Law firm marketing plans - Firmwide v Practice v Sector v Client?


How many marketing plans does a law firm need? How long should they be?  How do you make a marketing plan translate into action and then results?

“I have seen a lot of marketing plans over the years,” says law firm marketing consultant Sue Bramall. “The single thing that characterises the best ones is the ease with which actions can be ticked off. There really is no point having a 100-page document which you have to comb through to find the actions. If the objectives are not SMART, you will never know if they have been achieved.”

“Anything that long is going to get out-of-date quickly, and the opportunities for law firms change rapidly as laws emerge, consultations are announced, and cases are reported.  Your planning framework needs to be flexible enough to cope with this dynamic environment, while also keeping an eye on the long term strategic goals for the firm.  So, in answer to the question about how many marketing plans a firm will need it may well be several short ones.”

The format of your marketing plan(s) will depend on the size of your firm, and how it is structured.  Does your firm work primarily via practice groups or via market sectors?  Is your market local, national or international? Do you have a dedicated marketing department, or do you encourage all fee-earners to play a role in the marketing? 

While every law firm needs a firmwide plan, the above factors dictate whether it might be beneficial to have more than one layer to your plan.

The following provides a simple framework for planning at the various levels in your firm.

Firmwide market plans

As it says on the tin, this should cover the issues which affect the whole firm. So would cover activities such as:

  • Corporate branding in terms of the visual elements of logos, colour, fonts, templates for marketing materials.
  • Your firm philosophy, your USP (unique selling point) and brand values. What do you want people to say about your firm?
  • Your chosen markets – where do you see growth emanating from in the long term? Which markets are unprofitable and need to be exited from?
  • Firmwide policies for issues such as:
      • GDPR and data management
      • Social media
      • Time recording for marketing
      • Budgetary approval for hospitality and events
      • Whether to participate in directories
      • Soft skills training.
  • IT and marketing – what systems are required by the marketing team, for example for CRM or e-marketing. Does the website need upgrading?
  • HR and marketing – how do marketing and business development feed into performance, and reward? Induction and appraisals? Diversity and inclusion?
  • Other strategic projects, such as a digital or AI innovation, market research, mystery shopping, relocation or a merger.

The firmwide marketing plan sets the course for the firm and provides the framework for all the tactical plans which sit beneath it. It should not change very often, and is a benchmark against which any new initiatives can be tested.

The timeframe on a firmwide plan might be two to three years, with activities scheduled for completion on a quarterly basis.

Sub-plans should be for a twelve month period, and should be easy to roll forward.

Practice group

Most law firm marketing will be planned at practice group level.

The advantage of this is that this is usually how activities are structured, monitored and remunerated.  Also, lawyers tend to monitor their own area of law well, so practice-led opportunities are obvious. 

However, the downsides of this approach are that:

  • it encourages a silo mentality;
  • it doesn’t encourage cross selling; and
  • there may be no space for a radically new idea.

A two-page plan will usually suffice, with one page to cover:

  • setting SMART objectives – what growth is planned in ££ and %?
  • KPIs for this team – eg number of enquiries, or keyword performance;
  • key clients and growth opportunities;
  • key introducers and activities to generate referrals;
  • joint initiatives for cross-selling.

The second page would usually comprise a calendar / spreadsheet with the months across the top.  This allows the team to plan ahead for:

  • External events – conferences, exhibitions, etc
  • Internal evets – seminars, webinars, hospitality
  • Progress of new legislation - and related marketing
  • Newsletters or e-newsletters
  • Content production – to meet keyword objectives

Sector group plans

These follow a similar structure to the plan for a practice group, but have the added dimension of industry knowledge and focus. 

As an example, if you are looking at the retail sector, each practice area group would need to feed in information on:

  • legislative changes which would affect these retailers;
  • common legal issues which retailers need advice on; and
  • forthcoming challenges for the sector, such as the move to e-commerce.

You will need to look outside the usual legal calendar to the key players in the retail sector. Who are the other professionals who are active in the sector? How can you get close to them? What might you work on together?

Key client plans

Consumer businesses spend huge sums on market research to ensure that they have their finger on the pulse of their target customers, while law firms often seem to take their clients for granted.

We all like to think that we know and understand our clients, but are we really as close as we would like to be? Do we understand what their future plans are? And do we have a clear picture of how we will help them to achieve their goals?

Although it tends to be larger firms who invest in client listening programmes with their key clients, a firm of any size should keep a close eye on its top 20% of clients – as they may well be responsible for 80% of profits under the pareto principle.

A simple one page plan for each key client should be sufficient to track:

  • key issues for the client;
  • how your firm can help;
  • who is responsible; and
  • status of activity.

Fee earner plans

If your firm is too small to employ a marketing team, or you like to get lawyers involved from an early stage, then individual marketing plans may also be useful.

These can be beneficial when you want to encourage plenty of activity, but you want to ensure that it is aligned with the other marketing plans.

For example, you might propose that all solicitors have a budget of £xx per month for hospitality or networking.  Without a plan, you may get a lot of busy activity, but not see much impact on the KPIs or the SMART objectives.  If that £xx has to be directed towards contacts in the retail sector or key clients, then the alignment of activities will pay dividends.

A personal business development plan is also an opportunity to help solicitors develop skills in networking, writing or public speaking.  If this is discussed as part of the appraisal process, then training or coaching needs can also be addressed.

There are very beneficial when associates start heading towards partnership and need to start building their own book of work.

Reviewing plans

It is good practice to tie plans into the budgeting cycle, so plans should be submitted for approval at least a month before the financial forecasts are agreed.

If the plans are short and sweet, then they should be quick and easy to review for progress, ideally monthly but at a minimum quarterly.

Don’t be shy of deleting activities that are just not going anywhere. If your actions are aligned with your objectives and you are focused on results, your plans will soon start to pay dividends.

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