In the classic 1962 film, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) is an attorney that defends a wrongly accused African-American man. Â At the end of the jury deliberations, Atticus learns his client has been found guilty. Â As he walks out of the courtroom the Rev. Sykes says to Scout, “stand up. Your father is passing.”
Scenes like these show lawyers at their best. Â Years ago, that was all attorneys had- their reputation. Â There was no marketing allowed- but many of the great attorneys didn’t need marketing because of the respect and esteem with which they were held in their community. Â This seemed to work really well for some, those with connections- and those who were truly outstanding attorneys. Â Then came Bates v. State Bar of Arizona.
The story is well known, but you can see a nice summary by Press Millen and Steve Bell in the post, “A Brief History of Legal Marketing.” The even shorter summary goes like this. Â An attorney by the name of John Bates couldn’t seem to bring in enough business on his own, so he took out a simple ad in the paper:
The State Bar freaked out. Â Bates’ law license was suspended for six month, Bates appealed and the case worked itself all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States where in October of 1977 the judges ruled 5-4 in favor of Bates, upholding his First Amendment right to free speech. Â The floodgates of legal advertising were officially opened, and our profession changed dramatically.
While plaintiff law firms immediately jumped on this change, it took the larger, more conservative firms far longer. Â Eventually, even the biggest firms jumped on the bandwagon. Â Each large firm invested in a corporate logo, and a tagline to match. Â One of the most successful law firm branding campaigns came from one of my clients, Womble Carlyle, where the bulldog “Winston” became a major part of their branding campaign.
This image, and the logo, really resonated with clients and the attorneys within Womble. Â It represented, loyalty, dependability, tenacity and vigilance. Â This was big firm branding at its best. Â But now Womble Carlyle is moving beyond Winston. With the explosion of social media, blogs and a new age of communication and transparency- legal clients demand more from their attorneys. Â Research from BTI Consulting shows that buyers of legal services rely first on peer referrals and second on search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to find attorneys. Â Advertising and traditional marketing campaigns don’t help much with either of those because corporate clients don’t hire law firms anymore- now they were hire attorneys. Â They don’t want to hire the mega-firm with the expensive branding campaign- they want to hire Atticus Finch (or at least the corporate equivalent.)
This isn’t new information to small town attorneys or even the rainmakers at big firms. Â They have known for years that individuals sell legal services. Â If they don’t get out there and sell (network, refer, and participate) -they won’t have a chance of bringing in business. Â Personal branding is not about what advertising and what your website says about you, it is about how you are perceived within the community. Â This requires engagement in that community. Â The time for traditional one-way marketing or monologue is over, now is the time for dialogue. Â This is where social media becomes so valuable. Â Blogs, discussion groups and social media are merely tools to facilitate this dialogue.
This is hard for large law firms, and especially marketing departments to wrap their heads around- because it signifies a loss of control. Â Law firms can control the use of their logo accross the firm’s marketing materials- but they can’t control the dialogue started by each attorney within their firm. Â Law firms need to get over this fear if they hope to have success in the online world.
Your attorneys may not have the acting abilities of Gregory Peck or the reputation of Atticus Finch, but the social media tools provide every attorney with a chance to get out there there and be part of the conversation.
Adrian Dayton helps attorneys develop their online presence
through blogs and social media. He is also the author of the book, Social Media for
Lawyers: Twitter Edition