Law Firm Marketing

Written by Robert Mac
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Law firm marketing is as complex as the history behind it. For many years, law firm marketing was banned by the American Bar Association, but then, almost overnight, the ban was overruled and lawyer advertising was legal again. But there was a stigma attached to it; some jumped on the advertising bandwagon while others decried the ruling for the sake of their profession.

A Brief History of Law Firm Marketing

Advertising for lawyers was fairly common in the nineteenth century; one of the most recognizable lawyers who marketed himself in that era was Abraham Lincoln. But in 1908, the American Bar Association adopted the Canons of Professional Ethics, the first national standards for lawyer conduct. Canon 27 banned lawyer and law firm marketing.

Fast forward about 70 years: the legal community tolerated law firms listing their company in directories, but out-and-out law firm marketing was still verboten. Then the Maricopa County Legal Aid Society placed a single ad in The Arizona Republic; it's a legal clinic for low- to middle-income clients. Since they didn't bring in the kind of income of big law firms--and since they needed new clients--they placed the ad.

Before that ad was placed, most law firms made clients the old fashioned way: they earned them (usually through referrals or word-of-mouth). To advertise their services, including prices no less, was unheard of, but very necessary for the survival of that company.

The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Law Firm Marketing

The state bar of Arizona caught wind of the ad and sued John Bates, one of the lawyers who ran the clinic. The state argued that they violated the 1908 ban; the lawyers argued that they needed to promote their services. The case, Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the ban was unconstitutional--suddenly, law firm marketing was legal.

The ramifications of that single, little ad were great. The legal profession realized, whether they liked it or not, that they were indeed service providers. Yes, they were still button-down professionals, but business people, too. And anyone in business knows you need to advertise to stay in the game--referrals won't cut it in our modern business-driven culture.

After the ruling, the industry of law firm marketing began; in 2003, it spent nearly $400 million on lawyer ads. Some firms waited decades to advertise, some complained that it would degrade the profession. In time, most of industry saw the writing on the wall--services have to advertise, no matter what the service is.

Specialists Can Help Create, Place, and Track Ads
Ad agencies that specialize in marketing for lawyers offer start-to-finish services for law firms in print, TV, radio, and internet venues. They create logos and brand images, produce multi-media commercials, and can even track how effective a given ad is working. Because the lawyer marketplace is so competitive, every effort to turn potential clients into returning clients helps in the long run.


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