The Top 25 Law Marketing Cliches to Avoid.

As a whole, lawyers are very literal, often too literal for good marketing.  As a result, many firms simply opt for the obvious icons that represent the general concept of “Law,” just like most of their closest competitors.  The logical rationale seems to be, “Well, if everyone else is doing it this way, it must be right.”  But that’s wrong.

Your marketing should set you apart, help you stand above the crowd.  And doing exactly what they do buries you in the anonymous middle.  Sure it’s safe, but “safe” doesn’t help generate revenue.

That is, if your website home page shows a skyline or column, you’ve immediately convinced everyone who sees it that (1) your firm is mediocre, and (2) there’s nothing worth reading inside.  If you want to claim to be a high-end, A-tier firm, then you must look like it, and a photo of a handshake, map, or pen resting on a document won’t cut it.  No exceptions, unless you’re, say, Wachtell or Cravath.

So here they are, the 25 most typical and tedious clichés law firms use (and what they actually convey to the average reader):

The Image (What it means.)
1.                Globe/Map  (We did a deal in Toronto once.)
2.                Shaking hands  (We’re your partner.)
3.                Building/Architectural detail  (We work in a building!)
4.                Skylines  (Look!  We work in a city!)
5.                Columns/Courthouse  (We’re lawyers!)
6.                Gavel  (Yup, we’re lawyers.)
7.                Light bulbs (We have good ideas.)
8.                Chess pieces (We’re strategic.)
9.                Diverse conference room (Obvious stock photo.)
10.              Smiling lawyers  (People work here!)
11.              Scales of justice  (Still just lawyers.)
12.              Dart boards  (We’re on target.)
13.              DNA/Test tube/beaker/gears/CD (We have an IP practice.)
14.              Man/Woman walking, in suits (That’s our profession’s action shot.)
15.              Vacant lobby/Conference room (We go home at 5:00.)
16.              Books (This might be 2012, but we still use books.)
17.              Laptop/Computer (Look!  We use computers!)
18.              Eyeglasses or pen on a document (We work on documents.)
19.              Boxing gloves (We’re tough.)
20.              Rowing/Musicians (We work as a team!)
21.              Crayons/Flags/Circle of hands (Diversity!)
22.              Grinning PI or divorce lawyer (Lost a limb? Wife left you? Good for me!)
23.              Cheetah (We move fast.)
24.              Maze (We solve puzzles.)
25.              Blurry man running up steps (Out of my way! Late for court!)

The fact that you immediately recognized all or most of these, and perhaps laughed embarrassingly at a few, proves that these images have lost their impact.  So, if you’re using any of these in your marketing materials, from website or blog to print ads or brochures, stop immediately.

Either change your tag line to “Average skills. Average price.TM” or, preferably, come up with something that really sets you apart.  Create something else, something great.  Something that helps you stand out in a way that generates real revenue. If you can’t do it, hire someone who can.  But it must be done, it’s important.

Figure out who you really are, then build your marketing around that.

2014 update:

The City Skyline cliche that nearly half of law firm websites showed on their home pages is gradually fading, in favor of the new overused meme – Smiling Lawyers.

This isn’t to say that photos of your lawyers can’t be used effectively to illustrate a distinct message (see e.g. HedrickGardner.com, where the photos are used strategically to convey the firm’s toughness and trial skills). Rather, if you’re simply rotating photos of cheery lawyers who work at your firm (i.e. photo of Sally Smith next to the name of her practice group and office), then you’re not really saying anything at all.  It’s easy, it’s lazy, and suggests that someone in the process, either the marketing committee, branding firm, and/or web developer is simply phoning it in.

You can do better.  We must do better. 

June 8, 2011 update:

This irreverent post got a lot of traffic, mentions, retweets, and forwards.My favorite mention, not surprisingly, comes from Non-Sequiters, in Above the Law: 
“Here are 25 legal marketing cliches to avoid… or only use ironically, amiright?”

 

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  • Accounting Warrior says:

    I'm a former BigLaw accountant interested in the accounting side of practice management (getting my CPA license this summer), and I loved this post. When I graduated law school, legal marketing had so many "taboos." When I see ads with smiling lawyers, I always assume I'm looking at professional models. Anyway, thank you.

  • Ross Fishman says:

    Accountants have their own cliches. In addition to the standard "professional services" ones like the diverse conference room, lobbies, buildings, and dart boards, instead of gavels they have images of international currency, tax forms, banks/vaults, adding machines/calculators, and others.

    The difference is, most accountants still think these work just fine…

  • Mike says:

    Since our training is now virtual, we're considering showing a room with no people in it. Whaddya think?

    Great post, my friend.

  • Ross Fishman says:

    I think that's a good idea, Mike. And it has the added benefit of implying that (1) everyone stops work at 5:00, and/or (2) your people turn over too frequently to use their actual photos.

  • Ronnie Searfoss says:

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