IT & the Lawyer

Exciting times

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for GhostDigest way back in 2006. The number of legal firms who have adopted a pro-active marketing policy has rocketed since then, and it is fascinating to see how many of them have embraced a regular client newsletter as their core marketing tool. Client newsletters remain in my opinion the best, most professional, most cost-effective way of remaining constantly top-of-mind with your clients and prospective clients. I hope that the guiding principles listed below – which remain as pertinent now as they were in 2006 – will help you to grow your firm and to maximise its profitability.

Exciting times for law firms - marketing made easy
Success will come to the law firm that is run in accordance with sound business principles. And one of the pillar stones of any successful business is marketing. Long gone are the days when attorneys not only didn't need to market themselves, but felt a bit guilty doing so.

This is, after all, 2006. Granny surfs the Internet and fires off e-mails and SMSs, teenagers make fortunes from online businesses, and lawyers are allowed to advertise.

That's an exciting concept: with an effective marketing strategy, you can grow your firm, and your profitability, as much as you want. Other businesses have been doing it for centuries. Overseas lawyers have been doing it for decades. It's time that the legal profession in South Africa caught up.

Of course, some local firms are already ahead of the pack, but not many!

Effective marketing need not cost a fortune
The challenge, in practice, is to find the time and money to do it. Few firms can really afford to take partners and staff away from what they do best - practicing law - for the sort of time it takes to do justice to a marketing plan. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

Don't despair, however - no matter how big or small your firm is, the basics of effective marketing need not cost a fortune, nor need they take up vast amounts of your valuable time. You can spend weekends with the family, and you can spend your office hours on billable work. The trick is to find the right tools.

The newsletter as a marketing tool
To take a good example: regular, quality communication with your client base is an excellent way of keeping your firm in the client's mind. If you aren't doing that, you aren't protecting your client base. Ignore at your peril that wise old business maxim: "Look after your client, or someone else will!" - it applies as much to the modern law firm as to any other business.

One of the most effective tools in this regard is the tried and tested newsletter. It exposes your clients to your branding regularly, reminds them that you are their attorney, and reinforces the goodwill that you have painstakingly built up with your excellent service.

Format is critical
But be careful: the format and content of your newsletter are critical to its effectiveness. Consider the following:

  1. Regularity is crucial. This is where the concept of spaced repetition comes in: keep repeating your message, and it will be absorbed. That is how all successful advertising works. Repeat your message too often and it loses impact, even becomes an annoyance. Too seldom, and the benefit of repetition is diluted.
  2. Content is key. The whole idea is to keep adding value to your clients' business and personal lives. You must give them a gift of something they want, something they will take value from. You want them to look forward to the next newsletter with anticipation.
  3. Format can make or break your newsletter. A bright and colourful format with information presented in a friendly, open layout, is far more inviting to the reader than a dull, musty sheet crammed with small print. Law is intimidating (and mind-numbing) enough already to the average layperson, without dressing it up like something from a Dickensian novel.
  4. Whether to go electronic rather than print is a debate in itself. I prefer the electronic route: it sends a strong message to your clients that you are in the Internet Age; that you are progressive and tech-savvy; that your firm is modern and exciting. It enables you to be very topical. The cost is a fraction of print. The administration is easier.
  5. If you go the e-mail route, make sure that your mails will not be killed by spam filters (as the spammers get more inventive, the filters seem to intercept more and more genuine traffic, and less and less spam!). Avoid attachments. And watch file sizes - downloading huge files may cause clients' systems to slow down or freeze, an annoyance you do not want to be responsible for.
  6. If you have a website, transform it from a passive marketing tool to an effective and pro-active one, by leading clients to it via the newsletter. The electronic newsletter should provide a hyperlink directly to your website.

Content is key
What sort of content should you put in your newsletter? My own research at client level has shown clearly that clients need, and want, a regular update on developments in the law. They know that the law is dynamic, they know that new legislation and Court decisions are constantly creating new rights, new duties, and new dangers for them. You will be very popular if you meet this need for them.

But be careful again on how you present the information - very few clients (even legally trained ones) have the time or interest to wade through long pages of legal theory. The demand is for short, simple, practical information - legal news that is useful to clients in their everyday lives. The LawDotNews client newsletter is an example of the application of the above guidelines, view a sample here.

Client retention, and client acquisition
Of course your newsletter is much more than just a client retention tool. One of the best possible sources of new clients is referral from existing clients. And a happy client will actively refer friends and colleagues to you; particularly when you are never out of mind. A happy client who takes value from your newsletter will forward it to others. A happy client who is constantly learning of new rights and new dangers will give you more instructions.

And the beauty of using a newsletter rather than a general form of advertising is that it is so finely targeted. You choose whom to market. Every cent you spend is directed at the very market most likely to be profitable for you.

A very powerful way of growing your business is to identify prospective clients whose business you would appreciate; offer them the service of a free legal update; and sit back while they are exposed (in the most positive manner) to your name and branding month after month.

To the property lawyer, of course, "today's Buyer is tomorrow's Seller" - so offer the newsletter to all the parties in every transfer you attend to, and double your potential client base.

Firms essentially have three choices in regard to newsletters:-

  1. Don't produce one. This is unlikely to be a good option for most firms: it deprives the firm of an opportunity to grow and prosper, and carries the risk of losing clients. The latter is a very real risk in these days of increasing competition and mass advertising; or
  2. Devote billable time and other resources to preparing an in-house newsletter. Be aware that this option is expensive and time-hungry (remember to factor in the cost of billable time lost). It is also a real challenge for most firms to find the time to produce a regular newsletter of any sort, and a poor-quality or irregular newsletter is likely to do far more harm than good; or
  3. Outsource the newsletter. This is of course the time-saver as it frees you up to attend to your core functions. If the cost is reasonable, it could be the best option for you.

In conclusion, as Oscar Wilde put it: "Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result." The exciting thing is that you can create those conditions for success - and finding the right marketing tools for your firm is an excellent place to start.

Jack Crook (LLB Lond, LLB Rhod) is the author of LawDotNews, a monthly newsletter which is personalised and e-mailed to a firm's clients compliments of the firm. Readers are welcome to contact Jack, or visit his website at for further details.

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