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These are undoubtedly difficult times for law firms and lawyers.  But as we saw from the Citi-Hildebrandt report, while the legal market will remain challenging for some time, pitching long term the outlook for law firms looks bullish.

That said, for all our confidence, we should add an important caveat to that – recently supplied by Dan DiPietro, Chairman of the law firm group at Citi Private Bank. To paraphrase Mr DiPietro:  the uber-buoyant conditions and double-digit profit numbers of the boom years will not be coming back.

Despite the brighter but qualified outlook, the road ahead will nonetheless be difficult. But fortunately the Citi-Hildebrandt paper has identified some key strategies and tactics that can be adopted in order to counter the continuing market challenges. You can read more about the report and what we had to say about it here.

Today we want to look at two of the core principles which law firms can adopt in order to counter some of the market problems. Firstly, that law firms should listen to clients and their needs. And secondly, that law firms should seek to differentiate themselves from a cluttered market.

Both these points undoubtedly require a multifaceted attack strategy. But a key tactic in both strategies should be a law firm’s online and digital communications strategy.

By getting online with a website and social media presence law firms can begin to listen to the market, listen to clients and also engage with clients and the broader industry. By getting online law firms can also set themselves apart and distinguish themselves from a competitive legal market.  When combined with email marketing and wider digital content it presents an opportunity for firms to communicate personality and approach, as well as knowhow – valuable deciders when choosing a firm to instruct.

Many law firms are doing well online and are reaping rewards from their time and resources invested. However during one of our recent audits we noticed an interesting trend: that law firms, whilst online, often fail to maintain a consistent cross platform digital strategy.

Any businesses’ web and social media presence should be regarded as a diverse and interwoven quilt made up of a number of digital strands. And so each digital strand should be as bright and appealing as the other.

To make things a little clearer we will give some examples.

Blog – Covington and Burling LLP has one of the most wonderfully readable and aesthetically pleasing blogs. One that even legal tech strategists Kevin O’Keefe would be proud of. However their Facebook page is essentially redundant and their Twitter and LinkedIn are a little uninspiring. Their website is good but lacks the same oomph that others have.

Website – Dechert LLP have a really punchy website. But they don’t actually have a blog. Their Facebook is like Convington and Burling’s, but their LinkedIn is great and their Twitter is pretty good.

Twitter – Fulbright and Jaworski LLP have an industry leading Twitter account but a website that leaves you feeling a little disappointed. They have no blog. Well actually they do, but you can’t find it easily on the website which makes things difficult for browsers. Their Facebook and LinkedIn are pretty good however.

Facebook – Goodwin Procter LLP have as good a Facebook account that you’ll see from a law firm. Much the same can be said of their Twitter and website. However their LinkedIn account is, comparatively, a little limp and their blog is hard to find and navigate.

So the story that we’re trying to tell is that law firms should look at their digital and online presence as a physical physique. Figuratively speaking law firms should work on their legs as much as their upper body. If they do, their website and social media feeds will be consistent in look, feel and functionality.

Brown Rudnick LLP is an example of a firm who has managed great cross-platform digital consistency. They have an incredibly impressive website: it’s bright, open, vibrant and fully interactive. And by being so they can expect to stop browser bounce and really draw viewers in. They also have a great blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account.

But as well as maintain a web and social media presence there are further aspects that should be adopted in a full frontal digital communications strategy. By this of course we are referring to email marketing and communications and other creative digital content such as videos and webinars.

Email – email should be seen by any law firm and their marketing division as an indispensable aspect of their business development process. But it is more than just that: it is also vital for branding, working with industry peers and commentators and for building relationships with existing clients. Digital Law UK are a small operation but use email communications to build exposure and communicate their skills and services.

Beyond email communications it’s just as important to maintain ezines and newsletters which inform, update and build a sense of rapport with clients and peers. Clarion Solicitors in England is a good example of a small law firm adopting a monthly newsletter to engage with clients and demonstrate expertise.

Creative digital media – by creating informative videos on platforms such as YouTube law firms can project themselves as forward looking and innovative. But importantly it’s also a way of tracking and keeping on top of consumer and behavioural trends which see people consume more and more video content. The exciting and forward thinking Riverview Law is a great example of a law practice that has adopted YouTube effectively.

Webinars are another fantastic example of a tool that any aspiring law firm should adopt and include on their website. Eversheds is a great example of a law firm who has adopted this medium effectively. Webinars are increasingly being used and will stand as an easy access way for clients, browsers and prospects to get to know the firm, the law and the services it offers.

What is important about the various forms of creative digital media is that they can be coupled with the website, the various social media platforms as well as any email campaign.

By maintaining a consistency across all the digital platforms law firms can build relationships and project an image of professionalism and clarity. And like with any business, clients want certainty, sense and familiarity and so law firms when online should strive to and gain returns from this goal.