By having the benefit of reviewing legal firms around Australia every week, I get to see what really goes on in firms.  When it comes to marketing, firms think they are marketing, but what they are doing is pouring money, time and energy down the drain.  And they’re the firms that think they are marketing.

Most firms openly admit that they don’t do any marketing.  So how do these firms make any money?  Fundamentally, they are still enjoying the benefits of their reputation, and in reality, the hard work they did when they kicked off in business.

Remember back to when you became a principal, either in your own firm or as part of an existing firm.  What you focussed on was marketing.  Marketing is the activities that get the message about your product out there to your target market so that you can make a sale.  Yes, PRODUCT and SALES.  Don’t hide from it, you are a business, you SELL a PRODUCT.  Marketing is the link.

You had lunches, you advertised, you ran seminars, you worked a referral network, you wrote articles, you visited clients and asked for work or referrals.  You were marketing.  Yes, it was exhausting, because you had to balance the time between marketing and doing the work, but it got results.  Eventually, the work started rolling in the door, and your marketing activities became less.  Your day was filled with doing the work, so you put on another fee earner, either a paralegal or junior lawyer, which meant you had another mouth to feed.  So you did a bit more marketing, got in a bit more work, but eventually the revenue line plateaued.  And that is where most firms are today.  A relatively flat revenue line, with what seems to be the only way to grow it is by putting on more fee earners.  But what if the work doesn’t come in?

The irony is, that when you actively implemented a marketing strategy, your revenue grew, but when you focused on doing the work, the revenue flattened.  And this is where the disillusionment with marketing starts.  Firms feel the only way to grow revenue is by spending large amounts of money and time on marketing.  How wrong they are.  New revenue is generated from consistent activities directed towards a target market, calling them to action.  But more on that later.  Take a look at the Legal Firm Marketing Cycle diagram below:


DAY 1 – We open the doors, we become a senior associate or principal, we think: “How am I going to generate revenue?”

HUNGER – This is the period when we actively implement marketing actions to bring in revenue.  We are hungry.  The activities are usually quite disorganised and even reactive at times where we are doing lots of different things to create enquiry that ultimately will turn in to revenue.  Clients generally have a pulse, except for estate planning administration work, and we grab what we can to bill what we can.  Eventually, we start to pick up better clients, open better files, and bill more.  But it’s hard work.  Hard to balance the time between marketing and doing the work.

FRUSTRATION – whilst this period of the revenue cycle commences whilst your revenue is still growing, you aren’t aware of what’s ahead.  It generally kicks off when you start employing fee earners.  The revenue keeps growing, so you put people on, but because you have more mouths to feed, you end up having to balance your time between, delegation and supervision, working on files yourself, managing administration issues, fixing fee earner work that they think they have completed.  Before you know it, you’re a slave to the desk. Focussing on charging 6 hours a days so you can pay the bills, which includes the fee earners you hired, and your revenue starts to flatten out and remains this way until you do something different.  You are FRUSTRATED!

GROWTH – Now it’s time to do something different.  In the Growth phase for firms, they once again start developing and implementing marketing activity, however, instead of it being an unstructured, disorganised, highly time consuming activity, it becomes a purposeful, structured and predictable core business process that is the foundation of business growth.

So why doesn’t marketing work?  The main reason is that principals don’t understand the role marketing plays in their firm.  They think that if you “do marketing” new work will fall out the other end.  What they don’t realise is that marketing is a structured process specifically designed to educate clients and prospective clients around the firm’s products (services) and calls to action clients and prospective clients to engage the firm (sales).

There are 2 types of marketing:

1. Direct response marketing; and

2. Brand awareness.

Direct response marketing is the series of marketing activities that engages the client or prospective client and calls them to action around a specific product (service).  These activities are designed to produce a specific sales outcome, i.e. revenue and cash.  The main characteristics of direct response marketing are:

  1. It’s trackable
  2. It’s measurable
  3. It targets a specific audience
  4. It makes a specific offer
  5. It demands a response

Everything else is brand awareness.  You can’t measure it, it’s often expensive in terms of time, energy and money.  Fundamentally, it is targeted towards specific clients and prospects.  It’s very generic in nature.

Why marketing doesn’t work in most firms is that most firms that “do marketing”, actually do brand awareness marketing activities, not direct response marketing activities.

Direct response marketing begins with a sales plan:

  1. What products are we going to sell?
  2. How many of these products are we going to sell?
  3. For how much are we going to sell each product?
  4. To whom are we going to sell the products?

Products and sales.  Products and sales.  Marketing is the link between products and sales.

5 dimensional strategy

Marketing doesn’t work in most law firms because it doesn’t start with a sales plan and they don’t have clear product definition.  If you analyse your revenue each year, you can categorise it into 3 distinct buckets:

1. Recurring revenue

2. Reactive revenue

3. Proactive revenue

Recurring revenue is the revenue that recurs each year from clients.  It is often in the firm of retainers, so you know the amount of revenue you will earn in a year from this source.  Unfortunately, recurring revenue is often small when looking at your entire revenue for a year.

Reactive Revenue is the revenue that you earn in a year that is initiated by the client.  In most law firms, this is a very high percentage of the revenue earned.  They don’t know when or how much is going to be earned, but it comes in each year, despite the lack of marketing activities.

Proactive Revenue is the revenue that firm generates by specific product, marketing and sales activities.  They are designed to drive increases in new clients, increases in transaction frequency with clients (matters opened per client per year) and increases in the average matter value per client.  These activities are designed to drive revenue growth.  The activities and efforts are within the control of the firms, so they can control the outcomes.  They start with a plan based on products and sales, and then develop the marketing activities to achieve the results.  They implement direct response marketing activities, supported by brand awareness marketing activities to drive the revenue outcomes.

You can rely on reactive revenue continuing, because clients have legal needs.  How well you manage the continuing relationship is critical to ensuring that your clients keep coming back to YOU to help them with their legal needs.  Strong marketing and sales activities with existing clients certainly helps with managing these relationships.

So where should you start?  Start with the path of least resistance.  Existing products and existing clients.  Your clients have already purchased from you, so they know what you can do, so start with them.  You don’t have to incur high costs to find new clients.  Work out what products your clients have purchased from you and what products they haven’t, and then develop a sales plan to engage with existing clients around these services.  Call them to action.  Use direct response marketing.

Let me take you through a simple Proactive Revenue strategy.  A commercial firm has identified that their clients’ trust deeds have not been reviewed and updated to align to current trust and tax laws.  This is a valuable service for their clients’, as an out of date trust deed might mean significant adverse consequences for them.  They identify that over the last 10 years they have settled 1,500 trusts for their clients.  In the opinion of the firm, the deeds prepared in the last 2 years are suitably up-to-date and account for 250 of the 1,500 deeds, leaving 1,250 deeds eligible for review.  They feel that an appropriate price for a deed update is $450 and have set a target of 500 deeds to update, which will result in $225,000 of revenue.  This represents 40% of the potential pool of client trust deeds.  They now have their sales plan.

  1. What products are we going to sell? – trust deed reviews and updates 
  2. How many of these products are we going to sell? – 500 
  3. For how much are we going to sell each product? – $450 
  4. To whom are we going to sell the products? – existing clients with trust deeds 

Products and sales.  Trust deed reviews and updates for $450 each.  Now that we know what we are selling and set our sales target, it’s time to design a direct response marketing plan to achieve the sales targets.

Step 1 – Identify the target market

Step 2 – determine channels to communicate to target market

Step 3 – implement marketing activities

Step 4 – call target market to action


Identify the target market

Fundamentally, this is who you are going to communicate to and ultimately call to action to buy.  In this example it is clients who we have set up a trust deed for over the last 8 years.  This is the list you know about, but are you sure that it covers off all clients.  Maybe someone who you assisted with a property lease has a trust deed that was organised by another firm.  So even though you are specifically targeting those clients that your firm has established trusts for, you should still market this to you your entire client base so that you capture those clients that are not on your sales plan.  The key outcome here is defining who, and then creating a list.  A database.  A database is the platform for your direct response marketing plan.  It ensures you are targeting the right people.

Determine channels to communicate to target market

Your channels are the mediums through which you will communicate.  They include: email, direct mail, webinars, seminars, newsletters.  You need to identify the best channels that are most likely to result in your target market watching, listening, reading and acting upon.  You must use a multi-channel approach.  With the amount of information your target market receives, you need to make sure you are directing you information at your target market across a series of mediums to maximise the probability that they will watch, listen or read what you are communicating.  Single channel marketing plans do maximise enquiry rates.

Implement marketing activities

The enquiries won’t just happen.  You need to implement.  You need content.  You must provide information to clients so that they are educated around why they need to do what you tell them they need to do, update your trust deed for $450.  If you just contact your clients and say, “You must do this”, then you reduce the probability of a sale.  If your target market has made their own decision around why they need to take an action, the sales process is so much easier and probability of sale is so much higher.  The content you provide should initially be without a call to action.  It is for education purposes only.  It outlines, in plain language, not legal speak, the importance of updating the deed, the impact of not updating, the risks, and so on.   The communications over the various channels must happen in a structured and purposeful way.  They must be consistent in terms of the message.

Call target market to action

It’s great to put all this content out there in a structured way, however, at some point, you need to call your clients to action.  You may have received some enquiries as a result of your marketing, however, you need to work on contacting all clients and calling them to action around the update.  You might do this via an email campaign directly to specific clients with the names of their trusts, where they email back to confirm.  The purpose of a call to action is exactly that, they are to give you instructions to complete the review.  Once you create the enquiries from the call to action, you can then take your clients through a structured sales process to convert the sale, open the matter, and commence work.  You may need to call them to action a number of times over different channels.  You may need to phone clients to discuss the action required get them to sign up.

At the end of the day, marketing is a structured process designed to achieve sales outcome.  Marketing doesn’t close the sale, marketing just communicates why clients need to buy your product.

Remember, if you aren’t winning the work, then you can’t do the work, so you need to systemise and structure your marketing activities so that they produce a predictable level of enquiry from clients and prospective clients to achieve sales targets.

If you want to get a different outcome, you need to do something different!

For more details on developing and implementing your revenue strategy for your firm, refer to my book, The Revenue Revolution for Law Firms.