It has been an ongoing struggle for seasoned lawyers to compete with up-and-coming lawyers on the advertising front for many B2C practice areas. A fair share of later Gen X, a huge share of Millennials, and potentially also Gen Z lawyers have been quick to embrace digital platforms and social media campaigns to aggressively get in front of their potential clients.
Oftentimes when I speak with lawyers who have been practicing for a decade or two, they look at some of the younger lawyers with intense disdain in regards to their online visibility. They share details of these lawyers being inexperienced, ill-equipped, and even incapable of being able to represent their clients in mediation, let alone a trial. What many don’t realize is that their thoughts about these lawyers that “go against the grain,” at least to them, are extremely common. Also, their typical potential client knows it too.
What You Can Learn from Driving the Highways of Florida
Starting my legal marketing career in Orlando was interesting, to say the least. Compared to other metropolitan areas, it is safe to say the level of competition relative to the population is enormous, especially in the personal injury space. Certainly, there were reasons—Orlando is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country, if not the world, with its network of world-renowned theme parks situated on I-4, which is easily one of the most dangerous highways in the country. When you pair that with Orlando also being one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the country, it all comes together.
The bar was high in Orlando for being competitive in the legal space. I would ramble off the names of PI lawyers like they were memorized state capitols when poised with questions about the advertising landscape: KEL, Newlin, Nation, NeJame, Minor, and (of course) Morgan & Morgan. You wouldn’t go more than a day in Central Florida without hearing news about John Morgan (political or sensational), seeing a billboard of theirs somewhere in Orange County, or walking past their imposing downtown building.
What you’d see in Central Florida years ago seems like the rest of the country has been attempting to catch up on, at least from a personal injury advertising standpoint. The gregariously large “checks” that clients of Dan Newlin received after their settlements were a mainstay to see while making your way down I-95. However, Morgan & Morgan always had something beyond. For years, they displayed imagery of their family, moving into seasonal displays where fathers and sons would wear Christmas hats. Eventually, though, (at least to my recollection) the call-to-action was often removed, such as a phone number or website. Settlements no longer threw dollar signs in front of people. As time went on, there wasn’t even a Morgan & Morgan logo or name. It was the purest form of branding: seeing John Morgan’s face and only the words “Happy Holidays”.
The “Morgan & Morgan” Effect
If you’re wondering where this is all going, give me a few more paragraphs. It’ll all lay the groundwork.
It is now March of 2022, and MM (for brevity, I’ll use this acronym from now on) has billboards touting themselves as the “Largest injury law firm in the country.” They put the fact that they have hundreds of lawyers around the country front-and-center in some ads. John Morgan now appears in the center of a dollar bill on one billboard. There’s another with some sort of “free ticket,” as some sort of admission to perhaps an event where you can find out if you have a case.
The play is obviously the enormity of their practice. The point of my focus on this is not to get you to agree with their approach to advertising or to uphold the integrity of practicing law. It is to recognize that they’re basically the lone law firm in the country (and the world) with this narrative. While it’d be easy to call what we see here gimmicks and the like, with celebrity and political endorsements, jingle competitions, and the famous #law number, what is really happening is that they’re continually beating everyone else at every step as the first firm to secure that form of advertisement.
Though you and I may completely agree that the prestige of legal services should be “above” sensational forms of advertisement and marketing, MM wants you to continue having this mindset as they venture into yet another channel to get in front of their audience. The more lawyers fight this marketing mindset, the more they’re in homogenous solidarity with most of their competition. Meanwhile, the average consumer still doesn’t know the difference.
Does Size Matter?
Some may say it depends on how you use it. The spectrum of legal advertising is a unique Rorschach test, and when we view “Largest injury firm in the country,” other lawyers and legal marketers may say “Just a number! Can’t talk to your lawyer! Will settle right away!” (By the way, I’m neutral on this position. I cannot claim to know the internal operations of these law firms).
The average consumer can very well view this as “more resources, more lawyers handling my cases, bigger firm, bigger settlements.” Associations of “most,” “large,” and “big” coupled with “compensation,” “settlements,” and “money” are rarely going to equate to “I will get paid out less with this firm.” Herein lies the play into grandeur continually upping the stakes.
If you fall into the trap of having to counter not being the largest firm (which, again, is hundreds of lawyers), and you’re like most truly large B2C law firms with a couple dozen lawyers, you are already pigeonholed into perhaps, not being small, but being “intimate”. This is your first problem, which I will now exemplify. MM is a well-defined outlier with a base that 99.9% of law firms will never come close to. However, the influence of this marketing giant is systemic, gently pushing thousands of law firms to create a narrative of “well I may be small, but you’ll benefit from X, Y, Z.” Again, as a reprise mentioned not too long ago, we all would agree on these benefits of being a small firm. However, now your prospective clients, who traverse the legal advertising landscape, see these qualities as commonplace and potentially trite. This is supported by the following.
The Survey – Personal Injury
We randomly went to 100 personal injury websites and looked at the homepage, “About Us,” or any videos on the website. When we found any portion or segment that said “What makes us different,” “What makes us unique,” “Why us?” or anything of that nature, we tallied the reasons that were given. This is what it looked like (some firms provided multiple reasons included here):
- Experienced: 59
- Award-winning lawyer: 32
- Recovered lots of money: 29
- Results-driven: 28
- Hiring the best: 18 (awfully subjective and Bar-rule teetering, huh?)
- Attorney availability: 18
- Clients trust us: 12
- You don’t pay unless we win: 9
There was one each of a “father-son duo” and a “former marine.” Considering all PI firms work on contingency, by default “you don’t pay unless we win” is not only universal, it’s certainly not different.
The Survey – Criminal Defense
Though different from Personal Injury, Criminal Defense was still marginal. The breakdown looked like the following after going through 100 criminal defense law firm websites:
- Experienced: 53
- Results-driven: 41
- Award-winning lawyer: 34
- Clients trust us: 21
- Local: 15
- Hiring the Best: 11
- Diversity: 6
- Dedicated: 5
A few even mentioned pro bono services. Probably a surefire way to get many leads quickly.
Honorable mentions were:
- Straight talking and practical problem solving (I like this one)
- Deep understanding of your issues
Do these differentiators look familiar? Are there really only seven different “uniques” that are available to PI firms, and is it alarming that these consistently fall under sections specifically titled “What makes us different?” Is it any surprise that the largest injury law firm in the country has also positioned itself as the most differentiated and unique?
Turns Out That You Actually Are Different
Once you realize you’re using the same reasoning as every other firm in your city, there’s a bit of effort that goes into figuring out what truly makes you different. Maybe you did work on the insurance side for a while. Maybe you have Spanish-speaking staff that can really represent a significant audience in your community. Maybe you’re completely women-owned, minority-owned, or veteran-owned. We’re getting more unique here.
I can’t stress the importance of innovation enough to not only workshop the differentiators you possess but the differentiators that you will eventually create. Innovation will not only revitalize how you perceive your firm and your place in the community, but your clients and future clients will benefit from it.
In Frans Johansson’s breakthrough book The Medici Effect, there are many ways you can combine ideas together to either bring true differentiators to light, or put you well on your way to creating groundbreaking new ones.
There are some exercises such as this favorite – literally proposing the opposite approach to how you do things (for example, being a criminal defense lawyer and preparing a client to defend themselves in court instead of you. Of course, you’d never actually do this, but these thought processes spur other thoughts that eventually reach something rational).
During the whole process of writing this, I had my own thoughts for MMM differentiators. I know that our agency, including myself, has 4 former in-house employees of law firms, which is already 4 more than most other agencies in the legal space I know.
But what would make us really stand out? If every one of our employees has worked in a law firm at some point in their lives. Literally no other legal marketing agency could say that. And how do you get that to happen? By perhaps, also owning a law firm in states where non-lawyers can potentially own/operate such as UT and AZ. And then the law firm potentially has a training program for the MMM team….you see where I’m going.
Don’t Let Your Differentiators Stop Short
Take experience – that could be construed a million ways, but it’s also important to explain the why it is important. Take a conversation I’ve had with lawyers years ago:
Lawyer: Well, I’m different because I am board certified.
Me: Great. Why is that important for your average client?
Lawyer: Because only about 1% of lawyers in the state are board certified.
Me: Please refer to the previous questions again…
It is too often that we don’t follow through the the additional steps that connect the dots and complete the notion of why this difference makes the difference.
40 years of experience…enables us to have seen literally hundreds if not thousands of scenarios and circumstances….to better prepare us to be able to handle anything that’s thrown at us.
We are available afterhours and on weekends…because you’re going through an extremely tough situation in your life, and our hours work around your life, not ours…giving you the peace of mind we have your back when it isn’t always convenient for us.
The MM concept has fundamentally pigeonholed thousands of lawyers around this country without them knowing. I could be oblivious to the trend in “small firm, big results” positioning I’ve seen and heard so often over the past several years, but I don’t think so. I’ve still been in this arena for over a decade. Carve out your own uniques by fulfilling your current differentiators and getting creative and even bold with a few new ones.
For more information about how to truly stand out in the crowded legal space, schedule a free consultation with the legal marketing experts at Market My Market by completing our contact form today.