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This week we’ve been looking at the differences between US and UK law firms in terms of their marketing and branding, tying in with our US Market Integration Review back in March.  You know how it is… we all start to review our marketing as the summer season hits (frankly it’s the only time we busy law firm marketing people have) and we were prompted, here at EC Towers, by the fact that we’re just about to go live on this year’s favourite law firm web client (follow @ElephantCreate for news).

Some would say that law firms have been amongst the last businesses to really embrace digital marketing and social media as part of their wider marketing strategy.  In fact, our Digital and Social Technologies report, published back in the Autumn (and about to be kicked off for 2014), was pretty enlightening in terms of the differences in approach.  Whilst many partners saw digital technology as an entirely brand awareness exercise (including websites) marketing teams were plugging away on generating instruction.  And where were relationships and client care in all this?

With input from Managing Director, Helen Hammond, Elephant Creative associate Nikki Bruce takes a look at some different approaches by US and UK law firms, as well as their transatlantic cousins and asks whether we can learn anything from this.  Importantly, she asks, whether this disconnect between partnership belief in brand and marketing’s work on business development influenced activity is important.

Clifford Chance, ranked as one of the most popular law firms in the UK and voted ‘International Law Firm of the Year’, knows the importance of having a professional looking, well branded website.  Well, duh… of course they do… and they have the budget to allow it to happen, we hear you cry.  With a white background and crisp black lettering, the website is simple and very user friendly.  Easy to navigate, there are clear links allowing users to quickly find the pages they wish to view.

As the ultimate destination for all of their digital marketing the Clifford Chance website aims to establish the law firm as an international force to be reckoned with.  The ultimate thought leader in the industry.  For them it’s not a case of telling people that they ‘do’ the law.  It’s taken as read.  Their approach is a quiet confidence, positioning them as the obvious leaders in a number of complex legal disciplines.  Everywhere you go there is high-level content, cross selling, linking to key personnel and hammering home the fact that they are first and foremost THE International Law Firm of the Year.  In fact, so important is this message we wonder what will become of their website when it gets to next year… and someone else wins the award… Their content, as one would expect, digs deeply and showcases not only knowhow but achievements and supplementary associations and awards.  It’s unashamedly focused on their global presence – perhaps a nod to the importance of people being able to meet up and using digital to generate face-to-face meetings.  They have mixed media through their webinar section (importantly showing a strong sense of ‘people’ in what could come across as a rather faceless firm).  In fact, as destinations for digital marketing go… it’s pretty impressive.  But why expect anything less… did we mention that they’re International Law Firm of the Year?

On Twitter, Clifford Chance has 8,573 followers and 25,764 on LinkedIn.  These networks are used to share regular posts consisting of legal content, promotional posts and posts engaging with other followers.  Clifford Chance uses its Twitter profile to engage with their followers and clients alike (as well as the holy grail for all firms… referrers) by sharing updates about the firm and retweeting other users’ tweets.  It’s through this that they also showcase their wider expertise, with both individual fee-earner profiles and service area/sector profiles.  Once again, demonstrating global reach, thought leadership and a ‘person-focused’ approach is key.

So let’s look a little closer to home… in this case, to Linklaters.  Well… there’s no denying that this site feels more comfortable… less aggressive and ‘global’.  But is that true?  It all comes down to how they represent their brand.  Clifford Chance was establishing itself as a global superpower.  Linklaters, however, live and breathe their UK origins.  They may have a global presence but one of their great strengths is their UK history, values and approach.  Perhaps that’s why The Sunday Times is front and centre on the site homepage?  We can tell from their strong brand identity, use of colours – white, black and purple – and the fonts used that they’re no stuffy old bunch.  There are also clear links to a company news section and social media profiles, but in this case, it’s really about people.  The first article we see is about their award as an employer… and then we move on to look at news on the things they’ve done.  We instantly feel that relationship and communication… that being ‘thoroughly decent chaps’ is uppermost in their strategic minds.

Not that they’re slouches in the old content sharing and thought leadership stakes, however.  Linklaters has profiles on Facebook with 1,945 likes, Twitter with 4,138 followers, LinkedIn with 19,636 followers and even a Youtube channel which currently has 90 subscribers. The Linklaters Facebook page is used to build a brand personality by sharing more personalised posts such as pictures of dinners with clients, links showing exhibitions that the firm is attending and links to their blog posts.   It also presents a clear demonstration of their belief in ‘location’ marketing (something that was highlighted in our Digital Technologies Report).  Retention of relationships with existing clients is clearly a priority for social and digital media, for this firm.  Twitter is used to share updates about the firm and engage with their followers by contributing to discussions and retweeting other posts.  In fact, retweeting is key, once again demonstrating a commitment to relationships.  Their LinkedIn activity focuses more on business networking and they share industry relevant posts such as the announcement of the first female London corporate chair for a law firm.  Finally, Youtube is used to share informative videos establishing the firm as a leader in the law sector but, more importantly, demonstrating that their legal experts aren’t just a bunch of stiffs in (expensive) suits.

Lastly, before skipping overseas, we wanted to take a look at Slaughter and May…a firm that we were asked to review in preparation for a City firm website rebuild pitch.  Also based in the UK, its site suggests that these people break out in a bit of a sweat when they stray too far from a golden bull or the Square Mile.  It’s an unashamedly slick, beautiful site.  Imagery is stunningly used to present their partners and fee-earners like the CEOs of multi-nationals… or banks… in fact, all the places they’re marketing to.  They are straight on the legal directory quotes and testimonials, proving that they’re the best at what they do and everyone knows it.  But here’s the funny thing… compared to Linklaters and Clifford Chance, this firm appears to have the smallest international reach of the lot.  They are dressing for the job they want, not the job they have.  Using the colours black, white and purple the website is crisp and clean with the information easy to decipher and navigate.  There are visible links to a blog and a ‘press releases and media contacts page’, demonstrating confidence and success both at a knowhow level but also firm-wide achievement.

Alas, it was all going so well…  When we get to their social media, the skids go on.  Yes, there is a Facebook page (curiously), mostly focusing on trainee recruitment with 1,469 likes.  But their Twitter account is protected so nobody can have a proper look… and putting aside a rather entertaining YouTube video supposedly of their Christmas party in 1981, there’s little to write home about there.  Incidentally, this is a real shame as, as mentioned in our April wrap, their embedded videos for trainee recruitment are fantastic.. so why aren’t they sharing more? There is a company page on LinkedIn with over 60,00 followers but there isn’t much on it so it’s hard to see how they use it strategically.  But does this matter?  If they’re targeting banks and CEOs, should they be bothering with all the social media “hype”?  Are they missing a trick here?  Speaking personally, we found it all a little sad that this firm appears to have such a glorious, strong brand and they don’t do more to engage with people on a one-to-one level, digitally.  They have so much to talk about and do such an amazing job of their website – there are few out there that understand user journey as well as they do – and yet where is the conversation?  Where are they using this great brand to talk to people?

All in all, so far, an interesting journey through three somewhat similar firms, in terms of target audience, but with very different brands and approaches.

But now, let’s hop across the pond.  In the United States, the top law firms take a slightly different approach to marketing and branding.  A popular practice, Kirkland & Ellis LLP has shunned the black (or purple) and white favoured by many of the UK law firms and chosen a blue background with white writing.  Let’s be honest… it’s dangerously close to the navy-blue-times-new-roman of yesteryear.  In comparison, and to our British marketing eyes, the website seems more cluttered and harder to navigate.  There are no clear links to a blog section or any links to social media profiles.  In fact, we wondered, from their website, whether they actually like talking to people at all?  There’s a link to their blog and news if you dig hard enough, but nothing to suggest any social media.

Eventually, our elves did find a rather good Twitter profile @Kirkland-Ellis with 5,432 followers and a lovely, engaging LinkedIn page with almost 10,000 followers.  In fact, when you look at this you see some great, personality-driven content where they share news and views as well as engage through conversation.  So why not link it to the website better?  Perhaps herein lies the distinction between purely US firms and those that started over in the UK.  In many cases US firms seem to keep their digital marketing in carefully compartmentalised boxes.  A website is an online brochure… conversations are to be held elsewhere.  We don’t need to drive people to each do we?

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP has a very brand-centric approach to its website design.  With a white background and black text the website is crisp and clear, making it easy to use and navigate.  With a clearly highlighted ‘news’ section, Sullivan & Cromwell is able to keep its visitors informed of its latest projects and developments.  The firm posts items such as the news that they were ranked in sixth place in the Financial Times Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers Report 2014.

As part of its digital marketing strategy, Sullivan & Cromwell has profiles on both LinkedIn with 3,904 followers and Twitter with 324 followers.  Twitter is used by the firm to build engagement by sharing links to their website and other news that their followers will be interested in.  The Sullivan & Cromwell LinkedIn page is used for business networking and advertising any job openings they have at the firm.  So, hang on a moment… a US firm that does join things up?  Are they the only one?

Well, no… but they are one of the few… Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, another law firm with its Head office located in the US also has a clearly branded website.  In fact, it’s a rather pretty site on first look… with an impressive landing page, lots of white space, short blocks of text and clear links.  And then you get into it and get really, really scared…

The site makes zero use of digital channels or blog content… the amount of copy on each page goes up to stratospheric proportions… and there’s little to prove their expertise but for a walloping big list of attorneys on there (which one can sort by law school).

Ok, we’d be totally unreasonable (and wrong) to suggest that US firms aren’t using digital marketing and UK firms are.  There are just as many shockers in the UK, for sure.  But it’s clear that, as a rule, UK-based firms have embraced the engagement and conversational opportunities posed by social and digital media more than it appears most US firms have.  They understand the value of content, thought leadership and relationships.  The days of being able to choose your lawyer by their law school are long gone here and we think that’s a good thing.

Perhaps  clients have different expectations and experiences of law firms here in the UK, when compared to the United States.  In Britain we expect our top lawyers to be just as social and human as many other business people, and social and digital technologies allow us to demonstrate this.  But we can’t believe that, deep down, clients in the US want anything else.  After all, all we’re really selling is knowledge and a relationship.  So yes, in that respect, any firm (whatever their location) that doesn’t get with the programme is missing a trick.  Why demonstrate legal brilliance if you’re not also demonstrating that the people on the end of the phone are great to work with?  And trustworthy?

This whistle stop tour may explain why so many US firms, entering the UK marketplace for the first time, struggle to find their feet.  It’s not that they don’t have the best people, but perhaps they’ve not noticed the value one can place in marketing relationships and communication.  In today’s increasingly digital age it’s wrong to suggest that face-to-face is the only way to build a relationship.  Clients expect proof of an ability to do this just as much as they do legal brilliance.  It would appear that the trend is for UK firms to lead on this, using Twitter, LinkedIn and their websites not just to sell the law but to establish themselves as the sum total of the people within them.  Grounded in relationships and engagement with clients.

But you may not agree with us…

This post merely represents personal opinions within a marketing context. It in no way voices any opinion as to the excellence of any of these firms, in their professional work.