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Legal marketing: Hanging out your shingle in Instagram era

Thursday, December 02, 2021 @ 10:30 AM | By Amanda Jerome


For lawyers, “hanging out one’s shingle” has changed dramatically over the years. Where once a sign above a door was enough to purport the services within, modernization, globalization and social media have altered the ways legal professionals can market themselves. The speed of change has also had an impact, creating a generational divide in how people find legal services. Where one generation might rely on traditional media and advertising to find a lawyer, another might only have eyes on social media and community networks.

So, how can lawyers cross that divide through marketing?

Tara Vasdani, the principal lawyer and founder of Remote Law Canada, told The Lawyer’s Daily that Google is the “bridge” that connects the generational divide when it comes to looking for law firms.

 Tara Vasdani, Remote Law Canada

Tara Vasdani, Remote Law Canada

She noted that while the more senior generation may hear the names of lawyers and firms through mainstream media, they may “not remember” the name that they saw in the newspaper or heard over the radio. However, they have cellphones and will turn to technology to search Google when looking for a lawyer or legal service.

“I think Google is the bridge between those two groups of clients or lawyers,” she said, noting that the other bridge is referrals through word of mouth from family and friends.

She stressed that even though there may be a generational divide on social media use, the Baby Boomers are “still researching who they can find” on Google.

Vasdani, who is an employment lawyer based in Toronto, is known as “the first Canadian lawyer to serve a Statement of Claim using the popular social media app, Instagram,” her firm’s website noted.

She stressed that “social media has changed the way that lawyers are able to market themselves.”

She explained that, at one time, “clients associated good legal work with the firms that were large.”

“It’s the same way any consumer would associate pretty much any product or any service with quality,” she said, emphasizing the power of name brand recognition.

Vasdani said it “was fairly easy for larger firms that had the financial wherewithal to market themselves and establish themselves as this go-to and trusted partner in the market.”

However, social media has “really changed the game in that lawyers themselves, apart from firms,” have been able to “brand themselves and reach a wider audience,” she added.

She noted that lawyers “posting frequently on LinkedIn,” and connecting with people in “a very personal way, as opposed to as a member of a certain firm, really opened up the doors for better interpersonal relationships.” She said this “allowed clients to feel more connected to the people that were offering the services to them.”

When it comes to her own social media use, Vasdani said her best practices are to: establish a connection, focus on a specific area of interest and be authentic.

“Frequently posting and posting about topics that are of interest to clients or people in your community is really the rule of thumb,” she said, noting that she started out by posting about legal tech because it was an area of interest for her.

Vasdani noted that “focusing on a specific topic created a foundation” where she became “a thought leader in this particular area of law.”

“Building that foundation and being this legal tech commentator allowed me to build some of that trust and some of that know-how in that particular area,” she added, noting that for her, this led to commenting about cases and her perspectives on running a law firm.

Vasdani said that social media “definitely assisted” her with building a brand and believes it’s influenced “the most remarkable change” in the legal industry.

“It used to be you had these trusted legal partners simply by way of advertising or word of mouth” and “they became who everybody knew.” However, that’s no longer necessarily the case.

Vasdani said she’s seen lawyers build reputations for themselves through LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

“It’s about creating a certain persona or brand of yourself that people connect with. And that’s what’s really the most important: do people connect with your content?” she asked, noting that when she started building her own brand it was about “posting truthfully, honestly,” and when she felt the “spark” of inspiration.

“And that, I think, created a lot of authenticity,” she said, adding that if lawyers are trying to “reach a specific audience it has to come from an authentic place.”

Vasdani emphasized that when she posts on social media it’s “coming from a genuine place” and that “creates trust between you and a client, or you and your community.”

The impact social media has had on marketing is “huge,” Vasdani noted.

“When I started posting back in January 2018,” she said, a regular post would get “maybe a couple hundred views on LinkedIn.” Now, she said, the standard is “5,000 and above.”

“And that’s just the standard, so that could be posting anything. Whereas, when I won my first appeal a couple months ago [the post] it hit over 220,000 views,” she said, noting that views turn into connection requests.

“The power of social media is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Lawyers themselves, which is not true of any prior generation, can create a brand that is no longer associated with the place that they’re working,” she explained.

Vasdani believes that social media will “absolutely” change the way law firms will market services in the next five to 10 years.

She believes there will be a shift in how the “lawyer offering the services connects” with clients “from a value perspective.” For example, she explained that if the client is a small business owner, they’re going to want “a lawyer who is going to be able to handle a multitude of services.”

She said the profession is “going through the dissolve of this very structured, and organized, and split system where lawyers were very highly specialized in one area of law.” She noted that Millennials, and subsequent generations, are going to want lawyers who are able to handle all of their issues and connect with them on their values.

Vasdani noted that social media also closes the gap between smaller and larger firms. Where once large firms dominated through brand recognition, now “lawyers themselves are the ones who have the advantage with social media and are able to build the brand.”

“I’m not even sure if the firms are going to be able to keep up because law firm marketing is no longer attractive. Lawyer marketing is attractive,” she explained.

“I really don’t think clients in the future will be looking for a firm to handle something specific,” she added, noting the caveat being larger organizations, “but your everyday client or small business owner will be looking for ‘who is the lawyer that’s representing me.’ ”

When it comes to marketing stumbling blocks, Vasdani recommended lawyers set boundaries and limits.

“If you’re straightforward about what your services are, if you have a clean retainer, if you are maintaining open, honest written communication with your clients, you should be OK. And from a marketing perspective, as long as you’re operating within the confines of what the law society is asking you to do and you make that your base model, you’ll be fine,” she said.

Vasdani noted that even though she’s known as a “change-maker,” she’s “not one to push the boundaries” from a model based on clear rules.

“What’s helped me a lot is that, even though I operate as a Millennial lawyer, I’m still very traditional,” she said, stressing that she’s mindful of the lawyer-client relationship and the court process.

“I don’t push the envelope from that perspective,” she added.

If lawyers do run into issues or question when it comes to marketing, Jennifer Wing, a spokesperson for the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), said that the LSO’s Practice Management Helpline serves as a “confidential telephone service that answers questions about the Rules of Professional Conduct, select bylaws and other professionalism and practice management topics,” such as marketing.

Wing said that helpline inquiries “tend to be very specific in nature, however, common relevant themes include: appropriate language and terminology in marketing materials; sharing client testimonials and results; advertising awards, rankings and third-party endorsements; social media use; advertising fees; advertising and paralegal scope; using coupons, vouchers and other incentives; marketing and advertising obligations when lawyers retire, change firms, or pass away; [and] letterhead requirements.”

In Ontario, directions on marketing and advertising are in Chapter 4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Wing noted that the Rules “protect Ontarians by requiring that lawyers conduct themselves in accordance with high standards of professionalism, which are enforced through a complaints and discipline process.”

“Rules and commentaries, with respect to marketing and advertising of legal services, are thorough and detail ethical and conduct requirements applicable to lawyers and paralegals,” she explained.

Wing also said that the “Rules are amended as required to address changes in the advertising and marketing landscape.”

“As new technologies and platforms emerge, the law society will continue to develop resources and guidance to assist licensees and regulation, as required, to protect consumers,” she said, noting that the LSO has provided “technology practice tips” for Twitter and social media.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or call 416-524-2152.