Questions and Answers on Lawyer Marketing During the COVID-19 Pandemic
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the practice of law?
Lawyers are in a relationship-based industry with most practice of law being centered around in-person interactions. Lawyers have had to move their practices to be entirely remote pretty much overnight. They have had to learn how to utilize technology to attend court hearings and take depositions through video. They have also had to pull back on their weekly schedule of business development meetings including coffees and lunches with their network. From my perspective, the changes to the legal industry and the practice of law have been big but not devastating as they have been for industries such as the restaurant industry.
How are lawyers and law firms dealing with the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It has been neat to see how lawyers and law practices have risen to the challenge of running businesses remotely. I work with solo and small law firms and many of them do not have active disaster recovery plans in place that would allow them to seamlessly move their operations from their physical office in a short amount of time. This being said, small law firm owners were in a scramble a few weeks ago to adjust to the new circumstances of Stay-at-Home orders and they handled it really well. I saw a ton of collaboration between small law firms through information sharing and real-time support for their colleagues.
What are the major issues that lawyers are dealing with during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Lawyers, like all other business owners, are dealing with uncertainty due to the quarantine conditions of COVID-19. The first major issue was for them to adopt remote working habits to keep their law firms operational and able to serve their clients. They have also had to figure out how to stay in contact with their clients and how the court system will work in the different jurisdictions that they practice in. They have had to add messaging to their marketing and business development plans about COVID-19 and change existing marketing calendars to adjust to a digital-only world. The real challenge I am seeing is how lawyers manage client expectations with the restrictions of a locked-down judicial system. Savvy lawyers are helping their clients participate in video ADR sessions to help them resolve their disputes (contracts, family law, etc.) outside of the court.
Are lawyers asking for help, complaining, stressing or all of the above?
Lawyers need help right now (and they are asking for help) from marketing consultants to assist them in changing up their business development strategy and messaging to reflect the new normal. Lawyers need help right now with digital marketing ideas and finding opportunities to stay relevant and of service to their communities. Attorneys are recognizing that things have undeniably changed for everyone and tone-deaf messaging from law firms will not resonate with the people that they hope to sell their legal services to.
I have not heard much in the way of complaining but I think many attorneys are struggling with productivity while working at home. This is especially true for those that have small children in the house or elementary-aged children that need help with homeschooling programs. This is entirely understandable. I encourage everyone to give themselves a break right now. Things are different and a little weird. Expectations at work might have to change too.
How have you responded to lawyers who have shared their COVID-19 pandemic problems with you?
I have been giving a lot of free advice and consultation right now to the lawyers in my network. This is a time for people to learn from and lean on each other. My response has been one of openness and support for the legal community. I recognize that I have a skill set that is in high demand right now where I can help a lot of people.
What advice would you give to a lawyer who feels constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think they need to change the way that they are looking at the spring of 2020. This pandemic has revealed the need for attorneys to serve as leaders in their respective communities. I would encourage a lawyer that feels constrained or stuck to look for places that they can serve and lead.
People need lawyers right now.
They need help translating the law, interpreting how the new stimulus money can help them, and what type of rights that they have. Lawyers have specialized knowledge and education. People can turn to them for truthful commentary and thought-leadership while they navigate the effects of the COVID-19 virus on their lives.
What should a lawyer’s focus be during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In this moment, lawyers should be focused on connecting with the people they already know. Current and past clients are always low hanging fruit for their practices as they already know, like, and trust their brand. This would be a time to call, text, or connect in some way with clients as well as lawyers that regularly refer business to you.
Also, digital media and online marketing will be 100% necessary for any law firm right now. People are not meeting lawyers in person so it is smart to control what they see online about your law firm. Be sure to check the accuracy of your website, social media, and email campaign to ensure they are all confirming a similar message of confidence, help, and positivity.
Finally, lawyers should be focused on the fall. Most law firms will survive financially during the spring and summer of 2020 but I fear that some will not have a profitable August, September, October if they do not continue to do business development in some way. Staying a relevant resource in their community will be helpful to them continuing to move forward with the potential client pipeline but it might not be enough. If the economy continues to suffer into the last part of this year, people will still need legal services. They will just be different consumers of them. Lawyers might want to consider product offerings, tiers, and flexible payment options to stay competitive in late 2020 and early 2021.
What advice would you give to a lawyer in order to keep in touch with clients during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I would utilize technology as much as you can. Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are excellent ways of keeping a personal connection with the people in your network. I think that law firms can become a repository for up-to-date information for the community and spread that messaging through their website and newsletters to clients. Social media is also a great way to have “touches” in your network while you can’t actually see them.
Are there any specialty areas of legal practice that seem to be affected more or less by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am seeing the practice of law in general affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am seeing some practice areas spike right now including family law and trust and estates. I think employment lawyers and general business lawyers are also busy because of the fast changes that were made to the economy. Thinking long-term, I can see a nimble law firm adding extra practice areas that will be important if a recession happens such as bankruptcy and foreclosure. Long story short – there will be changes to all practice areas at this moment but I think some attorneys will see a higher demand for services based on what is happening in our country on social and economic levels.
How will international law be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
There are so many types of international law practices out there so this one is really hard to weigh in on. I would say that the general problems facing our society will be reflected in international law. We will see a spike in contract disputes, supply chain interruptions, cyberattacks and more. International lawyers can be prepared by being flexible and cooperative in their cases. They also need to be realistic. The world has changed, and entire countries are being shut down for weeks at a time. I can imagine that they will be managing expectations of their clients and interpreting what “winning” or success looks like in these circumstances as the regular judicial remedies might not be available.
How about representation of clients in or from China during the COVID-19 pandemic? What should a lawyer think about in addressing those clients?
Representation of Chinese people and businesses need to be respectful of the widespread losses their community has experienced. The same health and safety precautions that you would use in representing American people and businesses should be followed.
This being said, it is a time for cultural competency in the legal community. This illness is not tied to ethnicity and this is not a Chinese problem, it is a human problem. Global anxiety over COVID-19 has caused some to say xenophobic and ignorant things about other people. I would encourage lawyers to stay away from this behavior and actually take a stand against it. Ensure that your law firm’s attorneys and staff know that this bigoted behavior on any level will not be tolerated. Consider putting a message on your diversity and inclusiveness website page addressing your law firm’s policy in this regard.
How can a lawyer market himself or herself or develop business with all the constraints created by the COVID-19 pandemic? What are some options?
A smart short-term strategy would be to connect by phone, text, or email with your clients and referral sources. Also, be sure to go digital as much as you can with your marketing including checking into website searchability, social media campaigns, and email newsletters. This is a great time to put effort into credentialing your practice through publishing articles and speaking at webinars providing education and insight that will help your community and develop your brand in the long run.
Are there any new marketing alternatives created by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am seeing a resurgence in cause marketing in the legal industry. Law firms are showing leadership by giving to non-profits and partnering with causes that support their community or practice area. I think video marketing will also be a winning strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic as it is an easy way for lawyers to develop a personal connection with their audience.
I still see some legal marketing on television and in the newspapers, but mostly dealing with upcoming statutes of limitation issues – are there any other areas to advertise now?
I think people are always going to need help with plaintiff personal injury matters and dangerous medicine/product cases and they are the biggest players in television and print when it comes to legal marketing. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people might not know that they have viable legal claims. This is an opportunity for B2B lawyers that work in litigation, insurance law, and employment law to use advertising to spread the word about their services. B2C lawyers that work in family law, immigration law, and criminal defense could also put out messaging that is helpful and centered around the issues that have come up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do you, as a legal marketing consultant, help lawyers with these options?
Denver Legal Marketing works with lawyers in Colorado and throughout the US to develop real-time strategies that support their business development and marketing goals. We are flexible on pricing which allows us to provide as much or as little help that a law firm needs. Denver Legal Marketing has had great success in working with solo and small law firms on social media campaigns, website redesigns, promotional strategies, advertisement, and more.
How about law firm employees – how does a lawyer, whose office is closed and/or whose staff is coming in on alternate days, keep up their spirits and zealous work habits?
Community and connection need to be stressed by all law firms right now. People are feeling isolated and experiencing grief on many levels. Lawyers that are also employers need to recognize this. I would suggest that they allow for wiggle room in expectations right now as their staff is juggling work obligations with children at home. I would also say that fun can be had through virtual happy hours or “take your pet to work” day photo campaigns. It would also be neat to see employers sending small deliveries to their employee’s homes to brighten their day – a cookie delivery, flower delivery, etc. would be an unexpected gesture. I guess I would remind everyone that people remember the way that you have treated them, and employee loyalty is increased when they feel valued and recognized.
What can a lawyer do who is stuck at home or in the office with seemingly nothing to do because a trial or a meeting or transaction has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
I would suggest that a lawyer do the exact same thing that I am doing – learn. There are plenty of resources online to pick up a new skill or education in a new area. We have extra time right now to “keep our saws sharp” and rather than watching Netflix for hours, consider planning out six months ahead and gaining any skills that might be necessary to keep your law firm competitive in a recession.
Outside of the practice of law, what can a lawyer do during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I would consider how to be of service people right now. There are nonprofits that are struggling and people that need help from lawyers. Pro bono work can be done remotely and still be effective and fulfilling.
How can a lawyer maintain a presence in the lawyer’s local community when everyone is social distancing?
Staying relevant and present in your community activities including bar associations, nonprofits, and business organizations are a big part of COVID-19 pandemic marketing for lawyers. I would encourage lawyers to be active in a digital way through listserv comments and questions and emails to people they know in the community. Also, attorneys should publish what they can for community newspapers or newsletters. They can also work more toward developing a bigger presence on social media to continue to stay top of mind to the people that they are not seeing in person right now. LinkedIn will be especially helpful for lawyers in this regard.
What does the future hold for lawyers and legal marketing?
The future for lawyers is uncertain as it will mirror what is going on in the greater society. I think many lawyers will be affected by law firm layoffs and downsizing because law firm financials will be uncertain. I think summer programs will be non-existent this year with job offers being deferred or rescinded to new lawyers just graduating.
Positively, lawyers will become more open to meeting with clients remotely and in untraditional ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There might be more lawyers looking to hang their shingle this year because the legal industry job market has changed. These entrepreneur lawyers could do really well with their practices if they develop socially conscious models that provide flexibility on payment.
Legal marketing will likewise change and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think there will be a push to go digital this year because in-person interactions cannot take place. Business development and marketing will be more deliberate as there will not be any “chance meetings” or interactions right now. I can see more law firms becoming involved in video marketing through their website and social media. More than likely, we will also see attorneys reconnecting with people from their past while they are in quarantine which will lead to broadened brand recognition and possibly new client development pipelines.
What advice would you give to lawyers on how to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In general, I would suggest that lawyers do something each day that moves the ball when it comes to their marketing and business development. It will take minutes to email two contacts a day to check-in. It will take maybe 30 minutes to update your website biography or CV. It also will not take long at all to do a Google clean-up on yourself to ensure the health of your online presence. Lawyers that continue to work on their marketing and business development right now will have a viable law firm in Q3 and Q4 of 2020.