Living Ratings: lessons from the road 16 July 2018

They say that you never stop learning.

Over the past 10 weeks we've been on the road with our latest Living Ratings – our proprietary report on the brand and digital intelligence of the world's leading law firms 2018 – and it's fair to say that we've learnt as much as we've shared.

Here are just a few of the insights we've picked up along the way.

Brand intelligence
Brand is more important than ever to law firm CMOs and Partners and we are not just talking about personal brands, but the firm's overall brand. They are all keenly aware of the need to find differentiation in what is largely a homogenous market.

The best firms are aligning their business and brand strategies and give their CMO a place on the Executive Committee or at least high level access to this inner sanctum. This means that CMOs are in full possession of the facts and figures, and engaged on where the firm is headed, so they can create meaningful and effective marketing and communication plans. More strategic, less reactionary.

We’re seeing that the CMO is still not quite at the level of a being a fully-fledged Partner, (unlike some of the large professional services firms), but we suspect that this is not too far off (and about time, too).

Who, what and why?
Related directly to the above, law firms are now beginning to think about how to distinguish themselves through brand positioning and their visual identities to answer the questions of 'who are we?', 'what do we do?' and 'why does it matter?' This parallels (and in some cases, has driven) the rise of clear content strategies and campaigns to support sector and issue-based marketing.

Admittedly creating a new visual brand can be a slow process in a Partner-led organisation, akin to turning around an oil tanker at sea, but it is starting to happen.

Digital acumen
Our recent conversations also show that law firms are waking up to the fact that there is a target audience that may not know them. Until now, the majority of law firms have relied on personal networking and countless events for new business. Whilst this approach shows no signs of abating dramatically, smarter firms are recognising that their digital footprint plays an increasing role in attracting new enquiries, conversations and opportunities.

Those that get this are really focusing on the impact of their websites and sharpening the contribution of their social media efforts. These brand leaders are creating great user experiences for their clients, prospects and referral sources by truly considering an integrated digital marketing strategy across each of their chosen channels. Evidence of this shift is found in the slight dip in firms on our top 100 list using Twitter against the fast rise of Instagram for recruitment and sustainability-related content. For brand-building, a picture will always paint a 1,000 words.

Content is playing catch-up
One of the biggest discoveries was the admission by a number of law firms that much of the content beyond key landing pages and Partner biographies was an afterthought when they created their new websites. While they were quick to blame a lack of resource in their marketing teams, the convoluted decision making process inherent in so many law firms was clear evidence against the guilty parties. Furthermore, time gets bogged down and focus gets blurred whenever multiple Partners have their say on content and (more worrisome) on design.

The reality is that law firm websites often do not get fully updated/refreshed content until at least 6 months after their launch.

The future of a law firm website
Several of the conversations we had centred around the future existence of a law firm’s website, given that much of the content sits on social media channels or in third-party blog sites. It's a good question and the answer today may well be different from the answer in just a few years.

Our view? Yes, a law firm must still have this crucial central resource, but its content must be carefully curated and it should never become a dumping ground for too much information that can quickly become old and irrelevant. Your website is your brand – and it will be rewarded by search engines that measure relevance and timeliness of your thought leadership. Continue to use your website as the tool it is meant to be, but never lose sight of the need to be clear and concise as you guide visitors to learn how your firm can help them.

Law firm websites should also be the place where law firms express and extol their brands – that singular point of difference articulated through innovative and engaging messaging and content, both verbally and visually. Do not be afraid to be different or proud of what makes your law firm what it is. Build your website properly and “they will come”.

Duncan Shaw
Co-founder and Executive Creative Director

Want to chat?
We are still meeting law firms from across the globe to discuss this year's findings and if you would like to meet up and discuss how your firm rated or how we can help you improve your brand and digital intelligence, please contact Duncan Shaw in London, Aliena Lai in Hong Kong, or Kevin Windorf in New York. 

If you would like to download a copy of this year’s report please use one of the following links:
US firms
Non-US firms