Five Law Firm Marketing Ideas For the New Year

By John W. Olmstead, MBA Ph.D CMC

While many law firms have recently finalized their marketing plans for 2018 other firms are just beginning to develop their plans and programs while other firms have not even started. Here are five ideas that might be helpful in your 2018 planning.


Start by creating the culture and environment.  Marketing and client service needs to be incorporated into the culture of the firm. All attorneys should have a role in marketing. Staff can have roles as well. All partners must walk the talk and consistently build and reinforce the marketing goals of the firm. Marketing goals and action plans should be formulated for all attorneys and they should be held accountable.

A few suggestions:

  1. Begin setting marketing goals for each individual attorney in the firm and incorporate a review of goal accomplishment in performance reviews.
  2. Incorporate into the compensation system – measure more than billable hours.
  3. Provide marketing training.
  4. Provide adequate tools to support marketing efforts – budget, database, goal attainment dashboard reports, etc.
  5. Tie equity partnership to the ability to develop a substantial book of business.

Changing the culture of the firm will take time – however over time a marketing mindset will emerge.


Based upon client satisfaction surveys (telephone interviews) that we have done for law firms we find that one of the biggest problems is that the attorneys are doing a poor job of managing client expectations. Your clients get frustrated when you promise one thing (timeline or fees) and the result is very different – especially when the work takes longer than promised or the fees are higher. Even though you don’t structure it as a promise your clients take it that way. The key is to under promise and over deliver. I suspect that upon the initial client meeting you are under estimating the timeline and low balling the fee range. Reduce the promise – increase the – timeline and fee range and then shoot to deliver under that range. This will do wonders for improving the client relationship.


Studies that have been conducted indicate that law firms that provide services to business firms (B2B) spend approximately 2.4% of fee revenue on marketing. However, law firms that focus on individual consumers (retail law if you will) spend much more – 10%+ of fee revenues on marketing – especially if strong referral networks are not in place. I have several PI, SSDI, Elder Law and Estate Planning firm clients that are spending 10%+ of their fee revenue or greater on marketing. I have some extremely successful PI firm clients spending 20% of their revenue on marketing.

The amount of appropriate investment can depend upon referral networks in place. I have successful PI and Estate Planning firms that are spending very little on marketing, are getting all of their business from their referral networks, and spending next to nothing on marketing and advertising. (By referrals I am speaking about professional referrals not involving a referral fee and client referrals. If referral fees are involved they should be considered a marketing cost) So it depends upon your situation, the type of cases you are going after, etc.

Measure Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI)

As important as the amount of your marketing investment is to your program – you must constantly measure the effectiveness of your various marketing program activities and know at all times your ROMI (return on marketing investment). Then you determine what is working for you and what it now working – then fine tune your program.

Implement Effective Inquiry/Lead Management and Client In-Take Systems

Many firms spend enormous amount on marketing and then drop the ball on managing and processing prospective client inquiries. Inquiries that are generated thought the internet or advertising are colder leads than referrals from other clients or referral sources. Cold inquiries expect 24/7 response – often you only have a two hour window to get back with these inquiries or they will contact someone else. Before you make major investments in TV, Radio, Pay-Per-Click, or Internet Referral Programs insure that you have put in place the appropriate inquiry/lead management and client in-take infrastructure and staffed accordingly. Otherwise you may find that you are getting the inquiries/leads but are not being successful in converting them into paying clients.


For some practices geographic expansion may be an appropriate strategy. Spending more marketing time and money targeted in the same area won’t help if there is no more work to be had. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Do a little “do-it-yourself” market research on other surrounding communities. Go to the U.S. Census website or to local websites for the communities of interest. Review the demographics and growth trends and projections for the communities. Then review websites of law firms that serve these communities. Try to get a feel if there is room for you in these markets.
  2. Select a target centralized community where you want to establish a presence.
  3. See what is available for office space for new client intakes. Consider an Executive Suite arrangement (i.e. Regus). Another option might be an office sharing arrangement with a law firm that has excess space. Look for an arrangement that does not tie you into a long term lease.
  4. Resist the temptation to setup a “real office” – a production office if you will. Use your home office as the production and client communications center.
  5. Use the remote office for client intakes only and do not staff with support staff in the initial phase.
  6. If you have a VOIP phone system – have the calls from clients go to the main office and transfer any calls that may come in for an attorney working at the remote office.
  7. Use GoToMeeting and other electronic tools to communicate with clients after the relationship has been established.
  8. Use face to face meetings only when they are really necessary.

The cheaper you can launch and maintain remote (branch) offices the more markets you can expand in to.


  1. A different strategy is required for firms marketing to smaller wealth clients than larger “well-healed” wealthier clients.
  2. Advertising can be effective for the smaller wealth clients that have never had a relationship with an attorney. However referrals from referral sources and past clients are still the primary source that generates the majority of new client business.
  3. Advertising is less effective in generating business from wealthier clients. A majority of business from these clients is typically generated from referrals from referral sources, past clients, and relationship marketing activities.
  4. Some of my most successful estate planning firms, especially those that represent wealthier clients, spend almost nothing on advertising and their major marketing investment is on relationship nurturing.
  5. You might want to look into a cable TV ad or Radio Program but proceed with caution, only if you can afford to have a sustained program, only if you are in the ad and the ad is done in a way that creates a relationship with the client (not perceived as a commercial), the results and effectiveness are measured, and an effective system is put in place for responding to inquiries on a 24/7 basis.
  6. Before investing in radio or TV ads – do all that you can with the website. Insure that it enables your clients to get to know you (personally and professionally) and feel that they have a relationship with you. Consider educational FAQ videos and a video center on the website. You might use these as “baby-steps” to TV advertising.
  7. Create a marketing plan and budget to focus your activities and help you avoid random acts of marketing.
  8. Insure that your client services are top notch and actually measure client satisfaction. Since referrals is often the major source of new business, you cannot afford to have unhappy clients or referral sources.

 John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D., CMC, is a Certified Management Consultant and the president of Olmstead & Associates, Legal Management Consultants, based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm helps law and other professional service firms improve the operations and management of their practices and the lives of their practitioners. The firm, founded in 1984 serves clients across the Globe assisting them with implementing change and improving operational and financial performance, management, leadership, client development and marketing.

Dr. Olmstead’s assignments have covered the spectrum of management issues. However, in recent years most of his time is focused on engagements helping firms with:

Dr. Olmstead is the Editor-in-Chief of “The Lawyers Competitive Edge: The Journal of Law Office Economics and Management,” published by Thomson West. He is currently serving as Past Chair, Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and as a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Research Committee. Dr. Olmstead may be contacted via e-mail at Additional articles and information is available at the firm’s web site:

© Olmstead & Associates, 2014. All rights reserved.

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