Ideally, a law firm’s marketing plan and budget would have been set last quarter. Got those who are late in starting this process, or who don’t know how to do it, here’s a guide.

In a perfect world, you would start assessing your current year’s productivity against the year’s plan in August or September of that year, critiquing and assessing actions versus results and determining what worked, what didn’t, what needs to be changed and what the new year’s goals and priorities should be.  The resulting plan would then be drafted by the end of October.  November is then spent determining the plan’s corresponding budget.  December is for approvals, which enable a firm to start implementing on the plan in the new year.  

In reality, most law firms are not that disciplined.  They forget to critique their old plan vs. results so there is no learning from the experience, just guess work.  They may create big picture goals but those may or may not be relevant to the firm’s real needs.  They may enter into the new year with a loose idea of business objectives, but no documented plan (which makes it easier to avoid accountability for actioning the plan).  In such circumstances, most members of the firm do not have a consistent understanding of the firm’s goals so the actions throughout the year of most of the firm’s business units (practice groups, client teams, individual practices) will not be aligned.  They may even contradict each other.  Further, in the absence of declared and document business goals for the firm, the administrative team performs less effectively.   This is key: your primary purpose of your administrative team is to help the firm to achieve its business objectives.  They are usually quite capable of doing this if they know what those business objectives are.  And nowhere is this more critical than with your marketing professionals, as the value of a skill is linked the ability to market it. 

This is fixable.  Start by providing your head of marketing with a list of the firm’s business goals for the year.   If your head of marketing is a lawyer or staff member without this expertise, this cheat sheet might help.  

Determine Your Marketing Budget:

A law firm marketing budget should be somewhere between 3 – 5% of the previous year’s gross revenues.  If the firm is not adding locations, practice areas or lawyers, and is in sustainment mode (not desperate to build new clients/work) then the lower end is adequate.  If you are in growth mode at all, then plan on spending closer to 5% (or higher if necessary). 

The Three Levels of Marketing Plan:  

There are three levels of marketing that must simultaneously occur in a strong marketing program: institutional (name recognition within the marketplace); practice area (within the bar and within the target market client base); and individual lawyer.   The starting point is always a strong institutional marketing program.  This includes a strong logo and tagline, great website with regular updates and upgrades to content, good social media content, basic collateral such as brochures, newsletters and trinkets and trash, a good PR program (even if it’s just ensuring news items are put in press release form and loaded onto your website), general advertising and directory listings, general sponsorships and charitable donations, etc. 

Once your institutional marketing is taken care of, you can focus in on the marketing that provides the most direct results for money spent: practice area marketing.  This is a specialized area and may require some assistance, but essentially determines how the firm will

  • Ensure the group has the right mix of lawyers by skillset and year of call;
  • Has a great training program/succession strategy for lawyers within that practice;
  • Has strong content on the firm’s institutional marketing pieces;
  • Has a plan for continued development of the practice’s reputation and credibility in the defined marketplace;
  • Has identified a sustainment and growth plan for the practice’s top clients;
  • Has identified a sustained plan for the practice’s top referral sources;
  • Has identified and developed pursuit plans for new clients and referral sources;
  • Has a strong cross-selling strategy.

The plan might in large part by defined by the type of law involved.  For example, certain practice areas (like employment plaintiff work, wills & estates, and personal injury law) require a steady stream of new clients.  It helps to have a recognizable name in the marketplace, but you also need to be top of mind when the client actually needs you.  If they can’t recall your name or simply don’t know any lawyers who practice in the area required, they may ask friends for recommendations.  Failing that they’ll do what we all do: go to the internet.  That’s why on-line marketing is so critical. 

And finally, each lawyer within the firm may wish to have a personal marketing plan to address the following:

  • Keep track of all of the action items that lawyer committed to doing as part of various practice or client teams;
  • Plan their personal education and skills development for the year;
  • Ensure they have actions that will promote their credibility and reputation;
  • Address any skills development that is required to overcome a personal challenge (e.g. become more organized, become a better delegator, become better at business development);
  • Potentially include items that represent growth in terms of skills and capabilities (such as taking on a leadership position within the firm – e.g. on or leading a committee);

Determine your Marketing Mix:

We call it a marketing mix because strong marketing is multi-typed and (ideally) integrated: it includes marketing to existing clients (client service, cross-selling and business development); improving name recognition and credibility (through PR, advertising, on-line/social media, community engagement, lawyer activities, etc.); community engagement (sponsorships, charities); and individual lawyer marketing.  There are countless choices to explore each, and no silver bullet.   Some of each of these activities should be included in every marketing plan, and where possible they should all look and sound like they came from the same firm.  In a perfect world, each item would leverage one off of another: a client presentation would become a newsletter article, and an edited version of that would become a blog post which is referenced back to the authoring lawyers on their bio on the website, and the posting re-posted on that lawyer’s LinkedIn page.   A firm tagline would be proven in a community event which is promoted on the firm’s website, and a corresponding ad would be featured in the local paper that week with the same message. 

The selection of a marketing mix is dependent on many factors including your service offerings and existing client base (and the ability to cross-sell); your competitive landscape; your targets (clients and referral sources); the amount of time and money you have to invest; and the number of people available to do marketing.

To determine the best mix for any given firm/office, start with a budget.  Then determine the amount of time each lawyer in that office has that year for actively doing marketing. Determine who will coordinate/run all other marketing and how much time they have to do so.   (Hint: some of this can be done internally and some of this may need to be done by an outside service provider).  You now have the parameters within which your marketing mix must function.

Marketing includes:

  • PR and media relations
  • Advertising (production and placement)
  • Events and seminars for an outside audience (attendance, coordination)
  • Client engagement (i.e. lunches, dinners, event attendance, client gifts, etc.)
  • Sponsorships
  • Marketing collateral (website, brochures, newsletters, invitations, etc.)
  • SEO, social media
  • Trinkets and trash
  • Directory listings (i.e. Yellow Pages), both hard copy and on-line
  • Graphic design and branding costs
  • Networking opportunities
  • Mailings and communications related to marketing (not regular business)
  • Marketing related training, including coaching
  • Marketing research
  • Client surveys and audits
  • Proposals and pitches
  • New lawyer announcements, retirement announcements
  • Succession expenses related to transfer of business

Marketing may include:

  • Memberships and attendance/sponsorship costs if a primary purpose of members is marketing.  If not, membership and attendance should be under education expense.
  • Conference attendance if primary purpose is marketing/credibility
  • Charitable giving (when connected with a marketing purpose such as name recognition, or because a charity has a close connection with a client)
  • Client contact info management systems (CRM)

Marketing budget does not typically include:

  • start up expenses (i.e. initial signage)
  • costs associated with regular business practices (i.e. letterhead, business cards)
  • Conference attendance that is primarily for educational purposes and credibility/marketing is only an added benefit
  • Lawyer education (no marketing component)

The reality is that great marketing planning is both a science and an art.  The science includes the diagnostic process, and helping a firm to identify their specific business goals.   The art is playing with the practice mix and the execution of each marketing strategy to find the right time to get the right message to the right people in the right way. 

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers.  She can be reached at