Legal Marketing Blog

Power of Public Relations in Law Firms

Posted by Jennifer Macqueen

Law firms that continue to overspend on print advertising should consider redirecting those funds towards a robust public relations (“PR”) program.  Far too many lawyers neglect to fully understand the importance of this pivotal element in creating a successful practice and personal brand.

When executed correctly, PR strategies are powerful tools for developing new clients and increasing the workflow from existing clients.  Readers, viewers and listeners can certainly tell if a law firm has paid to market its services – ads, underwriting radio spots, sponsorships, logo trinkets, are just a few costly items.  When you invest in PR activities, some paid some free media, your practice will enter an entirely new playing field.  This is the playground of the smart and sophisticated lawyers – not just personal injury or criminal defense lawyers – but commercial litigators, business lawyers, estate planning, employment, biotech…the full range.
If you are interviewed by the media to discuss a particular practice or industry topic, you immediately appear to be an expert on that subject.  This third party media outlet – TV, radio, news pubs, trade pubs, and more – are endorsing you the lawyer, and conveying to their readers/listeners/viewers, they consider you to be an authority on the subject matter.  And clients seek to hire lawyers they believe are “experts” in the areas for which they have problems.
Ads are more immediately gratifying – catchy headlines, great images, influential brands – and certainly have a place in your overall marketing plan.  BUT, do the quality clients your firm desires, make hiring decisions off print ads?  Not at all likely.  Would that same high quality client be more inclined to contact you after reading your article, or seeing you interviewed, on the exact business issue that is currently a challenge for that person?  Considerably more likely. 

Common reasons lawyers are apprehensive about public relations:

  • Client and case confidentiality issues
  • Not confident in dealing with the press
  • Lack of control over the final message published or aired
  • Concerned the reporter will get it wrong
  • Negative prior experience has scared them away

“Free media” is the cornerstone to image-building and marketing.

  • You can buy ads, pay for underwriting spots, and sponsorships, but you cannot buy news coverage
  • Free media comes with the legitimacy of the news organization backing the information and the people it chooses to print or air

How will a public relations program benefit a law firm?

  • Increase awareness of the firm, individual attorneys and service areas, which will:
    • Bolster the firm’s reputation and brand
    • Attract new clients
    • Build client loyalty
    • Expand new business from past or existing clients
  • It will also create possible:
    • Client partnership opportunities – allowing the firm to showcase clients, client products and services
    • Increase in referrals and new contact associations
    • Clients with similar cases will be inclined to contact your firm
  • Which in turn will:
    • Reinforce the firm’s key marketing messages and market position to existing and new clients as well as referral sources

Drawing on cases, deals, clients, awards, community involvement, and more, enhances the firm’s image.

  • Proactive outreach to relevant journalists and introductions of firm attorneys as available resources
    • There are times when the initial introduction leads to immediate coverage; taking advantage of these opportunities will help raise your firm’s profile, and that of individual attorneys and services.
    • While a primary goal is to develop relationships with reporters, become a reliable source and open doors for future communication when timely issues arise, reporters are always looking for proven expertise.  The way to garner “source” status is through legitimate news stories.
    • When possible and appropriate, arrange for introductions to key reporters.  These work particularly well with smaller publications.  With mainstream news organizations, however, we are need to find the hook to spike their interest.
  • Basic media training is a must before speaking with the media.  Lawyers will often think they can just wing it – or prepare a few minutes before the reporter and camera crew arrives.  NEVER EVER take this approach.   Taking the time to prepare and present yourself as a rock star on stage, is always the better choice.
  • This training could be a few sessions, an hour, or just a brief phone conversation a few days or hours before the media event.
  • If you are invited to participate in an interview, you should always have a pre-press discussion with other attorneys involved in the case (within your firm or co-counsel outside your firm); if you have a marketing professional in the firm or outside the firm, this person should be closely involved.NOTE:  If clients are included in media coverage, they should also receive a briefing regarding what to expect, what to wear, hazards to note, etc.

There are many ways to “field” a possible story and the main issue of the story will usually dictate the appropriate venue, including: 

  • Press conference – typically occur at filing, settlement, notice of claim, response to lawsuit or breaking news announcement
  • Media Availability – usually appropriate when there are victims or clients who are not comfortable in a press conference setting; more  time intensive, but the personal interviews will often generate more stories
  • Exclusives – not necessarily offered to just one news organization, but perhaps one TV, one print and one radio outlet
  • Very important to pitch and place your story in the correct venue
  • Determination of news value and the timing – You need to understand what makes a story?  When the best time is to break the story (day of the week, time of day, etc)?  Which reporter is the right person to pitch for the story

    Using public relations in cases and with clients involving a potentially NEGATIVE story:

    • PR management can be an essential case component when dealing with potential crisis communications and case management issues.