COVID was not kind to law firm marketing and business development, with two-thirds of firms reporting that business development was more difficult in 2020, and the overwhelming majority of firms pivoting their marketing strategies, turning from live conferences and face-to-face meetings to social media, email alerts and Zoom.

These are among the findings of the 2021 InterAction Marketing & Business Development Survey published this week by LexisNexis InterAction.

“Even law firms that grew over the last year had to do things differently,” the survey finds. “With referrals down and face-to-face conferences on pause, law firms turned to digital marketing and business development. In-person meetings have given way to videoconference meetings on platforms such as Zoom.”

The survey polled firms of all sizes, with the majority of responses coming from firms of 100 or more employees. Most responses came from North America, but some also came from the U.K., APAC and EMEA regions, as well as South America.

New Strategies

The impact of the pandemic on law firm marketing was dramatic. Seventy percent of firms said that their strategies to win new business have changed considerably over the past 12 months, and 66% of firms said that the pandemic had made business development and sales more difficult.

“Cancelled or postponed client work, delayed payments, video conference meetings, and new court procedures all wreaked havoc on law firms,” the survey says. “A lack of referrals, conferences, and trade shows, and client growth during the pandemic also impacted the business development of many law practices.”

To better analyze results, the survey grouped firms into three categories based on their annual growth from 2019 to 2020, with roughly a third of firms falling into each category:

  • High-growth firms had annual revenue growth of 11% or higher.
  • Average-growth firms had annual growth of 0-10%.
  • No-growth firms had negative annual growth.

High-growth firms adapted more readily to the pandemic, the survey found, largely by embracing digital marketing and technology, while no-growth firms tended to take more reactive approaches, such as by cutting budgets.

Rise In Digital Marketing

Not surprisingly, digital marketing took center stage for law firms in 2020, with almost every firm having some sort of website, and the large majority of firms using social media, LinkedIn, email marketing and webinars.

A sign of the times: A third of firms in the survey said they now have podcasts.

And while the survey found that firms in all three categories are using these techniques, it found that high-growth firms use certain techniques more frequently. High-growth firms use webinars and virtual events significantly more than no-growth firms. They also use video content and podcasts two to three times as much as no-growth firms.

“These channels allow speakers to showcase their expertise and personality so that listeners feel more comfortable with them,” the report says.

Metrics Matter

Although firms reported multiple challenges to their marketing beyond the pandemic — lack of strategy, insufficient technology, insufficient budget — most firms nevertheless reported that they considered their marketing efforts to have been successful.

In fact, 69% of firms said their marketing was successful — a drop from 75% when this survey was last conducted in 2019, but an understandable drop, as the report says, given the pandemic. That said, high-growth firms were more likely than no-growth firms to consider their marketing successful.

A key driver in marketing success is tracking metrics, the report says. A third of firms that self-identify as having high business development maturity say tracking metrics is important, and firms that saw high growth were four times more likely to use tracking metrics in their marketing and business development.

Law firms’ use of technology in marketing is on the rise, the survey finds. Nearly three-quarters of firms use email marketing, nearly 60% use a client relationship management (CRM) tool, and nearly half use analytics.

When use of technology is compared against growth, the survey finds that high-growth firms use content management technology nearly twice as much as no-growth firms (51.4% vs. 27%).

“These technologies can provide more visibility around thought leadership and subject matter expertise, as well as more opportunities to show that a law firm understands — and knows how to solve — key client issues,” the report says.

Tech Is Essential

What are the takeaways from these survey results? The report offers four:

  • Law firms cannot wait any longer to adopt technology. Firms that use technology see a greater competitive advantage.
  • Law firms are not the only ones adopting technology. Your prospects and clients are more tech savvy and expect you to be.
  • Law firms will return to a different normal. Tools such as videoconferencing will remain popular even after we return to the office.
  • Business development will need to continually adapt and innovate. Firms must evolve to meet changing times.

There is much more information in the survey than I’ve covered here. Download the full report from InterAction.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.