In this month’s Let’s Debate Legal Marketing column, we’ll be discussing the role of automation in legal marketing.
For those unfamiliar with the term, automation is the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimal human assistance.
While many legal professionals have come around to see automation as a useful tool for their practice, there are still many differing opinions on how much law firms should be relying on automation, and which areas of marketing are best suited for automation. Before we dive into answering these questions, let’s hear the story of a lawyer who saw automation transform his law firm and his life.
Meet Tate Lounsbery
For attorney Tate Lounsbery, it was a very human emotion that led him to the process of automating his legal practice.
“You could say that what inspired me to design my automated marketing systems was a strong sense of inferiority,” Lounsbery said. “And actually it wasn’t just the sense of inferiority, it was the reality of being inferior.”
After five years of practicing, Lounsbery suddenly found himself trying to make it out in the legal world on his own. He quickly came to the realization that competing with the veteran attorneys in his area, as a young baby-faced lawyer, would be quite the challenge.
“When I struck out on my own, I looked for ways to differentiate myself,” Lounsbery said. “The way to do it was with my marketing.”
Rather than wasting hours of valuable time chasing clients on his own, Lounsbery decided to write an eBook, which demonstrated his personality, work ethic, commitment to fighting for clients, and the exact step-by-step process he’d use to get clients the best possible results. That eBook ended up helping him win over a $6,000 retainer from a client with a residential burglary case.
“As a new solo, whose second child was born just 4 days after I lost my job, that $6,000 meant a lot to me,” Lounsbery said. “Not just because it helped pay the bills, but also because it provided the proof I needed, very early on, that automated marketing was the difference-maker—the key to a successful practice. Automated marketing would allow me to rise above my competition.”
How Does Automation Make Marketing Easier?
Marketing a law office can often feel like a full-time job, as in the digital age, there is so much that goes into the legal marketing process. From managing your website, to building your online presence, to blogging, to promoting your services thru social pages, legal marketing can feel pretty overwhelming for attorneys, who likely are already overwhelmed by their legal responsibilities. With that in mind, lawyers are often looking for ways to make their work lives run simpler and more efficiently. And for many attorneys, marketing automation plays a key role in keeping their heads above water.
“Technology makes legal marketing processes simpler by automating routine tasks and enabling effective measurements of time and money,” says Gyi Tsakalakis, President of AttorneySync and advisor for the marketing automation platform Lawmatics.
Lounsbery is a real life example of an attorney that has used technology to change the fortunes of his legal practice. Today, he is widely recognized as one of the top Child Abuse Lawyers and Lecturers in California, finding success through automated eBook, video series, short term nurture, long term nurture, and Facebook campaigns. He now looks to share the secrets to his success with us other lawyers, running Law Practice Mastermind, a workshop that showcases how automated marketing processes can benefit a solo law practice.
“I never feel under pressure to get a prospective client to retain,” Lounsbery said. “Most prospects know what they need to know about me before they call. Before I even pick up the phone, they are already believers. Now, it’s not really fair to say this is due solely to the automated marketing systems, because it’s not; it’s also due to the positioning of my message on my website. But the automated marketing systems, which are visible on my website, are part of the whole package that helps me establish my position in the market.”
Where Should Attorneys Use Automation?
Most would agree that it makes sense for attorneys to institute new technology into their legal practices, but how exactly should they be using it?
“Attorneys should consider automating just about any marketing process that can be automated, without sacrificing authenticity,” Tsakalakis said.
We’ll address the matter of authenticity in the next section, but first here are some areas of marketing lawyers should consider handing over to automation.
Setting up automated email workflows can make a big difference for lawyers looking to engage new prospects for their firm. Rather than sending out email blasts and hoping they resonate with someone on your mailing list, automation allows marketers to set their potential customers up on a specific buyer’s journey. Instead of force feeding new leads, you’ll have the opportunity to nurture them.
An example of this might include a customer downloading an informational eBook on your website, then receiving a follow-up thank you email from your firm a few days later, which includes links to check out other similar pages and blog posts on your firm’s website. Keeping potential customers engaged with your firm, even when they are not immediately in need of legal service, can mean a lot in terms of winning their business in the future. Establish expertise and trust with a person now, and they are likely to remember you when legal trouble actually does arise in their life.
Social networking is a great way to generate new leads, but building up audiences on these platforms takes a lot of time and persistence. Chances are you and your staff don’t have the time to be logging into social media and posting new content to your social channels every day. But, you might be able to dedicate a few hours to social posting every month, and that’s where automation tools can come in handy.
By using social scheduling tools like Hootsuite, law firms can plan out their social media posts weeks or months ahead of time. These platforms let marketers pick the date and time they want a post to appear, and which social networks they want to appear it on. That way a law firm’s social accounts can remain highly active, giving attorneys daily opportunities to speak relationships with new potential clients.
Law Firm Websites
Lawyers work hard to get people to call into their firm, but if they don’t have someone ready to pick up the phone and answer questions, they’re likely to see a large portion of those new leads pass them by. The same is true of law firm websites. If your website isn’t ready to immediately answer basic questions that a consumer might have about your firm, you’re likely to experience a lot of quick bounces.
Having staff monitor the live chat field on your website 24/7/365 is not very realistic, which is why many firms experiment with chatbot technology to meet the demanding nature of the modern consumers. Chatbots can remain active at all hours of the day and night, always answer immediately, and are able to communicate with multiple site visitors at the same time. Automated chatbots also have the ability to proactively reach out to site visitors with a message offering assistance, and can guide your customers through conversations, that will give them more information about using your services.
For attorneys with limited staffs, doing the little things required to keep a business up and running often ends up eating a good chunk of their day away. Utilizing technology to either completely handle or speed up daily administrative tasks can help firms free up more time for engaging and winning over new clients.
- Online payment technology softwares like LawPay allow attorneys to easily collect, request, and refund client payments.
- Cloud-based law practice management softwares like CosmoLex make it simple for attorneys to quickly build any type of document.
- Scheduling softwares like 10to8 can give law firms the option to have clients book their own appointments online, based on time slots the attorney deems to be available.
Where Can Marketing Automation Go Wrong?
New technology is your friend… most of the time. But, as Doug Bradley of Everest Legal Marketing was recently reminded, marketing automation tools are far from across the board perfect.
Recently, Bradley discovered that an article another law firm had written for his website had become littered by thousands of spammy backlinks. It appears that the firm that executed the guest post, decided to outsource their backlinking efforts to an automated backlink builder.
The end result will be poor for all parties involved, as Bradley must now disavow the backlinks, and may end up having to delete the content all together.
“If you’re going to automate any part of the SEO effort, (specifically link building), I would keep a careful eye on what’s happening off the website,” Bradley said. “I’ve worked with several law firms that utilized a contractor they found on Fiverr, or a discount SEO service provider and they had no idea that the links being built to their website were complete spam. It is possible that spammy backlinks can have a temporary benefit to a website, but eventually they can do damage that is difficult to repair. In severe cases, the website URL has to be abandoned altogether and relaunching a new domain is necessary. Your SEO professional should know how to optimize an attorney’s website, and have client examples and references to draw upon.”
Balancing automated and human marketing
While its true that automation can be highly effective for sparking a firm’s marketing campaigns, completely relying on such technology can often lead to trouble. For example, Tsakalasis notes that email newsletters that come across as “canned” tend to be much less effective.
“Automated emails that lack authenticity can actually become a marketing liability as subscribers are likely to filter and block those messages from inboxes,” Tsakalakis said. “Furthermore, if your firm becomes associated with those messages, you may find people blocking you on social networks as well.”
In order for your social media pages to come across as authentic, you’ll need to do more than simply schedule out posts. There is of course a networking element to social networking, which requires a firm having a real person ready to respond to comments and messages their social pages receive. Leave your social pages unmonitored for too long, and you’re likely to miss out on new lead opportunities.
Automated chatbots will also require at least some human attention to be 100 percent effective. There will be some customer questions that are too complex for an automated system to handle. For these types of questions you may want to program the chatbox to tell your site visitors to call into your firm, and employ a service like Answering Legal to ensure that your office always has a trained representative ready to pick up the phone, and keep you from missing out on opportunities to capture significant leads.
New technology should be embraced with open arms, but lawyers probably shouldn’t rush to automate their entire practice all at once. Before instituting any kind of new marketing automation into their firm, attorneys should take the time to learn how to properly use it and carefully consider all the positives and negatives that come with using new softwares and systems.
It’s also worth noting that while automation has carved itself out valuable roles in the legal marketing process, the client relations part of a lawyer’s job still requires a lot of human attention.
“It can sometimes be tricky to know when to automate,” Lounsbery said. “There are some things you can’t automate entirely, such as actually speaking with the client when something goes well or when something goes bad. Formulating a legal strategy with a client would also be very difficult to automate. In my practice, that must include a person-to-person discussion between me and the client. The other part that you don’t want to automate are the fun parts, like calling a client to tell them you won their case. That’s the part that makes practicing law worth it. We definitely want to make that a personal experience, for ourselves and our clients.”