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Eight Law Firm Branding/Website Makeovers: 8 Before-and-Afters

For most new law firm websites, I think the most-interesting question is how big an improvement is it over the previous one(s).  Is it just a polished-up version of the previous site?  Or is it a significant strategic overhaul as well?

Did the website developer help facilitate a massive upgrade from a version 1.0 to a 5.0?  Or from a 1.0 to a meek  1.5 or 2.0?

For the most marketing-oriented law firms, the website-upgrade challenge is taking a high-functioning version 5.0 website, and tweaking it into a 5.1.  Not bad, but no great challenge. Those firms have a long, marketing-oriented culture, full of progressive marketing committees, skilled marketers, and lawyers looking for new ways to do cutting-edge marketing and branding.

There aren’t many of those firms. 

More commonly, we represent firms with a version 1.2 or 2.0 website. It’s not that they aren’t terrific firms with outstanding lawyers, it’s just that they’ve invested their marketing resources elsewhere. Or never felt the need to do anything especially exceptional.

Every firm comes to Marketing in its own time.

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After branding hundreds of law firms, I’ve found that there are four basic marketing philosophies: A-D.  That is, Love, Like, Neutral, and Hate.  Let’s call them, (A) Early Adopters, (B) Generally Positive, (C) Luke Warm, and (D) See? Marketing Is Stupid.  (Note that the makeovers shown below are randomly interspersed throughout the blog post, they are not intended to be examples of the specific A-D categories.)

(A) Early Adopters.

Early Adopter firms benefit from first-mover advantage and reap significant rewards. Wow, those firms are fun to work with. I was Marketing Partner of one of those firms from 1994-1997, 65-lawyer Coffield Ungaretti & Harris. A reasonable budget (3% of gross revenue), marketing-oriented culture, leadership willing to take measured risks (Rich Ungaretti), and a dynamic marketing committee (Gwen Carroll, Dennis Gallitano, and Kevin Flynn). We had lots of fun, grew fast, and made tons of money. They were acquired by Nixon Peabody in 2015.

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Representing these firms is like teaching a high school AP class — you’re already working with the most-motivated high achievers.  We find it much more rewarding to turn “under-achievers with great potential,” the Bs and Cs, into straight-A students.

Next are the B students, i.e. the “Generally Positive” firms.

(B) Generally Positive. 

These firms might be willing to do good marketing, but don’t know how, or feel the need to push the envelope.  They have a reasonable budget and leadership that can be shown how marketing can help them achieve their strategic and financial goals.  We love turning them into A students.  (If you’re a marketer who likes his/her job, you’re probably at a B firm.)

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 (C) Luke Warm.

Luke Warm firms have never felt the need to do much marketing. Their objections include well-worn platitudes like:

  • “Clients hire lawyers not law firms.”
  • “Good work is the best marketing.”
  • “I got plenty of clients back when marketing was prohibited.”

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They’re the C students who never saw a good reason to study or excel.  With an hour and a PPT presentation we can usually turn them into A students.  They had the potential, they just didn’t know any better. (If you’re a marketer who frequently feels extremely frustrated, you’re probably at a C firm.)

(D) See? Marketing Is Stupid. 

These guys will suck the life out of you. Run by dictatorial managing partners who are great salesmen/ rainmakers, they don’t believe in marketing because they were always able to attract business without it. They can’t imagine that others at the firm might be different, or that marketing could increase the perceived value of the service they’re selling.

So they prove their point by ensuring that their firm’s marketing won’t work. They underfund it, hire mediocre marketers, staff an ineffectual marketing committee, then set unrealistic or vague expectations, which they can’t possibly meet. Creating a no-win situation where success was impossible to attain, they then slash the future marketing budgets.  Screw these guys.

The point I make to the D group is, if you’re doing this well without marketing, imagine how much better you could do when supported by great marketing?  The managing partner doesn’t care, and the rest of the partners typically have no voice. (If you’re a marketer who hates his/her life, you’re probably at a D firm.)

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As with any bell curve, most law firms are in the (B) and (C) marketing category. These days, it’s a pretty steep curve, I’d estimate that the middle encompasses over 90% of law firms, with just a few outliers on the outskirts.

Polishing up an A isn’t especially difficult; everything’s already firing on all cylinders. They just need a newer version of what they have. It’s the same with turning an A into an A+. It’s just baby steps.

The real fun is turning a B or C firm (or even a D) into a marketing A firm overnight, in one giant leap. Those are typical Fishman Marketing clients. 

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Go big.

If you have a shot, don’t go incremental, go exponential.

Upgrading from a C to a C+ is a wasted opportunity. With the right plan, including aggressively educating the lawyers, you can turn a D straight into an A, leapfrogging the competition and setting the firm on a bright new, if unexpected, path.

Inserted randomly throughout this post are a few recent Fishman Marketing before-and-after examples.

They are NOT associated with the ABCD categories they’re shown beneath. I’m not going to identify which I think are As Bs Cs or Ds, you can use your own judgment. Further, each makeover was in pursuit of a specifically defined branding message or market strategy that would take too long to detail here. But you can see what’s possible, in a single-step makeover.

Don’t despair — your firm doesn’t suck. It just sucks now.

Trust me, it’s not hopeless. Even seemingly recalcitrant firms can be dramatically upgraded. Fight the good fight. Eschew their historic mediocrity. Help them see their potential. And if you want to discuss how to upgrade even the most challenging firms to the next level, give me a call. I’m happy to discuss the step-by-step strategy.

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