The Impact of the Coronavirus on Law Marketing

With the coronavirus outbreak in full swing and the economy teetering on disaster, I hate to say it, but this is a really good time to talk about marketing.

The coronavirus outbreak brings not-all-that-distant memories of the financial crisis and resulting recession of 2008. I started my law marketing consultancy in 2001—with many law firms flush with cash and happy to spend more on business development to keep the good times going. My business model and client base changed after 2008—many of those Big Law projects and accompanying budgets disappeared. My business remained constant, but with a significant change; small and midsize law firms and niche boutiques found that they needed to ramp up marketing efforts to regain a foothold and compete for matters in a different corporate environment. Post-2008, marketing became critical to many law firms in the U.S.—and while I’m certainly no economist, I have to believe the coronavirus will bring repercussions in the coming months and years, as corporate belt-tightening and other economic factors again make marketing a critical component of a law firm’s success in the 2020s and beyond.

In the overall scheme of things, lawyering is a relatively recession-proof profession. With bad times still come lawsuits and litigation. Less business and less hiring can mean less work for an IP attorney or employment lawyer. We all feel it. But the adjustment will come as consumers become a little more cost-conscious of hourly rates, and corporate legal departments are told to cut costs and do what they can to help the bottom line recover.

Some of those Big Law marketing departments that have been staffed up and restocked over the last decade or so are going to find some slashing of dollars and resources. Unfortunately, the powers that be often see “business development” as an area that can be downsized a bit before other areas of the org chart. You certainly are not going to cut the tech budget. The “intangibles” of many law marketing efforts at the Big Law level suddenly become a little tougher to quantify. But solo, midsize, and boutique firms may see new opportunities if they are nimble and able to operate a little more on the fly.

Might I suggest that this is not the time to curb your marketing, but the exact opposite? If work has slowed, take advantage of the time to work on those BD efforts that often end up taking a back seat to your caseload. Start thinking about where your firm and practice needs to be in a (temporarily, I hope) altered universe. You will need to be visible—and display an expertise, skillset, and price points that set you up to retain, regain and grow your law practice.

The March 2020 edition of Law Practice Today—our marketing-themed issue—should serve as a primer for moving forward. Tim Stanley and Chris Skelton of Justia provide an in-depth game plan for getting business online in 2020. “Why Litigation PR Needs to Be Part of Your Marketing Plan,” by Jamie Diaferia and Zach Olsen of Infinite Global, highlights ways to up your PR game in ways that can positively impact the bottom line. “Building Client-Generating Law Firm Marketing Assets,” by Robert Gruler shows a different path to marketing success by the partner of a consumer-facing law firm in Arizona.

In a feature I authored, “How Will Your Firm Survive in Today’s Merger Mania Marketplace?,” I write, pre-coronavirus, about the impact of mega-mergers on law firms of all shapes and sizes. If I were rewriting that piece now, I’d also highlight the additional pressures those mega-firms now face as they deal with thousands of employees and offices around the globe—with some of those locations now completely debilitated. Operating like a mega-corporation brings with it a set of challenges that closely mirrors the global marketplace as a whole.

Talk about timing? Krista Hart’s update on one firm’s telecommuting journey could not be more relevant today, as many institutions no longer have a choice in employing work or study-from-home capabilities. Melissa Lagoumis’s experiences on how her 3L externship changed her outlook and career are a reminder of potentially different paths a law student may seek to take in the coming years.

If things slow down, take some time to update your bio or play around on LinkedIn—things that have been on your to-do list for the last year or more. It is never too early to start repositioning your brand, the firm, and your practice for what a successful law practice might look like over the next decade. After the 2008 downturn, law firms would come to me desperate to “market,” but often out of time, money, and the resources to recover on their own. Marketing is always important—and now is no different.

About the Author

Micah Buchdahl is an attorney who works with law firms on marketing and business development and is a past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division. Micah is the Associate Editor of Law Practice Today’s Board of Editors. He can be reached at micah@htmlawyers.com or 856.234.4334, and on Twitter at @mbuchdahl.

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