The legal profession has long been perceived as prestigious, providing respectable salaries, social status and enabling relationships with the power circles and public movers and shakers.
In recent years however, the appeal of the profession has diminished. Jokes about lawyers are common internationally and the public has become skeptical about and lacks faith in the lawyers.
As a result, professional ethics principles were developed internationally, the purpose of which was to effectively protect the profession’s appropriate image.
The rules of professional ethics and the limitations imposed on lawyers as a result are related to the legal marketing and development field. All over the world, it has been established that law firms are business entities for all intents and purposes that provide services to the public at large and as such, are no different from any company or organization that requires marketing and advertising with respect to the services they provide. Provided that in the legal profession, the marketing trade is complicated by the professional ethics limitations that apply to law firms and particularly complex in Israel due to the harsh competition- and, the number of lawyers is increasing year by year.
How did the Legal Marketing field develop?
The legal marketing field was formed by Adv. John Bates, an American attorney who in 1976 appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court with respect to the prohibition on lawyers to advertise their services. The Court held in a majority decision (by five to four) that the imposition of a prohibition on advertising legal services constitutes a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution dealing with amongst others the right to freedom of expression.
As a result of the Bates decision, the gates to legal marketing were opened to lawyers in the U.S. and resulted in the development of the field of legal marketing which accelerated in the 80’s and 90’s of the previous century, due to the fact that many of the ethic regulations were removed at those years. Since then, both large and small law firms in the U.S. have imported and incorporated knowledge and experience from advertising and marketing experts, including leading figures opinions in the advertisement campaign world, into their various marketing strategies.
During this time, the field has attained different shades globally. In Britain, the field is called “Business Development. Whilst in the United States, the field is focused on marketing and advertisement, in Britain the law firm is treated as a business for all purposes such that it is to be developed in all aspects (including via marketing) through strategic growth: mergers, acquisitions, expansion of certain practice areas, new practice areas, etc.
As such, large English firms tend to employ business development staff who are not lawyers, at a ratio of one business development employee to thirty lawyers within the firm. In addition, there are firms which have entire Legal Marketing or business development departments whereby the department stands independently and concentrates on business development for a specific field. For example, the prestigious law firm Freshfields employs people in their KBD – Knowledge and Business Development department which deal with managing client, knowledge management, planning strategic marketing practices, public relations and strategic and communications information.
Legal Marketing in Israel
The law firm market in Israel is different from the international market, such that the low barriers to entry has resulted in the excessive saturation of the market in an unprecedented manner. This has led to severe competition between the firms and has negatively impacted the reputation and status of lawyers in Israel, and in parallel, the harsh limitations imposed by the ethics rules with respect to marketing and advertising which further impede law firm’s ability to compete.
In recent years the legal marketing field began developing in Israel as a result of the economic need of law firms in marketing and business development. Professionals in this field are working to promote their clients subject to Bar Association’s ethical limitations, and as such activity in the field is particularly complex.
The work of legal marketing professionals is expansive and touches on various aspects relating to the image and reputation of law firms. The purpose of those working in the field is to maintain existing clients and to recruit new clients with the aim of increasing profits for the law firm.
This is attained through:
Plan of Action– Whether a specific target is at hand or an all encompassing strategy, its crucial to prepare a plan of action which should include the purpose of the firm, the advantages and disadvantages compared to other purposes, setting a budget, and determining an actual plan on how to attain the set goals.
Branding – A good image of the firm in the eyes of its clients, competitors and surroundings is vital. The legal marketing team works to establish a firm and its lawyers reputation as unique and better than its competitors. This is achieved through highlighting the uniqueness of the firm compared to others in its field in various manners: stressing the advantages of the firm in its ongoing legal work and including links to the firm website and visuals including logo and slogan.
Ongoing Consulting – Adopters of business development include consulting with the purpose of expanding a law firm or its breadth. This type of consulting includes a wide array of topic areas: from determining which subject areas the firm should focus on, through the establishment of alliances with firms which provide complimentary services, human resource aspects as well as suggesting legal fee calculations and profit sharing formulas between partners.
Public Relations – Public relations is one of the ways to influence the public image of a firm and to make it more recognizable to the public. Activity on this front includes (amongst others): publications in the media, managing media contacts, aiding in publication of professional articles in journals and on relevant websites, organization of conferences sponsored by the firm, involving firm partners as lecturers in conferences, managing communication affairs and others.
Advertising of Legal Services – Law firms at the end of the day are businesses and this is made clear in their advertising campaigns. Unlike other fields in the business world, the advertising of legal services is subject to many limitations, requires knowledge, experience and deep appreciation of the ethical limitations. Many of the legal marketing professionals are lawyers by profession, a skill that compliments their activities in this field.
Marketing through the Internet – In a world where technology advances quickly, new marketing techniques are constantly being developed. By keeping our finger on the pulse it is possible to reach wide audienes. The legal marketing field incorporates up-to-date advertising techniques, including SEO techniques (advertising through Google and other search engines), through PPC (paid internet messages, paying per click), managing blogs, use of social networks, building professional websites, etc.
Tracking & Measurements – In order to determine whether marketing and business development efforts are successful and whether the firm is achieving its goals, legal marketing professionals monitor the achievements of the firm in various ways, including reviewing statistics and economic factors, performing client reviews, etc. Through the information garnered, lessons are learned and used to improve the firm’s activities.
Markets are constantly disrupted and changed, and so is the legal market. During the 21st century, the legal market in Israel was shaken by significant structural changes and the flooding of the profession. In most of the Western world, and primarily, in the U.S., the profession reached new heights as a result of the application of academic, professional and practical knowhow in the marketing field, the legal field that advanced the profession despite the obstacles in its way.
The legal marketing field offers solutions that have been found to be efficient and are proven to promote law firms in tough competitive situations. The adoption of its principles are bound to transform the Israel legal field which is mired with significant challenges.