How to be a Credible Law Firm

BY Tim Londergan
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There are just under a half-​million law firms in the U.S. employing just over one million people. In 2023, industry revenue climbed about 3% to reach $381 billion. And today, each firm owes their fortunes to the landmark case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona in 1977.

The Bates case changed opinions about legal marketing and led to a shift in the legal profession's approach to advertising. Just as these businesses compete on quality of service, their marketing message seeks to establish a solid, credible reputation. The emergence of digital marketing has further transformed legal advertising, making it a crucial part of business development.

Your Law Firm Career Relies on Personal Brand Management

Stefanie Marrone advises legal organizations of all sizes in the practice of business development through marketing. In her writing, Stephanie stresses that marketing acumen is not just about attracting clients. To be a successful associate you must “focus on building a robust personal brand and establishing a solid reputation.”

Marrone stresses the importance of building your brand as a foundation to your legal career. Furthermore, she advocates for establishing enduring professional relationships and positioning yourself as a subject matter expert. Further tips include:

Learn from those you admire – Seek mentors who can guide you in terms of law firm marketing and client relationship management.

Leverage social media and technological trends – A thoughtful online brand management reputation strategy can help you connect with prospects, build trust, and ultimately convert them into loyal clients.

Serve your community – Pro bono work in your chosen field is a wonderful way to demonstrate your commitment and compassion. These efforts are highly attractive to potential clients and employers.

Law Firm Marketing Must Signal Professionalism and Seriousness

Before legal advertising became routine, lawyers believed they gained clients based on their reputation of integrity and their intelligence. In fact, early resistance held that marketing would denigrate the law’s professionalism and dignity. Currently, to think of a law firm as different from other enterprises is ludicrous.

In today’s competitive legal market, it’s not enough for lawyers to simply rely on traditional marketing methods. Furthermore, with clients searching the internet for legal services, the modern lawyer must be a shrewd marketer on all fronts. Communicating trust and credibility while centering on client needs and perspectives is crucial.

Ethical Obligations and Law Firm Culture

Attorneys have an ethical duty to zealously represent their clients while maintaining trust and credibility. Yet there’s a persistent disconnect of opinion as lawyers score low in these qualities when occupations are ranked. Not surprisingly, common law’s adversarial system of pitting one side against another is partially responsible for this conundrum. 

However, legal practitioners can take steps to curtail the erosion of trust in the profession. The staff of the Illinois Supreme Court on Professionalism, “2Civility,” offers educational programming and resources to that end. Of particular interest is the “Survey That Reveals the Characteristics Attorneys Want in Law Firm Culture."

The study revealed that firms that are “profit-​minded” created negative feelings among the greatest number of respondents (almost 40%). Meanwhile, the firms that prioritized client service and the quality of their attorneys’ work inspired positive feelings. Positive traits that embody their firm’s culture were:

For the Firm:

  • High priority on client service – 74%
  • High integrity – 52%
  • Well-​managed financially – 52%

For the Lawyer:

  • High-​quality performance expectations – 68%

What do Lawyers Want to SEE MORE OF in Their Law Firm’s Culture?

  • Support for attorneys’ well-​being and work-​life balance topped the list.
  • Transparency in compensation and important decisions.
  • Emphasis on training, mentoring and succession planning.

Partners should evaluate their law firm culture to ensure that it is consistent with how they envision and present themselves. Solo practitioners should focus on managing their reputations and regularly undertake brand reputation analysis.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels​.com