The Legal Technology Resource Center of the American Bar Association conducted its annual Legal Technology Survey Report on the use of technology in the legal profession. The “Marketing & Communication” volume of the survey was sent to over 10,700 U.S. lawyers in firms of varying sizes.
Respondents to the 2019 Survey segment covering websites and law firm marketing were mostly solos or from smaller firms, consisting of 27% solos, 29% lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers, 18% from firms of 10-49 lawyers, 11% from firms of between 100-499 lawyers, 10% from firms with 500+ lawyers, and 5% from firms with 50-99 lawyers. The average age of respondents was 58 years old, with 55% of respondents identifying as 60+ years old, and another 24% between 50-59 years old.
This article will focus on marketing and website trends mainly among firms with fewer than 50 lawyers. The 2019 Survey results this year suggest that the lawyers in solo and small firm practice are not taking an intentional approach to marketing, especially online marketing, and may instead be engaging in “random acts of marketing.” In many cases, it is unclear who’s minding the store and how and why marketing decisions are being made.
Law Firm Marketing
According to the 2019 Survey, only 47% of firms overall have a marketing budget. The largest firms are the most likely to report having such a budget (94% of those from firms of 100+ lawyers), and 61% from firms of 10-49 lawyers. But only 31% of firms from 2-9 lawyers and 17% of solo respondents have firm marketing budgets. Of those who report having a budget, 40% say their marketing budget increased last year, 28% said it stayed the same, and 29% do not know.
The leading channels for marketing across all firm sizes are email (41%), Facebook (30%), and direct mail (19%). Fewer than 15% of respondents overall report their firms use Avvo, Findlaw, Lawyers.com, or the Yellow Pages to market their practices, however, solos are more likely to use Avvo, with 25% of respondents reporting that they use the platform.
Solos most often use email (40%) for their marketing, followed by Facebook (26%) and Avvo (25%). Facebook was the most popular channel for lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers at 39%, followed by print at 33%. In firms of 10-49 lawyers, respondents reported using email most often (47%), followed by print (41%). It should be noted that LinkedIn was not included as one of the channels in this survey question.
Eighty-six percent of respondents to the 2019 Survey report that their firm has a website. But solos still lag far behind firms of other sizes; only 57% of solos have a firm website, while over 90% of respondents in all other firm sizes report having a firm website.
Video seems to have taken the internet by storm, and although most firms still report they have not used video in their marketing, the numbers do show an increase in the adoption of video as a marketing tool in 2019. In 2019, 26% of respondents said their firms use video as part of their marketing, and 65% have not yet adopted video, in contrast to 2018, when 77% of respondents said their firm had not produced any video.
The largest firms are still the most likely to use video, with 56% of lawyers in firms of 100+ attorneys, 23% of firms with 10-49 lawyers, 20% of firms 2-9 lawyers, and 11% of solos in 2019 reporting they use video, as compared with one-third of respondents from firms of 100+ lawyers, 20% of firms from 10-49 lawyers, 17% of firms with 2-9 attorneys, and only 4% of solos who indicated that their firms used video in 2018.
Since 2016, 25-30% of respondents overall have reported that their firm has a blog, with 30% reporting this year that their firm has a blog. Again, solos remain the least likely, at only 9%, to have a firm blog.
Overall, 80% of respondents say their firms maintain a presence on social media, the highest since 2016. Among those firms that do use social media, LinkedIn is still the leading platform at 79%, followed by Facebook (54%), Martindale (38%), and Avvo (23%). Reported use of Facebook and Avvo has declined over the past year; in 2018, 63% of respondents reported their firms maintained a Facebook presence, and 36% maintained a presence on Avvo.
Individual Lawyer Marketing Efforts
Only 6% of all respondents in the 2019 Survey maintain their own personal legal topic blog. Most of those who do maintain a blog update their blog monthly (56%), and 18% update it weekly. But another 21% have stopped updating entirely, and another small percentage indicate that they have someone else update their blogs for them.
Eighty percent of all respondents use social media themselves for professional purposes, including 67% of solos, 83% of lawyers in firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 86% of lawyers in firms with 10-49 lawyers. LinkedIn is the leading platform among individual lawyers, just as it is for law firms; overall, 73% of all respondents maintain a LinkedIn presence.
Of those who participate in some social media, over 80% of lawyers in all firm sizes do so on LinkedIn, including 81% of solos, 89% of those in firms with 2-9 lawyers, 92% of respondents in firms with 10-49 lawyers, and 97% of respondents in firms of 100+ attorneys.
Overall, only 39% of respondents who participate in social media report using Facebook (a drop from 47% in 2018). Solos and small firm lawyers use Facebook for professional purposes more often than lawyers in larger firms; 50% of solos and 48% of lawyers in firms with 2-9 lawyers report using the platform, as compared with only 26% of lawyers in firms with 10-49 lawyers.
Only 28% of all respondents report using Twitter, including 31% of lawyers from firms between 10-49 lawyers, 28% of lawyers in firms with 2-9 lawyers, and only 19% of solos reported using the platform.
Over the last three years, 30% of respondents have consistently reported that they had claimed their Avvo profile. The lawyers most likely to have done so are those in firms of between 2-9 lawyers (43%), followed by 31% of solos, and 29% of lawyers from firms of 10-49 lawyers.
Who is Doing the Work on Law Firm Marketing and Websites?
According to the 2019 Survey responses, responsibility for “handling” marketing still lies largely with the attorneys themselves. 59% of respondents, including 60% of solos, said attorneys perform these functions within the firm. Only 31% of firms overall have internal marketing staff, and 17% use outside consultants, while 16% report that administrative staff performs marketing functions for the firm. Unfortunately, 13% of respondents say “no one” is responsible for marketing in their firms, including 30% of solos and 13% of respondents in firms of 2-9 lawyers.
Not surprisingly, the larger the firm, the more likely it is to have internal marketing staff; 27% of respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers report having marketing staff, along with 5% of lawyers from 2-9 lawyer firms, and 1% of solo respondents. The number of small firm respondents who use administrative staff for marketing is slightly higher; 36% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers, 17% of those in firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 4% of solos. External consultants are used by 25% of firms of 10-49 lawyers, 21% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers, and 5% of solos.
Among those firms that have a website, 25% report their website is primarily managed by an outside consultant, 22% are managed by one lawyer within the firm, 18% by marketing staff, 12% by firm IT staff, and 9% by firm administrators. Solos (51%) and firms with between 2-9 lawyers (34%) were most likely to report that one lawyer was responsible for maintaining the firm’s website, which has remained steady since 2015.
This year, more solos and firms with 2-9 lawyers report using an outside consultant (34% and 41% respectively) for their firm website than they have reported in previous years. Larger firms rely more on marketing staff, IT staff, or a firm webmaster for managing their sites. 30% of all respondents report that their firm uses an outside consultant or agency for search engine optimization (SEO).
Only 7% of all respondents indicated that their firms were using AdWords, but 9% report using an outside consultant or agency for AdWords or pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Although 80% of firms are participating in some sort of social media, only 26% use an outside consultant or agency for social media. Overall, 59% of respondents report that their firms do not use a consultant for SEO, AdWords/PPC, or social media.
When solos report hiring an outside consultant, they are more likely to do so for SEO than PPC or social media; 16% of solo respondents reported hiring a consultant for this purpose, and 7% reported hiring an external consultant for social media. In firms of 2-9 lawyers, 40% of respondents reported using an outside consultant for SEO, 23% for social media, and 15% for AdWords/PPC. 35% of respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers reported the use of an outside consultant for SEO, and 32% for social media.
Website Content Creation
2019 Survey responses indicate that the job of content creation is falling on the shoulders of more than one lawyer within the firm (40%), on marketing staff (29%), or on outside consultants (28%) more often than they report that only one lawyer creates content for the firm’s website (23%). Solos are the most likely (70%) to report that website content is created by one lawyer and 33% use an outside consultant to create content.
In firms of 2-9 lawyers, 39% report that content is created by more than one lawyer, 38% by outside consultants, and 27% report that only one lawyer creates the content for the site. In firms of 10-49 lawyers, 59% report more than one lawyer creates content for the site, as compared to 39% last year; 23% report using an outside consultant, while 22% use marketing staff and 19% say office administrative staff or an office manager creates content.
Why Lawyers Blog and Participate in Social Media
The reasons for lawyers’ use of social media has remained consistent with last year. Career development and networking top the list at 67% of respondents overall, followed by client development at 49%, education and awareness at 43%, and case investigation at 22%. Younger respondents are most likely to report using social media for career development and networking—94% of respondents under the age of 40 and 85% of lawyers aged 40-49 years do so.
Use of social media for education and current awareness dropped in all firm sizes this year but the respondents from firms of 10-49 lawyers reported the biggest drop, from 62% last year to only 42% this year; solos experienced a drop from 53% last year to 42% this year. Declines in the use for client development were seen as well; 39% of solos reported using social media for that purpose this year, compared to 54% last year, and 48% of lawyers in firms of 10-49 lawyers reported using social media for client development this year, as compared to 58% last year.
The most commonly reported use of Twitter was for social or personal reasons (76%), followed by education and awareness (49%), and career development/networking (24%).
Of the small percentage of respondents that maintain a legal topic blog, 60% do it because they enjoy writing and outreach and 51% do it for client and career development and networking.
How Effective are Law Firm Marketing Efforts?
Thirty-eight percent of respondents say they have access to analytics or reports to monitor the effectiveness of their website or blog. 41% do not have such access and 21% do not know. Respondents, however, are not asked whether the firm has analytics in place at all or whether others have access, so the results are somewhat unclear; do the responses indicate that the respondent does not personally have access, but that others in the firm do, or that no one has access within the firm?
Of those who do have access to blog and website analytics, 29% view them quarterly, 23% view them monthly, and only 7% view them weekly. But 41% say they never access these analytics. Again, the results are somewhat unclear because there is no question that covers whether someone else in the firm views these analytics, and if so, how often.
Logically, one might surmise that if lawyers themselves do not have access to or view web analytics, they must be relying on others to access and review analytics for them. But only 17% of respondents indicated that they work with external agencies who provide them regular reports on marketing performance. Another 11% use these agencies but do not get regular reports, and 48% do not use an external agency at all. The 2019 Survey does not ask respondents whether internal staff monitors and reports on analytics.
One clear measure of marketing success is whether clients retain the firm as a result of specific marketing activities. Of those respondents who report maintaining a legal topic blog, 49% have gotten clients as a result of blogging and another 34% do not know whether they have gotten a client or not. Of those who used social media for professional purposes this year, 31% report having gotten clients as a result, 44% say they did not, and 24% did not know. Solos (35%) and lawyers from firms of 2-9 lawyers (34%) were the most likely to report having gotten clients through social media, followed by lawyers from firms of 10-49 lawyers (28%) and firms of 100+ lawyers (29%). Only 3% of Twitter users reported getting clients as a result of using the platform and 19% do not know.
Overall, on a scale of 1 (not at all confident) to 5 (very confident), respondents placed their level of confidence in their firm’s marketing efforts at 2.9. There is not much disparity between respondents in firms of different sizes—the largest firms have a confidence level of 3.3, while firms of 2-9 lawyers report 2.9, and both firms of 10-49 lawyers and solos rate their confidence in their firm’s marketing efforts at a 2.7. Regardless of the confidence in existing marketing efforts, a large percentage will place the same emphasis on their marketing over the next year as they did this year (47%), while 16% do not know, and only 4% will place less emphasis on marketing in the coming year.
Forty percent of firms of 10-49 lawyers, over 60% of firms of 2-9 lawyers, and over 80% of solos do not take the time to make an annual budget for marketing. This suggests that solos and small firm lawyers do not intentionally plan marketing activities and instead engage in “random acts of marketing”—if, indeed, they market at all.
Solos appear to do the least marketing; one-third indicated that no one in their firm engages in marketing. Fewer than 5% of solos say that either internal marketing staff, outside consultants, or firm administrators handle marketing.
Over 40% of all solos still do not have a firm website, and almost one-third of all solos do not participate in social media. In the digital age, with almost every American in possession of a mobile device that they carry with them everywhere, and with the increasing number of available online legal services from companies such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, it is difficult to imagine how lawyers can compete for clients without engaging online—although, it is worth noting that these numbers may be a bit skewed as a result of the age of respondents to the 2019 Survey, almost 80% of whom were over the age of 50.
The overwhelming majority of both law firms and individual lawyers do have some online presence through social media. 80% of all respondents say that their firms maintain a presence on at least one social media platform and that they themselves participate on at least one social media platform for professional purposes. LinkedIn is by far the most popular social media platform for both firms and individual lawyers. Only about one-third of solo and small firm lawyers are using Avvo or Twitter, but almost half use Facebook. The 2019 Survey does not indicate how often lawyers participate in social networking activities.
Some of the results are startling, given that much of marketing involves establishing and maintaining relationships with clients and referral sources, which, to be effective, requires the participation of the lawyers who will be interacting with clients and performing the legal work. Yet many solos and small firm lawyers are either choosing not to take advantage of marketing opportunities or are leaving the responsibility for digital marketing and content creation to others. Two-thirds of all firms do not have a blog, and almost one-quarter of attorneys who maintain a legal blog have stopped posting to the blog. In almost one-quarter of firms, all content for the firm’s website is created by only one lawyer in the firm.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that almost universally, respondents indicate that they aren’t especially confident with their firm’s marketing efforts. Not only are law firms apparently lacking a marketing plan or budget, but the responses indicate that they do a poor job of evaluating—or in some cases even reviewing—marketing performance. How do lawyers know whether their efforts are paying off?
Over 60% of respondents either do not have access to or do not know whether they have access to web analytics which would provide insight into the effectiveness of their digital marketing efforts. Of the 38% who do have access to these analytics, over 40% never view them. Similarly, of the respondents that use an external agency to review analytics, almost 40% do not get regular reports on those analytics. This begs the question of whether anyone is evaluating marketing performance, what measures or methods these lawyers and firms are using to determine the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, and how they decide which marketing efforts to stop, start, or continue.
Although the responses do indicate that some lawyers can affirmatively state that they have received clients either directly or indirectly through their use of social media or blogging, there are many clients who may not consciously be aware of how a lawyer or law firm’s digital marketing efforts have impacted their decision to hire a firm. A referral source who interacts regularly with a law firm’s website or lawyer’s social media account may not relay that information to the client they refer to the firm, and a client may not realize that a lawyer’s blog post is what captured the attention of a journalist who reached to that lawyer for a quote the client saw in a news article, or that a link from social media led the client to the firm’s website. Even a client who clicks a link to call a firm may not remember where they found that link. And, as with all marketing, digital marketing efforts may be cumulative; a referral source or potential client may encounter the firm or its lawyers in several different places online before making the decision to call or email the firm.
The best results are obtained by creating a marketing plan focused on reaching the firm’s ideal clients and referral sources and ensuring that all marketing efforts are working together toward common goals. Law firms should not rely solely on anecdotal evidence from clients and referral sources about the effectiveness of any marketing initiative or to view these efforts in a vacuum. Objective analytics that show where a client engaged with the firm online (Did the client call the firm by clicking on a call link in an ad? Or did the client send a consultation request from the firm’s website?) can be invaluable, as can information which demonstrates how clients are acquired over time or aids a firm’s reputation. All of a firm’s digital marketing efforts, including website, blogs, social media, should be reviewed and evaluated, including analytics on views, clicks, calls, mentions, shares, emails, comments, and more.
The 2019 Survey results show that law firms—and especially solos and small firms—have a long way to go. Unless they begin to develop marketing plans and budgets, establish an online presence and regularly analyze whether their firms are reaching their targets, they will continue to face increasing difficulty competing for business.