Recently, I posted a few polls about lawyers and marketing: how much time lawyers spend marketing, whether lawyers think about their personal brand, and how important lawyers consider marketing versus client service. I was trying to gather information about how much emphasis lawyers place on marketing.

There are two loudspoken minorities on the internet: First, there are the “gurus” who are generally young lawyers or have a license but never practiced law, but still think they are qualified to tell everyone else that all it takes is a Twitter account or pretty letterhead. Second, there are the “curmudgeons” like Scott Greenfield and Brian Tannebaum (who opened his new Above the Law column with a screed to this effect), who seem to think the first group is taking over the practice of law.

I disagree with the second about the significance of the first. The vast majority of the lawyers I know—young and old, new and experienced—aren’t on Twitter, don’t have blogs, and the technology in their offices went out of date five years ago. They don’t need to learn how to serve their clients, because that’s what they do all day, every day. They are so busy serving their clients that they don’t have time to think about marketing or technology. Offline, I don’t know anyone in the first group.

I wanted to find out whether the curmudgeons are right.

Results of the polls

First, our sample sizes are small, and our polls are hardly scientific, since the respondents are mostly limited to people who read Lawyerist. This means we probably can’t draw too any sweeping conclusions about the practice of law. But if the curmudgeons are right about the influence of the gurus, our poll results should show it.

On the poll of time spent marketing, over half the respondents (88 total) said they spent less than a quarter of their time on marketing. Over one third said they spend less than 10% of their time marketing.

However, 90% of respondents (36 total) to the poll on personal branding said they do think about their “personal brand.”

On the survey, 3 respondents (23 total) said they thought most lawyers emphasized marketing over serving clients. The other 20 disagreed. Only 1 respondent thought lawyers should emphasize marketing over serving clients. I’m hopeful that person will show up to defend that vote, if it wasn’t a joke or a mistake. 17 respondents did not think lawyers have to emphasize marketing over client service in order to be successful. 2 disagreed. The other 4 got to the survey before I added the last question, which I mistakenly left off at first.

“Everything is marketing”

Before I try to interpret the results, an aside.

Quite a few lawyers wanted to fight the premise of each poll. They contended—on Facebook, in the LAB, on Twitter—that everything they do is marketing. This means, as I understand it, that when a lawyer is making an appearance in court, for example, the quality of his work is an opportunity to “build his brand” and attract referrals or potential clients, depending on who else is in court. Or that when a lawyer volunteers at a soup kitchen, the same thing happens.

While it is true that being a good lawyer is highly likely to get you more business, being a good lawyer is not marketing. It is being a good lawyer. You don’t need a marketing expert to tell you to be a good lawyer; it’s just your job.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen isn’t marketing, either. Only a twisted person would spend a day helping the homeless just because it might bring in some more clients. It may have that result, but it’s a sloppy (and morally questionable) way to get there.

Marketing is not a side effect of other activity, it is an activity in and of itself.

What the results (may) mean

The results definitely do not support the curmudgeons’ view of the practice of law. If lawyers are spending 25% of their time or less on marketing, that seems entirely appropriate. Most lawyers I know spend more time doing the administrative work that goes with serving clients (timekeeping, billing, paying bills, etc.).

The vast majority indicated in our survey that they don’t emphasize marketing over client service, and that they don’t think lawyers ought to.

Depending on what you think “personal branding” means, the results of that poll are either consistent with the rest, or an anomaly. I think most Lawyerist readers understand branding to be roughly equivalent to reputation, which is something lawyers have probably considered important since the beginning of lawyering. I’m guessing at the respondents’ understanding of the term, of course, but I think emphasizing personal branding over marketing—as seems to be the case when looking at the three polls together—is consistent with the lawyers I know.

Taken together, the respondents do sound more like the lawyers I know, who aren’t starry-eyed about social media or the newest iDevice. That’s why they don’t think marketing is—or should be—the be-all and end-all of lawyering, even if they have fallen well behind the curve on marketing and technology.

It’s also possible that the crowd of marketing gurus exists, but they just don’t read Lawyerist.


  1. chris says:

    I don’t think it should be particularly shocking that general interest law websites are full of marketing and technology information. After all, that’s what we all have in common at the Lawyerist,, and throughout Twitter. My practice has very little substantively in common with someone who focuses on transactional matters. That’s why we don’t talk a whole lot about being a good lawyer here.

    Most people learn to be a good lawyer the same way they used to: CLEs, war stories, reading some books and just plain experience. We don’t need to talk about that on Twitter, and a lot of that would probably be kind of boring to the vast majority of other lawyers anyway.

  2. Karin Conroy says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re trying to find a distinction between marketing activities and the broader definition of marketing. If this is the case, most of the things you’re talking about are advertising and promotion (a small subsection of marketing). While I don’t think everything is marketing, I definitely think that marketing can be a side effect of another activity. Not all marketing objectives directly relate to a sale, as you describe in your explanation of branding. Why couldn’t working at a soup kitchen be reputation-building, networking, or supporting a certain community you advocate?

    I know I’m splitting hairs, but my point is that marketing strategy should be more complicated than just where to place a promotional ad and definitely more than Twitter + letterhead. Those “gurus” don’t get it, and neither will their potential clients.

    • Sam Glover says:

      Yes, you could call those things “also marketing.” But even if being a good lawyer had zero marketing value, you’d still have to do it.

    • On a spectrum of “extracurricular” activities for a lawyer, working at a soup kitchen is probably way at one end. Highly altruistic, not likely to be a good marketing tool, because you only interact with a few volunteers and the folks you serve are unlikely to be able to hire you. But if we move over a little on the spectrum to, say, working on a Habitat for Humanity project, there’s probably more of a potential marketing effect. You work with people all day, talk about your lives while you’re working, you talk about the work you do, etc. Depending on a lawyer’s practice area, deciding whether to take a weekday out of the office to do a project like that probably has a marketing element to it. I’m not even sure it would be “twisted” to do it more for marketing than for altruism, but I generally think that engaging in activities you don’t like is a bad idea and may be bad marketing (because you won’t enjoy it, may not fully engage, etc.).

      I volunteer quite a bit of my time to the bar association and to presenting CLEs and I loosely consider it all marketing. If “marketing” is limited to advertising and BNI networking groups, then I don’t do any marketing and my practice has grown by magic. I do have lunch and coffee with people an average of once or twice a week, but much of that is staying in touch with friends and colleagues. Is that marketing?

      I also think that being a good lawyer can be a form of marketing. Many lawyers are technically proficient and get good results for their clients but miss the opportunity for future referrals from opposing parties and counsel because they were rude during a case or didn’t make any attempt to develop any sort of relationship with the other players. If more lawyers realized the marketing potential of how they conduct their practice (without sacrificing their clients’ interests) we’d probably all be better off.

  3. Cates Law says:

    I think those firms who do not spend considerable time (or money, or effort) on marketing either don’t understand how to do it or don’t yet see the benefits of doing so. That said, like most things in life, balance and moderation.

  4. Mike O'Horo says:

    “25% or their time or less”? That’s pretty funny, I mean, the idea that 25% of a lawyer’s time dedicated to marketing is a legitimate threshold. Even if we included all the “sort of,” generous-interpretation marketing stuff people are talking about here, that number is way, way too high.

    For the past 20 years I’ve been the sales coach for lawyers of every imaginable firm type and practice specialty. Early in our collaboration, after setting goals, we set a time-investment budget that each lawyer will commit to pursuing the goal. The norm, as far as declared commitments, anyway, is 1-3 hours/week. This is supposed to be the ultraconservative, “never fall below, no matter what” number. In practice, within a week or two, most lawyers begin making excuses re: why they didn’t spend the time — or why they spent it foolishly on some marginal, even gratuitous, activity. “I got slammed with a transaction/matter/case.” “I had to be on the road.” Pick your favorite.

    I can’t say that no lawyers spend 25% of their time on business development, but I can say that, of the roughly 7000 I’ve trained personally, I’d take a large bet against it.

    Granted, with the exception of the past three, the twenty years I refer to were what many call The Golden Age of Demand for legal services, so those lawyers may have been more complacent and sanguine than they are today, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

    The irony is, if a lawyer actually did spend anywhere near 25% of his/her time developing business, and knew what he/she was doing or got experienced guidance and coaching, within 6-9 months, he/she would be one serious business-generating machine. Business development can be very simple, but no matter how simple we make it, there’s no substitute for actually doing it, and that’s where the equation always breaks down.

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