeze the Charmin, but then, then he squeezes it himself. … Hey, wait, come back.’
Take-away: You can get clients in the door by being cheesy.
The High Road Approach
For lawyers who want long-term success, take a look at Scott H. Greenfield’s thoughts on lawyer marketing and websites:
The internet is without question the most remarkable and useful tool of this age. Its greatest advantage is that it levels the playing field. Its greatest disadvantage is that it levels the playing field.
Greenfield argues against “empty self-promotion,” as well as things like omitting dates from websites and blogs.
Any lawyer, whether a lion or a lizard or Mr. Whipple, can say he or she is experienced, trustworthy, dedicated to achieving a just result, etc.
Take-away: You can get clients in the door by being different or cheesy, but you won’t keep them or get word-of-mouth referrals.
What you must do is advertise based on your good reputation.
Otherwise, your lawyer marketing will be as empty as Mr. Whipple squeezing rolls of toilet paper.