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ABA TechReport combines data from the annual ABA Legal Technology Survey Report with expert analysis, observations, and predictions from leaders in the legal technology field. Every Monday we’ll be posting a new report from one of our experts, so stay tuned!
While the Legal Technology Resource Center’s ABA 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report on the use of technology in the legal profession was being conducted, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. hard, and as of this writing, it is continuing to disrupt business and personal operations throughout the country.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, both business and personal activities have moved online, and this trend is likely to continue. For many, it will be permanent. As a result, it is more important than ever for lawyers to make efficient use of technology and the internet not only in delivering legal services to clients but also in how they attract clients to their practice.
Law Firm Marketing Overview
According to the portion of the 2020 Survey covering websites and lawyer marketing, less than half of law firms of all sizes have a marketing budget, and only 32% of firms from 2-9 lawyers and 14% of solo respondents say their firms have marketing budgets, as compared with 63% from firms of 10-49 lawyers. Of the 46% of respondents who said they had a marketing budget, 26% said it increased last year and 11% said it decreased, while 27% stayed the same and 36% did not know.
Overall, 13% of respondents still say “no one” is responsible for marketing in their firms, including 32% of solos. Most solos (66%) do their own marketing, and over 73% of attorneys from firms of 2-8 and 10-49 lawyers say lawyers perform marketing tasks.
While 97% of respondents from firms of 100+ lawyers report having an internal marketing staff, smaller firms are much less likely to do so; only 33% of respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers, 3% of lawyers from 2-9 lawyer firms, and 1% of solo respondents report having an internal marketing team. The use of administrative staff is more common with small firms than large firms–44% in firms of 10-49 lawyers and 27% in firms of 2-9 lawyers use administrative staff for marketing tasks.
External marketing consultants are used by 19% of firms of 10-49 lawyers, 21% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers, 5% of solos, and 23% of firms with 100+ lawyers. The tasks most likely to be tackled by outside consultants are site design (36%), search engine optimization (27%), and social media (24%). 49% of respondents said their firms did not hire an outside consultant,
The leading channels for marketing across all firm sizes in 2020 were event sponsorship (48%), LinkedIn (42%), email (41%), Facebook (33%), and print (21%). Overall, respondents reported that their firms’ use of Twitter, direct mail, Avvo, Findlaw, Lawyers.com, or the Yellow Pages to market their practices was at 16% or less.
Solos reported using email (28%), LinkedIn (28%), event sponsorship (23%), Facebook (20%) as major channels. Firms of 2-9 lawyers use event sponsorship (45%), Facebook (37%), LinkedIn (35%), and email (31%). In firms of 10-49 lawyers, event sponsorship also ranked highest at 62%, followed by email at 49%.
The adoption of video as a marketing tool is slow. In 2020, only 24% of respondents said their firms use video as part of their marketing, and it is more prevalent in the larger firms; 27% of firms from 10-49 lawyers, 23% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 6% of solos report that their firms use video. 67% of those who produce videos store them on their firm’s website; 32% on YouTube, and only 3% on Vimeo, while 23% of respondents do not know where their firm’s video is stored.
The overwhelming majority of both law firms and individual lawyers do have some online presence through social media. 81% of all respondents say that their firms maintain a presence on at least one social media platform (the highest since 2016), and 77% say that they participate on at least one social media platform for professional purposes themselves.
Among those firms that do use social media, LinkedIn is still the leading platform at 76%, followed by Facebook (60%), Twitter (37%), Martindale (35%), and Avvo (22%). Reported use of Facebook and Avvo has declined over the past two years; in 2018, 63% of respondents reported their firms maintained a Facebook presence and 36% maintained a presence on Avvo.
Instagram, fast becoming one of the most popular platforms for non-professional use, sees little use by law firms–no solos report using the platform for their firms, and only 12% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers and 13% of lawyers in firms of other sizes report use.
Overall, respondents of all firm sizes are only moderately confident in their firm’s marketing efforts, rating their confidence at only a 2.9 on a scale of 1 (not at all confident) to 5 (very confident). One-third of all respondents rated their confidence at only a 1 or 2. But while firms are not particularly confident in their current marketing efforts, 39% will place the same emphasis on their marketing over the next year as they did this year, 33% will increase their emphasis next year, 7% will decrease the importance of marketing, while 21% do not know. Small firms (2-49 lawyers) were most likely to report that their firms will place more emphasis on marketing next year (41%), followed by 31% of those in firms of 100+ lawyers and 19% of solos.
Law Firm Websites and Blogs
Eighty-seven percent of respondents to the 2020 Survey report that their firm has a website. But solos still lag far behind firms of other sizes; only 59% of solos have a firm website, while over 95% of respondents in all other firm sizes report having a firm website.
According to the results, the large majority of law firms with websites include profiles of the firm’s partners (98%) and associates (73%), and close to half offer information about the cases the firms handle, including recent successes (47%) and cases of interest (44%). Overall, 56% of respondents said their firm’s website included legal articles written in-house, but only 17% of solo respondents include those articles on their sites.
2020 Survey responses indicate that content for firm websites is mainly created by one or more lawyers in the firm (75%), although some content is being created by outside consultants, internal marketing staff, or firm administrators, especially in firms with 10+ lawyers.
Fewer than 20% of all respondents’ websites contained any of the following:
- Community/charity announcements
- Paralegal profiles
- Court/administrative links
- In-house consumer guides
- Support staff profiles
- Outside legal articles
- Outside guides/forms
Sixty-eight percent of respondents indicate that their website is mobile-friendly, while only 6% say it is not, and 26% do not know. Solos are least likely (53%) to report that their site is mobile-friendly, as opposed to over 65% of lawyers in all other firm sizes. Only 40% of respondents say their websites use SSL security, and 55% do not know, including only 35% of solos and firms of 10-49 lawyers, and 43% of lawyers from 2-9 attorneys.
Among those firms that have a website, 23% report their website is primarily managed by an outside consultant, 21% are managed by one lawyer within the firm, 21% by marketing staff, 10% by firm IT staff, and 11% by firm administrators. Solos (53%) and firms with 2-9 lawyers (30%) were most likely to report that one lawyer was responsible for maintaining the firm’s website, which has remained steady since 2015.
Thirty-six percent of solos and attorneys from firms of 2-9 lawyers report using an outside consultant. Larger firms rely more on marketing staff (45%), IT staff (25%), or a firm webmaster (9%) for managing their sites. 20% of respondents from larger firms do not know who manages their firm’s website.
Five percent of respondents say their sites use live chat, but this is mostly in the smaller firms ( 7% of solos and 9% of firms of 2-9 lawyers, followed by 0% of firms with 100+ lawyers). Adversely, few solos or small firms offer clients a secure client portal on their website–only 11% of solos, 14% of respondents in firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 23% of respondents from firms with 10-49 lawyers provide this service to their clients.
Forty-four percent of respondents offer unbundled legal services through their website, and 26% say their website offers a secure client portal, including 11% of solos, 14% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 23% of firms of 10-49 lawyers.
Other services offered through lawyer websites include invoicing/bill payment (27%), messaging/communication (27%), document sharing (31%), scheduling/calendar (15%), and case status updates (15%). Surprisingly, numbers in each of these categories are the lowest they’ve been since 2017.
Thirty-two percent of respondents had clients retain them through their website, including 36% of both solos and respondents in firms of 10-49 lawyers, and 39% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers.
Since 2016, between 25-30% of respondents overall have reported that their firm has a blog; this year 27% reported their firms to have a blog. Again, solos remain the least likely, at only 6%, to have a firm blog, followed by 23% of respondents in firms with 2-9 attorneys and 29% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers, in contrast with 64% of lawyers in firms of 100+ lawyers.
Among those who report having a blog, 25% report that they have had a client retain them as a result of their blog, including 30% of lawyers in firms of 1-9 lawyers, 28% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers, 21% of lawyers in 100+ firms. 34% say no clients have retained the firm as a result of the blog and 41% do not know.
Individual Lawyer Marketing Efforts
Regardless of what their firms are doing, only a small percentage of respondents undertake marketing activities on their own, with the exception of social media. While 77% of all respondents use social media themselves for professional purposes, including 65% of solos, 76% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 83% of lawyers in firms with 10-49 lawyers, only 5% of all respondents in the 2020 Survey maintain their own legal topic blog, and only 3% produce their own videos for marketing purposes if their firm has not produced them previously.
LinkedIn is the leading social media platform among individual lawyers, just as it is for law firms; overall, 88% of all respondents maintain a personal LinkedIn presence for professional purposes. 39% maintain such a presence on Facebook and 23% do so on Twitter.
Solos and small firm lawyers use Facebook for professional purposes more often than lawyers in larger firms; 44% of solos and 50% of lawyers in firms with 2-9 lawyers report using the platform, as compared with only 38% of lawyers in firms with 10-49 lawyers (up from 26% in 2019), and 24% of firms with 100+ lawyers.
Overall, 28% of respondents reported having claimed their Avvo profile, down from a high of 33% in 2018. Those most likely to have claimed their Avvo profile were in firms of 2-9 lawyers (39%), followed by those in firms of 10-49 lawyers (33%) and solos (27%). Those that claimed their Avvo profile did so for search engine discoverability (62%), followed by advertising (37%), endorsements from other lawyers (28%), and client testimonials (27%).
Sixty-six percent of lawyers who use social media personally for professional purposes use it for career development and networking, including 48% of solos, 63% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers, 70% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers, and 80% of lawyers in firms of 100+ lawyers. Other uses for social media for professional purposes include client development (51%), education and awareness (49%), community engagement (43%), and case investigation (21%).
Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they got a client from personal use of social media for professional purposes, including 30% of solos and 33% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers.
Of those who maintain a blog, 65% use their personal legal topic blog for career development and networking, 42% to increase their sites’ ranking, and 39% do it because they enjoy writing and outreach. 46% of lawyers with their own legal topic blog report at least one client has retained them as a result of their legal topic blog, 27% say they have not obtained a client as a result of their legal topic blog, and 27% do not know.
Bridging the Marketing Gap
Based on the 2020 Survey results, it is clear that there are some basic steps that solo and small firm lawyers can take to improve their marketing in the upcoming year to help them compete in an increasingly virtual world.
Given that 37% of firms of 10-49 lawyers, 68% of firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 86% of solos do not take the time to make an annual budget for marketing, developing a marketing budget is a logical first step. Creating a marketing budget will force solo and small firm lawyers to take a more intentional approach to their marketing.
While many law firms were relying on event sponsorships as a major element of their marketing, in-person events for most of 2020–at least those being held in-person–have been canceled, as have many events scheduled to be held in early 2021. As events go virtual, firms may need to replace that emphasis with something else–and their online presence, especially firm websites, is a logical place to do it.
Although respondents indicated that they undertake their own marketing initiatives to improve their sites’ search engine rankings, for networking and client development, or to obtain client testimonials, it does not appear that law firms are placing enough emphasis on their websites–which should be the main component of their online marketing–to accomplish these same goals.
In 2020, not only does almost every American have a mobile device that they carry with them everywhere, but the pandemic has made them more reliant on these devices than ever for everything from getting groceries to seeing a doctor online. Without a website ( that is responsive to mobile devices) many law firms will not only be at a competitive disadvantage, but they will be practically invisible. And yet, over 40% of all solos still do not have a firm website and more than half that do are not mobile-friendly. Almost one-third of solos do not participate in social media.
Although most respondents’ firms’ websites contain information about the firms’ attorneys, the 2020 Survey reveals that websites, particularly solo and small firm websites, contain little significant content that demonstrates the firm’s expertise rather than simply asserting it, and few are providing information of significant value to clients and potential clients. Few solo and small firm sites include articles or consumer guides written by the lawyers themselves.
With video fast becoming the medium of choice for those searching for information on the internet, the lack of video content on over 70% of small firm websites and 90% of solos’ websites is a huge missed opportunity. With the abundance of easy to use and inexpensive tools for video creation, this is one area that is ripe for law firms to utilize. Since many lawyers and law firms are already using social media, short, informative video content can not only aid in search engine optimization but can also provide fodder for social media posts.
Finally, rather than relying solely on anecdotal evidence from clients and referral sources about the effectiveness of any marketing initiative, firms need to implement objective analytics that reveal where a client engaged with the firm online. Reviewing data that reveals whether a potential client called the firm by clicking on a call link in an ad or sent a consultation request from the firm’s website can provide firms with a more accurate picture of what is working and what is not working and help identify gaps. But putting this data is only helpful if it is regularly reviewed and evaluated, and 33% of respondents to this year’s survey did not know who has access to web analytics for their firm, while 23% said only one lawyer in the firm had this access, 19% said marketing staff, 17% said outside consultants, and 14% also indicated their office manager has access. It is less clear what is being done with this information.
In short, the 2020 Survey results show that law firms–and especially solos and small firms–have a long way to go. Unless they begin to develop marketing plans and budgets, establish a robust online presence with client-focused content, and regularly analyze whether their firms are reaching their targets, they will continue to face increasing difficulty competing for business in a post-pandemic world.
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