How ‘Sticky’ is Your Area of Practice: Effects on Marketing & Firm Management
Attorneys and law firms make up one of the most competitive industries globally, regardless if their firm is consumer-facing, serves businesses or both. Therefore promoting a law firm with marketing strategies and advertising campaigns usually requires thorough investment and careful planning in order to compete effectively.
Some areas of law are more competitive than others, marshaling a higher, average cost per acquisition to sign up new clients. Each firm will have different marketing strategies and expenses depending on its business model and areas of law it serves. Having a deeper understanding of the marketing effects based on your firm’s model and areas of law can make significant differences in terms of cutting costs and yielding more predictable channels for leads and intakes.
One critical business and marketing concept to understand is the ‘stickiness’ of your practice. This can have a profound impact on your firm’s earning and, in some cases, flip the way you think about promoting your practice on its head.
What is Stickiness in terms of Business?
Stickiness is the amount of repeat, continued business or organic referrals (i.e. word of mouth) that a business has based on the nature of its products or services. Stickiness can be applied at different levels in business and industry. Before we look at how it applies to a law firm, let’s get a better understanding of stickiness.
Stickiness in Branding & Advertising
In order to know how stickiness works, marketers and advertisers position brands as the go-to for a specific product or service. So much so, that it becomes part of our culture and vocabulary rather than merely one of many products or services in a category. This occurs when we use brand names in language, rather than the descriptive name of the product.
Coke / Coca-Cola
Stickiness in Products & Services
Stickiness also exists at the product level as well. Apple is a great example of a business model that relies on stickiness. If you have an Apple Watch, for instance, you certainly have an iPhone, since it doesn’t function without it. People who have an iPhone are more likely to have other products by them as well, such as a computer or iPad. Their products are designed to talk and connect with each other. Furthermore, once you’re accustomed to the Apple ecosystem, your less likely to switch away. Therefore, when it comes time to upgrade a device or computer, it’s easier to just stick with what’s already familiar to us.
There are many examples of stickiness, but hopefully, the concept is clear to you by now. The question is, how does this apply to a law firm?
Applying Stickiness to Law Firms
There are several angles where stickiness can apply to law firms and solo practitioners. Without much additional effort on your firm’s part, the most powerful source of stickiness for your law firm is the area of practice.
Stickiness & Areas of Law
Depending on your area of law or multiple areas, you may have already experienced stickiness through word of mouth and referral business. In North America, probably the stickiest areas of law are family law and corporate law. There are common and unique reasons why for these two areas.
With divorce and separation being so common in today’s culture and society, family law is a thriving area in terms of stickiness. For lawyers and firms practicing family law, you can expect a major source for new clients coming from word of mouth referrals. Past clients happy with their results are more likely to recommend your services to their friends and family in the event that they too need your services.
Due to such a high number of people separating from their spouses, word of mouth is a primary channel as many past clients are likely to know multiple people who have divorced (or separated) or are currently going through one. The same applies to child support, alimony and other areas of family law.
Business and Corporate law benefit significantly from stickiness as well. Many firms specializing in corporate law receive an abundance - if not the majority - of their clients through referrals and their reputation. Furthermore, businesses that require ongoing legal services are likely to retain their legal counsel long-term. Repeat and continuous business from clients can yield a large amount of a firm’s revenue streams. For instance, firms focusing on insurance defense, also experience these effects, where they handle the litigation and settlements on behalf of insurance companies.
How to Improve Stickiness
Regardless of your firm’s areas of practice and their respective, natural stickiness, there are different components that will help improve your firm’s stickiness qualities within your market. These include:
Quality of Work
Staying Top of Mind
Cross-Promoting Your Services
Referability, Quality and Customer Service
These three properties really deserve to be grouped. Referability is the quality of how referable your firm is for its legal services. This, in large part, is interchangeable with your reputation, both within the legal community and your local market in general. The better your firm’s reputation, the more word of mouth and referrals you’re likely to receive.
Your reputation and hence referability will transcend from the quality of work your firm produces as well as your approach to customer service. The difference between these two - quality of work and customer service – may seem like a subtle difference to some, but it’s critical to understand. Your quality of work is within your work product. Customer service is your consistency, communications, and the perceived level of quality of your client’s experience.
Ultimately, your referability - whether from past clients, other lawyers, professionals in other industries or a combination of them - depends on these two critical qualities. Keep in mind that any time someone refers or recommends a company to a friend or family member, they are in turn, putting their own reputation on the line through their endorsement of that good or service.
If your past clients, colleagues and others who know you aren’t certain that you’ll be able to take care of their referrals, they’re far less likely to risk their reputation and refer new business your way.
Networking and Business Development are important for opening up your referral sources. This can include lawyers outside your firm that practice areas of law your firm doesn’t. It’s important to understand that other attorneys aren’t likely to refer clients to you if they consider you (or your firm) as a competitor.
Other sources of referrals you can build through business development include professional service providers in your local market. If you’re an estate planning lawyer, then financial planners could be a strong channel for referrals. Real estate lawyers can look at networking with realtors. A personal injury lawyer, for instance, should consider networking with physiotherapists. Consider not just connecting with these professionals, but providing value to them.
Staying Top of Mind
Top of mind advertising is a commonly used term in conjunction with mass-media advertising, such as billboards, tv commercials, and other forms. However, in the context of stickiness, staying top of mind is key. Once your firm has built a good reputation and is worthy of referrals through quality work and customer service, you’ll want to stay top of mind with as many referral sources as possible.
This means finding ways to keep in touch with your referral network. You need to ensure they remember you when they have a friend, connection or someone they know that requires your legal services.
Having a strong brand presence will maximize your brand’s impressions on your clients, business partners and other referral sources throughout their engagement with your firm. You can start with small things such as investing in the signage of your brand inside and outside your office and personalizing your email signatures with your firm’s logo.
Consider the following.
How long does each client sit in the waiting area before seeing an attorney at your firm? You should have a large, prominent sign of your firm’s brand and logo on the wall across from them to make sure your brand stays top of mind with them.
As your referral network and sources grow with your practice, you’ll have less time to have in-person interactions with lawyers and past clients that help stay top of mind with them. While there are many tactics for staying top of mind, one of the cheapest and most scalable mediums can be through a newsletter; whether physical or via email.
Cross-Promote Your Areas of Practice
Let’s suppose your firm focuses on several areas of law. For this example, we’ll use personal injury and family law. Family law does well simply from referrals, such as past clients. However, your firm is investing a lot of money and effort into growing their personal injury practice.
How many of your family law clients know that your firm also handles personal injury cases? The odds are that your clients only know that you’re able to help them with the problem their having. Furthermore, you can’t expect your lawyers and staff to educate your clients on your range of service offerings either. Instead, bake it into your brand by positioning your firm such that you’re making it clear what areas of law you focus on. Write your areas of law, such as “Personal Injury & Family Lawyers” under your logo and make sure it shows up wherever your logo does. Again, this includes your interior and exterior signage, your business card, email signature, etc.
Why are we doing this?
Here, we’re trying to take a page out of Apple Computer’s books. Like we discussed at the outset if a consumer is happy with their first Apple-made product, why wouldn’t they return when they want a smartwatch or a laptop? The same goes for your firm. Unlike technology and gadgets, very few people take the time to educate themselves about the law or different areas of practice you may or may not handle. If you have a practice that experiences asymmetry in stickiness, cross-promoting can help level the effects in your favor. Use your sticky audience to promote the areas of practice you want to increase business in.
As your practice, the number of cases and reputation grows, so will the effects of stickiness. More clients may retain your services again in the future (e.g. a second divorce, separation, custody agreement, etc.). With more closed files, you’ll also have more clients referring more new business to you. Word will get around further and the effects will snowball at an increasing rate.
Managing Your Practice from Effects of Stickiness
Above, we mentioned that the momentum of stickiness would build over time and may start snowballing quickly. As these effects multiply, your firm will experience new challenges and growing pains.
Several consequences from this include having one or several star players at the firm. These are the people generating a significant number of referrals. In fact, they may become so busy that they’re billable hours have peaked and may not be able to handle more work or take on new clients.
While this is a good problem to have, your firm should be prepared to handle this surplus of work. In some cases, the problem doesn’t seem easily solvable because the lawyers getting the bulk of the referrals either don’t:
Know how to transfer new referrals to associates or partners
Trust that another associate will handle the new business
Learn to Share the Referrals
This really boils down to sales skills. Many lawyers don’t like the idea that any part of their practice involves sales. However, a critical component of most businesses involves sales or at least a sales process. In law firms, this is between the time a new lead emails or calls your firm up to the point where they sign a retainer agreement or letter of engagement. Like it or not, those two events define the bookends of a law firm’s sales process.
Part of that sales process may require the lawyer referred the work to take the initial consultation and still refer the prospective client to an associate. This requires reassuring the prospect that their colleague is up to the task.
Trust that Your Colleagues Can Handle the Work
You may notice the characteristic of referability in that latter point. Referability exists outside the firm as well as inside, among colleagues. In the situation where other lawyers at the firm lack the customer service or quality components, these are serious issues that need to be addressed. Firms can benefit greatly and experience serious growth when stickiness is channeled correctly. However, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Operations, procedures, and training should be organized and executed ahead of the growth wave in order to bring all attorneys’ and staff members’ customer service skills and work product quality up to a minimum set of standards. Once the top performers’ plates are full, it’s a little late in the game. They’re too busy to help organize the other troops then. The other thing to keep in mind is the incentive structure. If there’s no benefit for the top performers to pass on their expertise and train other associates, partners, paralegals, and case managers, then how can firm managers expect them to invest the time necessary?
If these issues aren’t handled correctly, then the effects of stickiness could end up negatively impacting a practice. Consider because you only have one or several top performers, the asymmetric quality of your firm’s work product or customer service starts hurting your practice’s reputation, referability and hence stickiness. Firms that benefit from sticky areas of law should pay special attention to their operations, performance in quality and service, far more than their marketing, to maintain or propel growth.
Stickiness can be a very powerful component of your law firm’s growth and success. In this article, we went over three things:
Understanding Stickiness: examples in other industries
How to Identify sticky areas of law and sticky referral tactics to grow your practice
Managing growth pains resulting from referrals and sticky Areas of Law
Understanding stickiness is great. Using it as a framework for growing your firm can be powerful whether your area of practice is sticky or you make your firm sticky through business development as well as building and maintaining referral sources. Finally, as the effects of stickiness snowball, make sure your practice can manage the growth and minimize negative effects. Implementing proper procedures and operations is critical to maintaining the standard of quality and service. It’s imperative for safeguarding your firm’s reputation, representing and serving your clients to the best of your abilities.
Jared Kimball is the owner and lead strategist at Zahavian Legal Marketing, a marketing agency focusing on lawyers and law firms. The agency handles everything from SEO, Web and PPC Ad needs to blogging solutions and support for law firm’s local advertising and marketing campaigns. As a long time marketer, IT consultant and programmer, he also supports law firms in their decision making for operational business functions including IT and security. He can be reached at email@example.com