Young Lawyers Division Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division

June 2004, vol. 48, no. 6

Five good reasons why your law firm should advertise, and five good reasons why your law firm shouldn’t

Does anyone like a good healthy debate more than a lawyer? The truth of the matter is that the case for legal services advertising is particularly contentious, since there is compelling evidence to support both positions. Let's examine the five key reasons for and against-so you can decide which side of the argument you'd advocate for.

The Case For

1. If you are prepared to make a commitment to strategic advertising a long-term campaign with complementary brand building and demand generation themes, it may make sense for your firm. Advertising is not a short-term proposition. To have any kind of measurable impact, your brand has to be dimensionalized over time, so when an event has a prospective client shopping for legal services, your firm is both top-of-mind and viewed favorably.

2. If you view advertising as a means of differentiating your firm from the competitive herd, in a meaningful, sharp and strategic manner, it can be a very effective tool. Your messages will have to be fresh, creative and disarming so as not to be confused with the vast majority of legal services marketing, which is safe, formulaic and benign.

3. Photography can be a very powerful tool in creating a distinctive image of your firm. If you are prepared to use this strategy creatively, and make the requisite investment, advertising will be worth your time and energy.

4. All firms have specialties and discrete practice areas. If your advertising promotes as a firm strength a specific area of competitive expertise, it can certainly be worth the investment. Better still, if the IP is packaged and marketed appropriately, the offer can generate prospective client calls. A complementary prospect care program can keep your pipeline primed over time.

5. Advertising that employs a "solutions" sell can be particularly effective. If you are prepared to use actual case histories so the prospective client can see themselves and their circumstance in the context of your firm's approach and areas of expertise, you will have a winning strategy. Go for it!

The Case Against

1. On the other hand, if you are only prepared to jump in up to your ankles, advertising may not be for you. If you decide to run an ad or two to see if the phone rings, you will almost certainly be disappointed and view the expenditure as a waste of money-which it almost certainly would be.

2. However, if your firm's advertising insists on making use of the idiomatic imagery-the gavel or the sports metaphor-take a pass. These ubiquitous themes will offer convincing testimony that your firm is one of the pack, unable or unwilling to stand for something unique-an approach, a culture, or best-in-class intellectual property, for example.

3. If you insist on scrimping in the area of photography, you should probably give the whole prospect of advertising a ride. If you only allow yourself the use of stock imagery, you are working off the same palette as most other marketers. Commissioning original photography is more complicated and expensive, to be sure. But it is the only insurance that your campaign will not look and feel like another firm's.

4. If you can't agree on which areas of expertise you should market behind, save your money. In most cases, broader, corporate themes make for the kind of soft luggage execution that goes by unmourned and unremembered.

5. Ultimately, your advertising should paint an illuminating picture of what it would be like to do business with your firm. And by far the most realistic and credible method for doing this is through case histories. The firm that proudly leads with its portfolio and history will always win over the firm that is reluctant, for whatever misguided reason, to talk about its successes. If you don't think your firm will be comfortable showcasing these outcomes, save your money. Your advertising investment is not likely to pay off, and you'll likely hold on to your job longer.

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Tom Simons is President/Creative Director of PARTNERS+simons, a company he created in 1989, growing it to now the largest independent advertising communications firm in New England. Before that he was co-founder of Risso, Simons and Cohn, Associate Creative Director and Arnold & Company, and began his advertising career at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos. He is a graduate of Harvard College.