The Hidden Costs of DIY Lawyer Marketing

Firesign | Enlightened Legal Marketing
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It may be tempting to take a do-it-yourself approach to law firm marketing, but hidden costs abound that can cost you significantly in time, money and effectiveness.

Consider the math. In an analysis of hourly billing data from 70,000 legal professionals, the practice management software Clio found an average daily utilization rate of just 2.4 hours; in other words, in a given eight-hour day, only 2.4 hours are being billed, invoiced, and ultimately, collected.

That means 5.6 hours are missing – and time spent on marketing and business development is a major culprit.

In a given day, Clio reports that lawyers can spend up to 3.8 hours on activities related to building their books:

  • 4 hours networking to meet new clients or referral sources;
  • .9 hours on tasks related to advertising;
  • .8 hours managing social media or online reviews; and
  • .7 hours managing the firm website.

For the sake of our argument – the prudence or imprudence of DIY marketing – let’s first isolate the tasks that could be delegated. Attorneys need to do their own networking and relationship development. But certainly, help is available for advertising, social media and the firm website.

Second, to get a realistic assessment, let’s consider frequency. The estimates above present a bit of a worst-case scenario; Clio says it’s what lawyers can spend.

Let’s assume that tasks related to advertising occur twice a month; that’s about 22 hours a year. Let’s assume you cruise and update social media three times a week; that’s 125 hours a year. Finally, let’s assume the firm website is updated once a week; that’s 36 hours a year.

All told, that is 183 hours a year that a lawyer spends on marketing tasks. (More than one solid month of billing.)

What’s the cost?

According to the Thomson Reuters 2021 Report on the State of the Legal Market, the average worked rate for law firm services was $523 per hour in 2020.

So the cost of that otherwise billable time: $95,709.

Now, let’s consider that same workload being done elsewhere.

At an outside marketing agency, according to Mailchimp’s Benchmark Report 2021, the blended hourly rate was $150 in 2020. So 182.8 hours of work would total $27,450 – or a savings of $68,259…per lawyer.

For law firm timekeepers, time is literally money, to be sure. Yet there are real non-monetary costs to the DIY approach that must be considered.

Work-Life Balance. If marketing tasks consume 183 hours each year, billable work is likely to pile up for the nights and weekends. In the same Clio report, 75 percent of lawyers reported working outside regular business hours “often or always”; 77 percent of those said they did so to catch up on work that could not get done during regular business hours.

Unfortunately, Clio also reports that 39 percent of lawyers said their workload negatively affected their personal lives.

Time Wasted on Tactics Without Strategy. Let’s recap the work Clio reported: coordinating advertising, managing social media, updating the firm website. It’s all execution, but no planning. Without thought and strategy, DIY marketing may result in a flurry of activity that does not advance any actual goals.

There are four types of law practices, from commodity to rocket science, and each requires strategic focus, consistent execution, and professional presentation of evidence to prospective clients. To be effective, this takes discipline and thought beyond routine social media posts; that is a lot to ask of someone also managing a more-than-full-time legal practice.

Risk of Ethical Missteps. The Rules of Professional Conduct govern how lawyers communicate to current and potential clients. Not only do the specifics differ in each state, they are subject to change. And in particular, the guidelines surrounding social media and digital marketing are evolving.

Consider, for example, New York: The New York State Bar Association has formal Social Media Ethics Guidelines that state lawyers’ social media profiles are subject to attorney advertising and solicitation rules. But the New York City Lawyers Association has concluded a social media profile containing basic biographical information does not constitute attorney advertising.

There are myriad nuances, and if lawyers are not keeping up with the particulars of the ethical rules in a given state, they could be making themselves vulnerable to disciplinary action.

Lowenstein Sandler shared a number of recent examples of the consequences of failing to heed social media rules. While some were egregious – namely the Illinois lawyer who was suspended after creating a fake account on Match.com for a rival, among other misdeeds – some were pretty mild offenses. A South Carolina attorney was reprimanded for “exaggerating his skill and experience” on online attorney profiles, and a Virginia lawyer was “publicly admonished” for failing to include the correct disclaimers on his criminal law blog.

An experienced legal marketer will track the Rules of Professional Conduct in all relevant jurisdictions; keep firm marketing activity compliant; and ideally, thwart any elaborate revenge plots on social media.

Expertise. Lawyers dedicate years learning, practicing and refining their craft. So do marketers.

Just as a trial-tested litigator is more apt to be successful than a pro se plaintiff, an experienced marketing professional is more likely to drive meaningful results for your firm.

Legal marketers succeed by bringing a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency – effectiveness and efficiency borne of relationships with reporters; savvy in the “rules of the road” for lawyer rankings; acumen in technology tools, from social media to search; the insight on the client perspective that wins pitches and proposals.

The right legal marketing resource liberates lawyers from those 183 hours of unbillable work; makes marketing communications and business development work in harmony; shows meaningful ROI in the metrics that matter. The right legal marketing resource makes lawyers’ lives easier, safer and better – and is anything but a sunk cost.

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