What it is, Where it fits in


About half of the attorneys we talk to, and by extrapolation, presumably half the attorneys perusing this web site, have an affliction called "advertising on the brain". Its chief symptom is a form of word association syndrome. We say market research, they respond advertising; we say practice development planning, they say we don't need to advertise; we say data based practice development, they say clients find us without advertising; we say ham and Swiss on rye, they say ... - you get the picture. Advertising is the last part of the practice development process. You should consider it only after the other fundamentals of your plan are in place. To consider advertising early on in the process creates the risk that it will be over emphasized.

There are three elements in the definition of advertising:

1 - Stand where they can see you,
2 - Tell them what they're looking at, and
3 - Tell them what's in it for them.

Under this definition, when your senior partner arranges a golf game with the general manager of a potential client, how she introduces herself is "advertising". Consider how her conversation during the round would be different if she was in a foursome with the managers of three homeless shelters.

Keep advertising in perspective.
That perspective is defined by your practice development plan.


The idea of advertising is itself "sold" to us. Law practitioners are customers for a media advertising industry with a paradoxical reality about its inventory. The advertising industry's inventory is almost infinitely elastic. (Contrary to our business, where we can "sell" each hour only once.) They can stretch it out almost forever. If this doesn't seem accurate, take a stopwatch to your local evening news and time out sold ads, the teasers and everything that is designed to influence your behavior as a viewer or consumer and is not the direct transfer of the information we call "news". The more competitors advertise, the greater the pressure we feel to advertise. And thus the "need" to advertise is sold. Under the traditions of our profession, if no one advertised, no one would "need" to.

There are many forms of advertising within our definition. For law practice developers, the best way to categorize these forms is from the perspective of the person receiving the message. For those in the business of selling advertising services, the best way to categorize them is by what you have to sell. For example, the practice development planner might categorize advertising based on whether the recipient has consented to receipt of the message (example, newsletters) or not (example, television spot) he or she is considering. The planner considering two forms of consensual message advertising might weigh whether the firm should produce and send a newsletter to a large group of clients or disseminate the same information by posting it to a web site and then sending select clients shorter and cheaper letters alerting them to a posted article of interest. Considering these two options, if an advertising salespersons is promoting either newsletter services or web sites but not both, they will follow human nature and likely see benefit in the one they have to sell and not see benefit in the other. This is one of the reasons why the practice development plan comes first and why advertising salespeople are not good practice development planners.

Advertising goods and services are usually sold by someone who sees advertising as part of the solution to a lawyer or law firm who views advertising as part of the problem.

In this dichotomy there is the real risk of confusion. This is true whether the advertising is in the form of coupons on the back of supermarket receipts or sponsoring the libretto for La Boehme. Look upon practice development planning as a continuum, with one end called "efficient plan", the other end is "confusion". Advertising serves those who pay for it to take the business they call their law practice where they, not the salesperson or the market, choose it to go. This is why the planning process must precede the implementation of any advertising programs.

Advertising advice from someone who has not carefully considered your practice development plan has a less than even chance of being cost effective. You may have revealed your plan in general discussion but without substantial law practice experience, they likely won't get it. The subtleties of law practice development greatly outweigh the presumption that all lawyers are alike. Be as suspicious of a proponent of any particular form of advertising who proposes before he or she listens and studies as of a physician who diagnoses and treats before he or she examines.


1 As an exercise, tinker together and discuss a practice development plan that doesn't use any media advertising at all. This means no Yellow Pages, no television, broadcast or cable, no billboards, no radio spots and nothing else that gets the attention of potential clients that didn't ask for the information. In discussions of this imaginary plan consider alternative ways that those who don't know you will come to identify who you are, what you do and how your services can benefit them by the means available to you. If you have enough people participating in this exercise, divide the group into two segments and have one do a no media advertising plan and the other do a plan that is media only. This group can't use newsletters, seminars or public speaking, published articles, public relations techniques or the like. Both teams must work toward the same practice development goals. The only difference is the communications tools available to them.

The purpose of this exercise is to put advertising in its place. Whether your firm provides white collar criminal defense inside the beltway or personal injury services in Detroit, all advertising, including media advertising, is only one of the tools your practice development planners have to work with.

2 Create a form for distribution to all the stakeholders in your firm and a select group individuals who match the demographics of a target clientele. Choose friends, relatives of spouses, but not other lawyers or law office stakeholders. Mail it out and ask that they fill out and return it as a favor. This won't be especially accurate, but will suffice for demonstration purposes.

On the form put a single 10 cm. vertical line. This line is your "advertising media comfort" continuum. Label one of the lines "I feel comfortable" and the other end of the line is "Gives me the willies". Somewhere else on the form create a list of advertising media, methods and presentations. Try to include any advertising tool that pops up in a brainstorming session. In addition to the obvious (TV spots, seminars) include the not so obvious (little league sponsorship, articles in newspaper, whatever). Put these in random order and label them with letters of the alphabet. Ask the respondent to write in the letter for each idea somewhere on the line corresponding to their feelings.

The line is 10 centimeters long so you can easily score the answers. Take the metric side of a ruler and lay it along the line with "0" at the "comfortable" end. Create a tally sheet with a line for each element. On the tally sheet, write down each distance in centimeters (score) for the corresponding letter. Keep one tally sheet for the respondents who manage the firm, one for the rest of the stakeholders and one for everyone else. When you've entered all the measurements, average them for each tally sheet and for all the respondents. (Don't, however, do an average of averages. This won't work.)

What you'll end up with is a ranking of elements, overall and by your three categories of respondents. You'll also end up with weighted comfort levels.

This exercise is not to validate advertising media options. It is to examine how the views of the firm's managers differ from its other stakeholders and potential clients. This exercise does not tell you conclusively how effective these various options will be. The benefit will be in the demonstration of the differences between the categories of respondents.

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