In this edition of the Let’s Talk Legal Marketing blog series, we’re talking with Chip LaFleur, the president of LaFleur Marketing. LaFleur has over 20 years of experience in the digital marketing space, and since 2014 his company has provided comprehensive digital marketing services to law firms across the nation. From website builds and upgrades, to content marketing and management, to paid advertising and PPC, his company handles it all for attorneys.
Recently, LaFleur published a new book through Trial Guides called “Digital Marketing For Law Firms: The Secrets To Getting More Clients And Better Cases”. In our below interview with LaFleur, we discuss his inspiration for the book, as well as some of the topics covered inside. LaFleur also takes the time to answer some of our biggest questions about the legal marketing industry today. Our interview begins with a question regarding COVID-19.
Answering Legal: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to law firms about marketing during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic?
Chip LaFleur: Quite a few studies suggest that potential clients are more likely to hire you based on brand loyalty generated by taking a community-first, empathetic approach. If you have the resources, you can position yourself incredibly well on the other end of the crisis. Demonstrate good leadership by taking care of your team, if you don’t then whatever messaging you put out there to that effect is going to bite you – but if you take a human-centered approach internally and through your messaging, you have a great opportunity to get a positive message out that you can confidently expect to result in business growth on the other side of it. It does require resources and planning, though – your cost per case is going to go up, temporarily, and that might make some hesitant. But if you know that you’re taking a risk to increase market share (which almost always involves some degree of risk), then you can position yourself extremely well on the other side of it.
AL: What are some of the most frustrating mistakes you see lawyers make with their marketing these days?
LaFleur: I’m increasingly seeing examples of what I would call “fake marketing companies.” Many of them are based out of Salt Lake City or Las Vegas. They use aggressive sales tactics and make difficult-to-believe claims (that are not based in reality).
Do your due diligence before you retain a marketing agency. Check its website for people. Real people, with first and last names. Confirm its address by entering it into Google Maps.
If they don’t list a mailing address, you should be concerned. If they list one but it’s a house, or a sketchy-looking location, probably without signage, it’s probably not a real entity. And if you get something from a Gmail or Yahoo mail account, you should disregard it.
AL: What are some marketing trends that have caught your interest early on here in 2021?
LaFleur: Local Service Ads (LSA) is one trend. If you’ve researched home service contractors (like plumbers and electricians) in the last few years, you may have noticed a box of “Google Guaranteed” service providers at the very top of the search engine results page. You may have even clicked on one of these ads and scheduled an appointment on the contractor’s landing page. Hopefully, it was an effortless process that connected you with the right company. Google’s LSAs for lawyers provide a similar experience for legal consumers.
Here are some of the core elements of a legal LSA:
- Google places these ads above organic results, pay-per-click advertising, and Google My Business listings
- The ads direct visitors to a Google landing page, not your website. Once consumers land on the page, they can either call your law firm via a tracking phone number or send you a message.
- LSAs are pay-per-lead advertising. You only pay when someone converts into a lead by calling your tracking number or sending you a message. Clicks don’t result in a charge.
Connected TV is another trend to watch. Increasingly, your clients aren’t watching network television. In addition to Smart TVs with built-in capabilities, consumers watch CTV on tablets, smart devices, gaming consoles, and Blu-ray players. Over 80% of households now have at least one connected device, and this number is growing quickly. CTV advertising is a good deal right now, because you can have your firm take single-ad spots where you’re not sharing the airtime with any other firms in the show, and people remember it.
The key to doing it well, though, is using great creative. Consumers are less patient with uninspired creative on streaming devices through OTT or CTV – so invest in great creative. When you go beyond the standard direct response ads, you’ll see great results.
AL: As the title of your book reminds us, attorneys aren’t just looking for more clients, but better cases as well. What should law firms be doing with their marketing in order to attract clients that will be a good fit for their practice?
LaFleur: I believe that the key here is being authentic and people-centered. Include client stories as a part of your marketing, and ideally as a central part of it. You’re going to need to generate some volume in order to find great cases, but you can help yourself in this area by celebrating your client’s successes and perseverance.
As we’ve navigated COVID-19, we’ve seen in practice what scientists have said for some time – that while most of us see a single death as a tragedy, we can struggle to have the same response to large-scale loss of life. This principle applies to things other than life and death or disasters. You can proudly display the fact that you’ve recovered a half a billion or a billion dollars for past clients, but your future clients don’t really care about that. They care about their individual experience. When they read stories about people like themselves and how your law firm helped them, they’ll feel a stronger connection.
Marketing is about empathy and understanding the viewpoint of your potential clients. When you can speak to them about what matters most, you’re going to grow your business more effectively. And when people realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event that they need help with, they want to find someone who’s great at it. To me, that gives an advantage to the firm that expresses empathy over volume. If you have whiplash and you think you might get a few dollars, you look for an attorney in a different way. If you want good cases, show people that you’re the once-in-a-lifetime advocate they need, not a commodity.
AL: You say that your inspiration for this book came from a professional relationship and friendship that you’ve had with a Texas trial lawyer named Tom Crosley. Can you give us a little insight into that relationship?
LaFleur: Tom is an inspiring person and an incredible attorney. I started working with Tom two agencies ago, well before I decided to go out on my own. From the outset, I appreciated how much he internalized and empathized with his clients and his team. You learn a lot by spending time with people, but you learn different things entirely by listening to people who have been affected by who you are and how you approach things.
I got the opportunity to listen to Tom’s clients without Tom in the room, and I could immediately hear and comprehend the appreciation that they had for him – not just the work he had done for them but the appreciation they had for him, as a person. Again, and again, people breaking down in tears telling me about the help they received and how they were able to pull their lives back after going through something horrible, and attributing that to Tom and his team. That’s simply inspiring, and it gives me a reason to go to work every day. I know that when I help someone find Tom’s firm, I’m helping that person improve their life in a meaningful way.
Beyond that, Tom is a challenging client to have, and I mean that in the best way possible. He questions everything, and that questioning makes our strategies stronger and more effective. Can we justify a new tactic? How long should we execute on it in order to retain it in our marketing plan? What’s the actual impact of the tactic in terms of ROI? Tom takes marketing almost as seriously as he does his legal practice, and that’s really saying something.
If you have a chance to watch Tom’s recent oral argument before the Texas Supreme Court, you’ll get an idea of how smart he is and how well he can recall specifics even while under intense pressure. He doesn’t turn that off when we’re looking at his marketing plan and reporting. Through the years, this healthy skepticism has informed and improved everything we do as a company. I do my best to emulate Tom’s leadership and look at things from the perspective of a business owner, a lot of which I’ve learned from Tom as we’ve worked together.
AL: Do lawyers have any shot at effectively handling marketing on their own these days, or do they need professional guidance to do it right?
LaFleur: There’s not one answer to this, but yes, lawyers at small firms that want to grow their business mostly through referral relationships can handle some marketing elements on their own. Where it gets more complicated is when we start looking at how we define success in terms of digital marketing, and the cost of making mistakes in both traditional and digital arenas. The cost increases exponentially as you take on more marketing efforts.
Adding to the complexity here is the fact that Google’s requirements are evolving, and their current push to force website owners to comply with Core Web Vitals has significantly increased the threshold of technical expertise required to create a high-performing website. Yes, technology is constantly evolving, and new tools are coming out to make meeting Google’s requirements more reachable, but the highest performing sites are always going to require technical knowledge that most lawyers shouldn’t focus on taking the time to identify and acquire.
Apart from this, the security side of marketing is an increasingly important element that your firm needs to wrap its head around. As marketing has become more personal and marketing databases include more and more sensitive information, it’s a risk your firm either needs to address through great technology partnerships or outsource to a marketing company that understands it and has systems in place to make sure those standards are maintained and enforced.
In the book, we lay out all of the things that a firm can do in-house, even without dedicated marketing staff. But as your firm grows and your marketing needs mature, creating that structure internally or bringing in an agency starts to make a lot of sense. And while your firm may only need three full-time-equivalent employees in terms of time, the implementation of a successful marketing plan requires a team of experts – creative directors, writers, editors, search specialists, strategists, PPC management, videographers, video editors, it’s a long list that is very difficult to recruit for. There are unicorns out there that can do many of the things, but those people are very hard to find and retain for a law firm.
AL: What are some of the biggest misconceptions attorneys seem to have about branding?
LaFleur: We see a lot of attorneys who don’t understand what branding is in the first place. That’s really for good reason – “branding” has been a term co-opted by unethical marketers for ages, where they’re trying to unhitch results from tactics and campaigns by calling them “branding campaigns” that don’t have defined and measurable impact. How’s the campaign performing? Well, we got a TON of impressions! Must be doing great. But that’s not what branding is.
Our creative director, Will McDermott, put it best when he said that your brand is your reputation. And that’s what it is. Lawyers care a great deal about their reputation, and for good reason. When you think of your brand as your reputation, you realize that it’s not just that you want a lot of people to know and recognize your firm, you want them to think favorably about it to the point that they will hire you and refer their friends and family to you. Branding done well can do that, it can help people feel like they know you. And so long as you position yourself in the right way, they will be more interested in hiring you, requiring less effort on your part (or your intake team’s part) to sign on with your firm.
AL: How do you see technology playing a role in the future of legal marketing? Could we start to see more adoption of marketing software from attorneys?
LaFleur: We’re already seeing the generation of case management platforms utilize marketing automation elements, and we’ll continue to see that growing. Predictive technologies will continue to evolve to target advertising to potential clients, and we’re seeing a lot of push-pull between tracking technologies and privacy advocates, so that dance will continue for quite some time, resulting in the need to pay close attention to the tools at our disposal to reach the right people at the right time in a changing environment.
Beyond that, AI and predictive technologies will start to infiltrate the onboarding process more heavily, adding weight to more viable new intakes with better cases (something we’re working on right now). And I’m excited to see how this rolls out to a broader audience.
AL: Money is tight for a lot of firms these days. What are some low-cost marketing strategies you encourage attorneys to take advantage of?
LaFleur: Monthly email newsletters, cultivating marketing lists of other attorneys, and just going out of your way to be friendly with local businesses that can send referrals your way. Putting together educational opportunities for people in healthcare and other related industries goes a long way toward helping people appreciate what you do, and referrals will come from that.
AL: What will your new book provide lawyers that they likely won’t get from other marketing books?
LaFleur: Part of this answer is what we aren’t doing with the book. It’s not a big ad for our services, it’s written to legitimately answer the questions that we’ve heard countless times from lawyers and help them navigate the world of digital marketing. It’s meant to empower them and encourage them to ask us the hard questions. I believe that an educated client is going to ultimately be more effective at advocating for themselves and will get better results.
So, we didn’t hold back and did our best to show how the work gets done, what works, what you should watch for, and how to go about doing it.
We especially made an effort to provide checklists and tools that lawyers can use to improve on what they’re doing quickly as well as better understand how they can reach long-term success. I don’t think that other books on digital marketing in this space provide the actionable insights that we worked very hard to include for the sake of our audience.