A Case Study – The Impacts of Digital Marketing on Law Firm Growth & Expansion
“A fast-growing mid-Atlantic law firm has been expanding into new cities since 2009 as it sought to build out its Northeast region all the way to New York. The firm, which currently has 12 offices and more than 200 attorneys, completed its northern expansion, and now seeks to move south.
‘Our strategic plan was to grow from D.C. to New York,’ the CEO said. ‘We did that; we accomplished our plan. Now we’ve decided to do a multi-regional structure.’
–Excerpt from a Baltimore Business Journal article July 16, 2019”
This case study explores the story of a mid-Atlantic law firm and the impact the digital marketing process developed by Bryan Lawson, Director of Marketing, has had on the firm’s growth and expansion from 2012 to 2020.
In 1987, two brothers and a childhood friend joined to form a law firm in Baltimore, Maryland, representing privately held businesses, the owners and executives of those businesses, and families of wealth. The foundation of the Firm was to provide high quality legal services to the middle market business owner and entrepreneur at reasonable rates that were lower than other downtown firms.
In 2001, founders of the Firm realized their business could grow and prosper if they invested in attracting great lawyers to join their practices. The strategy was to craft an effective business model which included growing the Firm by courting attorneys along with their base of clients. The plan included a unique compensation system which rewards attorneys for performance based on business origination.
By 2013, the growth strategy had proved successful, as the Firm totaled 85 lawyers with revenues of $40MM. At this stage, the Firm’s management committee made the decision to invest in a business of law model, creating non-lawyer business managers to onboard, integrate, and lead newly hired attorneys in each region of the Firm. This is when Bryan Lawson joined as Director of Marketing and Business Development and developed The Legal Marketing Tool Box concept, which created value-added content to market the Firm’s growth story and individual attorneys’ client-focused services. During the ensuing 8 years, the Firm more than tripled in size to over 250 attorneys in 14 offices across seven states and the District of Columbia, with revenues of over $100 million.
One challenge Lawson experienced early was achieving attorney buy-in to the marketing concept of content development and distribution to clients, prospects, and referral sources. Most lawyers are not natural marketers, and some attorneys initially did not believe in giving away free information. Lawson demonstrated to the attorneys that informative, value-added content would result in new and stronger business relationships, more clients, additional business from existing clients, and ultimately increased origination.
Upon joining the Firm, Lawson found the marketing efforts to be ad hoc and inconsistent. The organization’s marketing strategy was left up to individual attorneys’ marketing initiatives.
Lawson saw an opportunity to develop an efficient, integrated marketing process with digital tools and platforms that would benefit the Firm’s brand, and which regional marketing managers could use to plan, coordinate, and execute individual attorney marketing initiatives.
The focus on attorneys’ marketing initiatives was critical, as the firm’s founders believed that client origination could only come through attorneys closing business themselves. The founders expected that attorneys would build their books of business through in-person meetings and events—building relationships by venturing out into the community, serving on organizational boards, and participating in business development groups. In other words, the idea was for attorneys to meet with as many people as possible to develop and further relationships that may turn into legal work.
While these efforts were necessary, Lawson knew that they were only a piece of the puzzle. The Firm needed a concerted, digital-forward marketing strategy in conjunction with conventional, in-person business development efforts. Lawson realized in order for the Firm to meet its revenue goals, attorneys could not be the sole parties responsible for marketing themselves or the Firm.
With Lawson on board, the Firm started to expand and maintain a pattern of growth. The Firm achieved this in two ways: organically, from existing attorneys increasing their client bases; and strategically, by adding lawyers and small owner-managed law firms who would bring their clients to the firm. Lawson’s marketing and content creation strategy was instrumental in not only building these relationships but also for retaining attorneys at the firm by using the the marketing tools developed to create value not only for the attorneys but also for clients and prospects.
The Firm’s clientele primarily comprises small and medium-sized, privately held businesses throughout the mid-Atlantic region. As these clients tend to have inconsistent legal needs, it was imperative that the attorneys had a plan to develop relationships and turn the relationships into business on a regular basis.
Lawson knew that relational business-to-business marketing would not lend itself to traditional advertising. Instead, the firm and attorneys would need to give contacts a reason to stay in touch—by producing thought leadership and informative content that provides solutions to problems business owners face, and prompts them to contact an attorney to discuss their issues further. Content that offered real answers would also increase the attorneys’ chances of being discovered in organic internet searches.
With business owners’ needs squarely in mind, Lawson created a marketing platform that provided the tools for attorneys to take advantage of multiple forms of online content, including website landing pages, blog posts, videos, infographics, news articles, event invitations, emails, newsletters, press release announcements, and more. This platform became known as The Legal Marketing Tool Box.
Lawson also developed several avenues for attorneys to add value (in addition to providing legal work) to their clients and prospects by offering business owners and executives (the Firm’s clients, prospects, and referral sources) access to many of the same marketing tools. The most successful element in generating business proved to be the CEOminutes video interview program—a series designed to capture entrepreneurial stories and promote the Firms’ clients and attorney prospects through video interviews. The interview series, shot with 4K video and audio, showcased business owners as they recounted their individual entrepreneurial stories. The videos were edited into consumable segments, branded, and added to a landing page built on the Firm’s website for social media distribution and sharing. To watch samples of the CEOminutes video interviews, click the button below.
CEOminutes was only one part of the multi-pronged marketing platform. Using The Legal Marketing Tool Box, attorneys could pick the canned programs that most suited their individual growth strategies, client bases, and comfort levels. Some attorneys used the platform to develop extensive libraries of marketing content in the form of blog posts and articles contributed to professional publications. Others tapped into the Legal Marketing Tool Box to launch their own series of videos, podcasts, and events. Several attorneys built large-scale, multichannel marketing campaigns through the platform, establishing themselves as go-to thought leaders in their fields, and rising to the tops of search results.
In addition to the content development tools, Lawson also created a digital content distribution process to reach business owners, executives, and families of wealth in the regions where the Firm’s attorneys practiced. The platform successfully bundled attorney expertise into an accessible, consistent package for clients and prospects. Lawson’s content development and delivery approach required only an hour or two of attorneys’ time per week; the rest was handled by a team of in-house marketing employees and external content specialists working on a contract basis. Each attorney maintained control and oversight through a regional marketing manager who worked closely with Lawson and his team to plan, coordinate, execute, and manage the initiative on the attorney’s behalf. This streamlined process allowed for one marketing manager to support up to 50 attorneys, thus saving significant marketing administrative cost for the Firm.
The success of these programs contributed to the organic growth of attorneys’ practices by an average of 10% per year. Lawson’s marketing programs also fueled the strategic growth of the Firm by attracting the attention of external lawyers looking for better career opportunities, as well as law firm business owners looking to focus on the law and clients rather than management of employees and administrative tasks. In fact, many attorneys and firms who affiliated with the Firm during Lawson’s tenure cited the marketing support for attorneys as one of the main reasons for joining.
Consequently, the Firm grew from 80 lawyers in 2012 to 250 in 2020, and expanded to 14 offices across seven states and the District of Columbia, with revenues growing from $40 million to over $100 million.
Through the efforts of Lawson and his marketing team, marketing and business development evolved from an undervalued and overlooked function into a profit center directly contributing to new clients and business—and a major reason that attorneys joined the Firm. Overall, these efforts led to above-average industry growth rates and inclusion on the Inc. 5000 and the American City Business Journals’ lists of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the US.
As a result of Lawson’s marketing strategy, the Firm and its attorneys experienced…
- Industry-leading, year-after-year growth rates
- Brand development and awareness through content programs
- Expansion into new markets
- Strategic partnership development, along with an increased ROI on in-person events
- An increase in website visits—from ~7k per month to 30k+ per month
- Over $1 million in new business per year attributed to digital marketing activities
- An increase in social media followers from 1k to 10k.
- Inclusion on the Inc. 5000, The American Business Journals’ lists of fastest-growing privately held companies, and the American Legal Media list of fastest-growing law firms .
- Inclusion on the Baltimore Business Journal list of most social companies.